Friday 28 November ~
Last night, many neutral football fans will have found themselves watching a team of over-30 superstars – or former-superstars, depending on your viewpoint – struggling to snatch a late draw in a UEFA Cup tie at Fratton Park against a side that just seven years ago were 90 minutes from dropping into England's third tier. A surprising result and a decent spectacle it may have been, but there was something far more important to watch yesterday – just ask Sir Alex Ferguson and Luiz Felipe Scolari.
At Old Trafford, Manchester United played host to Chelsea in the third round of the FA Youth Cup in front of their respective first-team managers. Normally such matches would not gather much attention from the sporting press, considering how early on in the competition the game took place, where media interest is not usually stirred until the very latest stages of the cup.
But luck should have it that the draw for the third round, the stage at which the youth teams of Premier League and Championship sides enter (as is the case with the senior FA Cup), should pair together United, the competition's most successful side, and Chelsea, last year's losing finalists. While United's pedigree is great, winning the Youth Cup nine times and finishing as runners-up a further four, Chelsea's isn't quite so impressive. The Londoners have won the competition just twice, in 1960 and 1961, and hadn't troubled the finalists until last year's defeat by Manchester City.
However, this did not stop last night's match attracting coverage from across the footballing press with the Daily Mail and Guardian in particular giving the match a commendable amount of column inches. The fixture bore five goals as Chelsea ran out 3-2 victors over hosts United, for whom Danny Welbeck, who has impressed at first-team level recently, scored a late goal. According to the Mail, Chelsea's French playmaker Gael Kakuta and "Lewisham's finest, a bull of a striker" Frank Nouble impressed most.
Sadly, the rest of the third round ties are spread out across the next two to three weeks, being played on all sorts of days of the week. This lack of organisation and formality is one of the main reasons that the competition just does not attract the level of credit and interest it deserves. In this day and age, where depression over the future of the English game reigns supreme, it is the FA's duty to tidy up the Youth Cup so that it gets the attention that it, and the nation's footballing public, could so clearly benefit from. Jim Lucas