The draw for the FA Cup quarter-finals is nigh, and I have 45 minutes in which to attempt a nostalgic (but not blindly nostalgic) review of this pleasant tradition. I hope I finish it in time, as the following list of FA Cup draw cliches is one I'd like you, dear reader, to tick off as the draw progresses:
The Pre-Draw Headlines
Being such a momentous occasion, any draw for the major competitions requires a pointless generic build-up article, which are nowadays usually the domain of Ceefax/Teletext and the internet. Invariably given the headline "Clubs Set For FA Cup Draw", the article will then reveal exclusively how the remaining entrants are "awaiting " (often "eagerly", where any lower-league club is concerned), and is rounded of with a list of the "all-important" ball numbers.
A modest 15-minute slot is dedicated to the formalities of the draw, now presented to the nation in marvellously wooden fashion by Sir Trevor Brooking. Brooking's predecessors have included the adequate but forgettable David Davies and the helium-powered Graham Kelly. A more challenging role than it perhaps looks, the frontman of the proceedings must juggle the following tasks:
- Introduce the star guests who will perform the draw
- Provide snappy and suitably uninteresting information on each team as they are drawn, usually pertaining to the way they progressed from the previous round. ("Number 4 is Plymouth Argyle....2-0 winners over Derby in Round Five.")
- Ensure that all the balls have been emptied from the bag by one of the guests. This is traditionally the first source of cringe-inducingly awkward "comedy" during the draw coverage.
- Engage slightly in mid-draw banter, whilst keeping in mind the need to keep the draw flowing.
The logic behind the choice of guests can be a lottery in itself. Sometimes they can be topical invitations (players/managers recently involved in the competition) and sometimes they can be bafflingly inappropriate, like the two overfunded, underachieving "athletes" that performed the 5th round draw. Today's proceedings will feature England management team Steve McClaren and Terry Venables, more of whom to come.
Whoever performs the draw, it is customary to be very careful and precise (showing a level of care and concentration usually only seen when drinking tea from a cup and saucer at your grandma's) and to stand (when not ball-plucking) as all footballer folk do on occasions such as this - hands clasped behind straight back, legs shoulder width apart.
One of the Guests Selects His Old Team
With Middlesbrough and Tottenham in today's draw, the likelihood of this occurring is incredibly high. Another rich source of teeth-grindingly painful "humour" mid-draw, one of the guests is obliged to call upon a wide range of witty responses to choosing his own team. The most popular one, understandably is to smirk and either a) "apologise" for randomly, and not at all deliberately, drawing them to play Chelsea away, or b) produce a shrug that politely says "got them an easy one there!".
In fact, McClaren is likely to be incredibly unbearable in general throughout today's draw. Smug smirks are guaranteed upon the drawing of Middlesbrough and Manchester United's balls, while Venables will get in on the act with Tottenham and, to a lesser extent, Chelsea. Exactly why such a brief, tenuous link with one of your former clubs is such an impressive act of comedy is not clear.
With the draw imminent, I shall leave it there. For something that is supposed to be entirely unpredictable and random, the FA Cup draw has become very easy to forecast...