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Thursday, 13 March 2014

Hull City and Sheffield United get their shot at FA Cup history

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The FA Cup semi-final draw gave us a tie that will break new ground whichever team comes through. As Squarefootball noted before the quarters, a Hull City win will see the Humbersiders secure a first appearance in the showpiece after 108 years of trying.

But arguably a victory by Sheffield United would represent an even bigger milestone for the competition. The third tier (and later fourth) of English football came into being way back in 1921 and ever since no team from outside the top two divisions has made it to the FA Cup Final.

While it hasn't been commonplace, the League Cup Final has seen several third tier sides in action and even, in the cases of QPR and Swindon Town in the 1960s, winning the prize. Rochdale and Bradford City have battled into the final playing as low as the fourth tier.

But the FA Cup Final remains taboo ground for the lower divisions. Beginning with Millwall in 1937, eight sides before United have been one game from Wembley (yes, I know the semis are also at Wembley now but I'm a traditionalist) yet none have edged a result.

The closest to getting there? Well Port Vale can point to a dubious penalty award against them in 1954, but pride of place goes to Chesterfield in 1997. The Spireites had a disjointed Middlesbrough side on the ropes at Old Trafford.

After taking a 2-0 lead they seemed to snuff out a Boro fightback only for a clear goal to be disallowed by the infamous David Elleray. With modern goal line technology. Boro's expensive line up would have been dead and buried. As it was Bryan Robson's side went 3-2 up but still they couldn't finish off the North Derbyshire side who bagged a late leveller. The replay proved a game too far though.

Wigan proved that the FA Cup can still create new narratives by becoming the first side to win the pot and be relegated at the same time. Despite being squeezed by the massive expansion of the Champions League, the oldest competition in world football can still grab the attention of the fans.

Sheffield United have a shot at becoming the first third tier side to play in the final. They have removed two Premier League sides on the way to the semis, both beaten away from Bramall Lane, plus high flying Nottingham Forest from the Championship. With that record Nigel Clough's side won't fear Hull City.

The Tigers will be intent on making their own history. This is a club that spent more than 100 years lurking in the lower divisions, generally in the shadow of the Hull's rugby league clubs and popping up in the ad hoc lists of 'largest city never to have had a top flight club'.

But the newest generation of Hull fans have seen their side play in the Premier League for the first time and fight their way back into it to prove their appearance was no fluke. They've enjoyed the Tigers brief appearance in the Champions League qualification spots and now they could be going all the way in the cup.

This match will be a difficult one for neutrals. The normal support for the underdog will be tempered because the Blades are not exactly minnows; United are traditionally a bigger club than Hull and they have been League champions once and four-time FA cup winners - though their last FA Cup Final is as far back as 1936.

So it's either going to be the first League One side in the final or Hull City become the third new finalist in four seasons and the 57th team to grace the showpiece. Certainly both sets of fans will treat the match as a huge event and there will be none of the lukewarm feeling that fans of the elite can display.

So who will it be? We'd love to hear from you.

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Hugh Larkin



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