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Daniel Brigham

The romantic Mr Fox

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Hi all, latest blog on the FA Cup, romance, Fox and Wes ...Wes Hoolahan and David Fox could bring a bit of much-needed romance back to the FA Cup on Tuesday. By Daniel Brigham Who

was feeling romantic last Saturday? It was the third round of the FA

Cup, when the little''uns can upset the big''uns and romance drifts across

the English footballing landscape, from Brighton Pier to the Angel of

the North. We should''ve been swooning, cuddling and using sickening pet

names for each other like love-sick teenagers on Valentine''s Day.Yet

we weren''t. Instead, the country took a break from football between 3pm

and 4.45pm. We went shopping, remembered we have friends, watched Columbo.

Who really cares anymore? The FA Cup is now about as romantic as a trip

to a brothel, where all the best girls have been given the night off

and replaced by reserves.There is a disconnect between the fans,

the players, the managers and the FA Cup. It is well documented. Every

January millions of words are written suggesting how to reinvigorate a

stale competition, marginalised and squashed of any romance by the twin

beasts of the all-powerful, empire-building Premier League and Champions

League (pretty fitting, therefore, that in the dictionary ''romance'' is

squeezed slap-bang in the middle of ''Roman Catholic Church'' and ''Roman

Empire''). There once really was a romance associated with the

Cup, even in my still relatively youthful lifetime. The great Spurs team

of Gazza and Lineker beating Arsenal in 1991 in the semi-final is one

of my most vivid early football memories. So is angrily throwing a

tennis ball at my parents'' TV screen after Sunderland beat Norwich in

1992. That defeat remains the lowest football day in my life; lower than

any relegation, lower than any World Cup exit, lower than being dragged

around hundreds of empty lower-league grounds as a child because my

weirdo brother wanted to photograph them all on non-match days.At

university in 2001 we put a TV in the tiny garden to watch Michael Owen

score two late goals to beat Arsenal in the final and in 2006 a big

group of us crowded around to watch Steven Gerrard''s outrageous leveller

against West Ham. Without recourse to rose-tinted glasses I know that

the FA Cup mattered more back then, that the final was viewed as one of

the year''s prestige sporting occasions alongside the Wimbledon final,

the Lord''s Test and the Grand National. It''s fizzled out since,

coincidentally or not around the same time that semi-finals started

being played permanently at Wembley – a decision as romantic as a night

in with a Jeremy Clarkson DVD. These days I''d be as likely to tell you

who won the FA Cup two, three, four years ago as know the winner of the

National Marrow Grower of the Year award (a competition Steve Bruce

almost certainly enters, and probably wins).So it was a bit of a

surprise when I sniffed a whiff of that old FA Cup romance in the air

last Saturday. It was emanating from Carrow Road, with the returning,

maligned cult hero David Fox and a first start for our young thruster

Josh Murphy. As with any good romance there was also the threat

of a breakup, provided by Wes Hoolahan, whose name wasn''t on the team

sheet nor, reportedly, was he even in the stadium. Both Fox and

Hoolahan are romantic heroes to many Norwich fans. They are the

Norfolk Messi and Pirlo (if you squint your eyes, cover your ears and

shout lalalalalalala for long enough anyway), an emotional link to

Norwich''s propulsion to the Premier League. They also spark something

innate inside most football lovers: that joy of watching natural

footballers. Now, no one''s saying Fox is the answer (no one

seems to be saying what the question is either) but he would be a fine

addition to an injury-hit midfield, particularly at home where Chris

Hughton demands a possession game. Whatever your views on Fox

and Wes – and both are certainly as infuriating as they are bewitching –

Carrow Road is a whole lot more fun, even more romantic, when they''re

playing and playing well. And a bit of romance is an essential part of

sport. We’re not talking about nostalgia, tradition, sentiment, which

all bubble in the same pot and should be treated with suspicions. We’re

talking only about romance: the underdogs rising to the top, the element

of surprise, overcoming adversity, making the difficult look natural,

the ability to catch the mood of a nation or region, lifting a sport

beyond merely kicking or hitting a ball. So it’s not Chelsea

winning another title, it’s not Sebastian Vettel''s Formula One

domination, it’s not Gazza’s tears at Italia ’90. It is Goran Ivanisevic

winning Wimbledon in 2001, Nelson Mandela wearing a South African rugby

shirt, Ian Botham''s boys'' own bashing in 1981, Andy Murray finally

conquering Wimbledon, Ellen MacCarthur reaching land, a British medical

student running a mile in less than four minutes for the first time,

Norwich beating Bayern Munich, Wigan lifting the FA Cup. And

that''s why the FA Cup would be the perfect stage for Wes and Fox to

partner up for the first time since that romantic day when, erm, we lost

to Luton in the Cup. It is why I’ll be going to Craven Cottage on

Tuesday. Not because of a perverse, mad love for matches against Fulham

but for the chance to see two natural footballers playing in a

competition desperate for some TLC. Even if the game is turgid, even if

we lose, it will barely matter for a glimpse of Wes and Fox creating a

bit of romance. Daniel Brigham is features editor of The Cricketer magazine.You can follow him on twitter: @cricketer_dan

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The amount of romance left in the FA Cup was emphasised when the holders, Wigan, started their defence of the trophy at home in front of less than 7000 people. How many did they take to Wembley last May?

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