Saturday, January 03, 2009

Cruising into Round 4 !!!

The FA Cup is special to me. In my mind and sense of football consciousness, it represents everything beautiful about The Beautiful Game (TM), especially in England and Wales. The Coppa Italia and Copa del Rey (in Italy and Spain, respectively) certainly have their merits, but it's the FA Cup that captures imaginations throughout the world. West Ham did well to impose themselves at home v. Barnsley on Saturday, avoiding the usual banana-skin result against lower-league opposition. A comprehensive 3-nil win, with goals by Herita Ilunga, Mark Noble and the ever-dependable Carlton Cole sets the stage nicely for a massive tie in Round 4 (the final 32). I just get the feeling that gaffer Gianfranco Zola is really getting a grip on this side and the English game in particular. I'm not there to witness them, but I must imagine the training sessions run by Zola and his assistant, Steve Clarke, are among the best since the Hammers' heyday under Greenwood and Lyall. Harry Redknapp was a superb gameday manager, but -- as good a source as John Harkes has told me -- training was not his strong suit. The Cup also holds a very special place in my Hammers' fandom, which began officially with my attending a match at Upton Park in 1999. The 2001 4th-round upset of Manchester United (nil-1 to the Hammers at Old Trafford) saw me amongst about 8 Hammers supporters set against 70 or 80 Red Devils partisans while watching the match live at the Dickens Inn in Philadelphia. When Di Canio scored, the small contingent of Irons whooped, hollered and embraced (beers spilling left and right), sharing a moment that may never be equaled. Fast forward to spring 2006, and Andy Stubbs and I, as well as my lads, watched the final against Liverpool at Atlantic City Bar and Grill, located about 15 minutes from our home in South Jersey. Big Ron Garofalo was pouring the pints, and we took 2-nil and 3-2 leads, only to be pegged back by Gerrard. When Nigel Reo-Coker's second-half extra-time header was pushed onto the bar by Pepe Reina, I knew it was not to be our day. The penalty shootout confirmed that, with only Sheringham converting. But I get the feeling that Zola can bring us a trophy. From my lips to God's ears !!!