Football fans in the UK have a tendency to be overcome by nostalgia when the FA Cup comes round, remembering great finals of the past. Those of us in our 40s and 50s can look back to a time when the final was more or less the only football match televised live in Britain, and the excitement was tangible. When the match was over, and the Cup presented, the streets would be full of children re-enacting the match with jumpers for goal posts.
Now we can gorge ourselves on live football all year round so FA Cup final day is no longer to be circled in red in the diary. Nevertheless, as we reach the quarter-final stage this weekend, we can allow ourselves to dream. Irrespective of which team we support, the romantic in us still wants to believe that this might be the year for Coventry, Fulham, or Middlesbrough, as it was for Second Division West Ham conquering Arsenal in 1980, and unfancied Wimbledon toppling favourites Liverpool in 1988.
In recent years the FA Cup has become a much more pragmatic affair, with Portsmouth's victory over Cardiff last year a mere blip in the domination of the competition by the Premier League's top four clubs. My son is 20 and only twice in his life, apart from last year, has a club from outside the charmed circle of four lift the famous Cup - Tottenham in 1991, and Everton in 1995. With Arsenal, Chelsea, and Manchester United still in the reckoning, it will be a surprise if there is any change this year. For Arsenal and Chelsea, the motivation could not be clearer.
Arsenal are all but mathematically out of the race for the Premier League, and Chelsea are lagging behind at the final bend, so if neither wins the Champions League, the FA Cup is a last chance of silverware. Meanwhile, Manchester United, who have sometimes treated the old trophy with disdain, are taking it seriously this time as they try to complete an historic quintuple. Today's Cup tie starts a defining week for them.
They cannot be expected to sweep aside Fulham, who have shown solid form at home, and have a smart manager in Roy Hodgson, and with Inter Milan visiting Old Trafford on Wednesday in the Champions League, they would have hoped for a more comfortable tie. Then, in the early kick off next Saturday, it is the long-awaited league showdown with Liverpool. Regular readers will know the Reds are my long-term prediction for the title, a subject of much scorn from many of my Manchester United-supporting relatives.
However, I am not someone to be influenced by a little thing like all the available evidence - had I been on the Titanic, I should have been the guy shouting: "It's only a scratch. Anybody got any duct tape?" - so I am sticking by my view that United will hit a rocky patch some time, and I think this could be the week. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org