West Ham's Sam Allardyce misguided in his apathy for FA Cup
Managers worried about league survival have no right to decide which competitions are important and which are not
There is nothing like a face in a football crowd to showcase humanity. Fat men dancing (preferably topless), drop-dead gorgeous sirens (preferably blond) who should be on a catwalk instead of occupying a cold plastic seat in a utilitarian stadium are favourite subjects for TV cutaways, as are fans wearing novelty hats, oversized finger-pointing foam gloves, or waving homemade signs goading the opposition.
Old ladies in self-knitted football scarves having a natter about the price of world-class strikers over a half-time cuppa, couples in a loving embrace or a supporter or two looking glum, all demonstrate the diversity of humankind united under football's umbrella.
Such scenes remind viewers the game is full of wacky, fun-filled, football-besotted people. Yet nothing endears more than the sight of a young fan blubbing away on the terraces as his team are put to the sword in a cup tie.
One such crestfallen young lad appeared last weekend. Beamed around the planet, the boy, no more than 10, was decked out in his claret and blue West Ham woollen hat, matching scarf and gloves - and crying his heart out as he watched Nottingham Forest tear apart his beloved Hammers and end his FA Cup dreams.
The Championship side had just slotted home their third in the third-round 5-0 demolition job when TV focused on this most raw of human emotions erupting across a cherub's face.
The cameras zeroed in on the weeping boy who buried his head in his dad's coat, sneaking the odd traumatised, red-eyed look to the pitch. The trauma he and his father had travelled miles to witness was palatable.
We all knew what the poor boy was thinking. The nightmare would not end after the 90 minutes. That night back at home, consoled and tucked up in bed, the boy's hapless team will stare down from his bedroom walls, haunting ghosts of a once-proud team.
The commentators chuckled affectionately and offered tough love. "Well," said the wingman pundit, "you have to learn how to cry during the downs in order to cheer during ups."
Hackneyed wisdom is the preserve of sports presenters, and though there is a certain amount of truth in this man-to-boy advice, the "back story" to the young fan's misery belies a far bigger tragedy.
Forest's win could hardly count as an upset because the team fielded by Hammers manager Sam Allardyce was not representing West Ham or football. Allardyce said before the game the FA Cup fell behind top-flight survival and the League Cup semi-final against Manchester City in his priorities.
The FA Cup was deemed the sacrificial lamb, so to the slaughter Allardyce sent a young side so lacking in will, unity, team spirit, commitment and sportsmanship they could not offer a semblance of resistance.
And try they certainly did not; it was if they were instructed to lose. Whatever the game plan, it was an insulting, shocking display of disrespect not just for the club, but also to football and fans everywhere.
Managers have long viewed domestic cup competitions as an added burden to the EPL's schedule and all the money and job security top-flight survival brings.
Yet they understood the unpredictable nature of cup football and always fielded a half-respectable team. They knew if the "magic of the FA Cup" dove-tailed with the innate desire to win, their second-string team might produce a result and spark a welcome cup run.
Sadly, Allardyce is among those modern managers who publicly admit domestic cups are no longer worth the silver they are made of. Cup ties are an annoyance, an inconvenience - a time-consuming, high-injury risk aside from the EPL.
Aston Villa boss Paul Lambert described the oldest cup competition in the world as "a distraction" and his weakened side left the field to a chorus of boos after the home 2-1 loss to Sheffield United.
But who are the likes of Lambert and Allardyce to determine which competition is worthy and which is not? We fans demand the possibility of glory no matter how remote and fantastical. Spontaneous, unpredictable football is our birthright, as it is for the players, too.
Thankfully, despite the sponsors and the big owners and managers who wrestle with the uncontrollable nature of football in an attempt to make it a sterile vehicle for generating cash, there are still noble managers who enter all competitions with the desire to win with honour or lose nobly. Arsenal's 2-0 cup win over Tottenham is a case in point.
The FA should censure those clubs who purposely field weakened teams to ensure elimination.
As it was, the young Hammers fan had to withstand more misery when his team were swept aside 6-0 by Manchester City in the League Cup, making more of a mockery of Allardyce's FA Cup sacrifice.
The West Ham board offered the young fan a VIP to the next home game as compensation.
Dear, oh dear. Grown men trying to buy off a child's tears with otherwise unaffordable luxury … It's enough to make you weep.