You probably hadn't noticed, but our (almost) world-famous Friday Football Preview has been enjoying a rather extended Christmas break. We tried to convince Editro that this absence was actually a protest to the Premier League, aimed at highlighting the benefits of bringing in a contintental-style winter break, but he was having none of it. Recognising our inherent laziness, he's ordered us to put our Xmas presents back in the toybox and get back to work. So here we are again, ready to present you with a regular supply of woeful predictions throughout 2006.
No Premiership fixtures this weekend, as we have the fourth round of the FA Cup to enjoy instead. And with no less than seven ties involving London clubs, we thought we'd make the effort to head down to Soho Square and get some pointers from the guardians of our national game. Sven seemed to be involved in a bit of a to-do and was unavailable, but we happened to bump into a very nice man who was more than happy to talk to us.....
Name and occupation please....
David Barber. Historian at The FA.
And where might you live?
I live in a hotel in Paddington.
Mysterious. We like it. So then, how did you come to be working for the guardians of our national game?
I've been a full-time FA employee for more than 30 years. I wrote to the FA secretary after finishing my A-levels and there just happened to be a vacancy for a football-mad youngster like me. I started off in the International Department, working alongside Sir Alf.
THAT is what we call pedigree. Any favourite stats at all?
My favourite quiz question concerns the only club to have played in the Premiership, Div 1, Div 2, Div 3, Div 3 South, Div 3 North and Div 4. The answer is Coventry City. But you'd be surprised the number of people who think it's Carlisle. Div 3 South? I don't think so!
Apparently the Wembley crowd's reaction to Shearer's early goal against Germany in the Euro 96 semi-final was measured as being louder than Concorde taking off. I think that's a nice stat.
That IS a nice stat. Who do you support?
I began watching football when I was nine and the first team I supported was Crystal Palace. I'm now up to 5,053 matches, probably a world record, and I'm happy watching any kind of match. I usually do five a week.
We dream of doing it five times a week. As it were. Now, which is the best ground in London?
I've always found it very pleasant going to matches at Fulham.
Yes indeed, we are massive fans of the Cottage as well. Finally, who would you say is the greatest team in the Capital?
Well, I'd say Arsenal in recent seasons. But obviously Chelsea are the team to beat now.
Clearly, now, how about some predictions?
BOLTON WANDERERS v ARSENAL
The Reebok has proved to be a difficult place for Arsenal to get a result but they will be desperate to stay in The FA Cup after going out of the Carling Cup this week. Having appeared in four out of the last five Finals it is clearly a competition that means a lot to them. Draw.
BRENTFORD v SUNDERLAND
Martin Allen loves the tradition of The FA Cup and his side will put everything into this tie. I saw them go out to Premiership Southampton last season and they could have won. But Sunderland's win at West Brom at the weekend will give them some confidence. Draw.
CHARLTON ATHLETIC v LEYTON ORIENT
I was fortunate enough to see Orient's tie at Fulham and thought they totally deserved the win. Charlton have had some disappointments in The FA Cup in recent seasons, taking two games to beat Dagenham for example, but they will have too much for the O's. Home win.
EVERTON v CHELSEA
The teams drew 1-1 at Goodison in the Premiership. I wouldn't say a Chelsea win was by any means clear-cut but you wouldn't bet against them at the moment. Jose Mourinho knows how important The FA Cup is to fans and The Blues rather missed out last season. Away win.
PRESTON NORTH END v CRYSTAL PALACE
As a Palace fan in the late '60s I saw them clinch promotion to the top flight for the first time with a 0-0 draw at Deepdale. We had champagne in paper cups on the coach home. Promotion is still a priority for the Eagles and Preston might edge it with home advantage. Home win.
WEST HAM UNITED v BLACKBURN ROVERS
When I was a lad I remember West Ham losing 8-2 at home to Blackburn one Boxing Day and then winning 3-1 at Ewood Park two days later. I think both sides have a genuine chance of winning The Cup and I'm taking some fervent Hammers support to see them through…just. Home win.
Excellent. Thanks David, hope you enjoy your weekend.
Thanks to David Barber and Alex Stone at the FA and don't forget to visit www.TheFA.com/TheFACup for more previews and features on the world's greatest domestic cup competition.