The Line Between Cheating & Superior Tactics

It will soon be FA Cup final day and this year, we are guaranteed the classic final in which one of the Premiereship giants will take on one of the minnows. This year’s semi-finals see Manchester United or Chelsea pitted against Manchester City; and Millwall – yes, Millwall – (no disrespect intended) taking on Wigan Athletic.

All the neutrals are sure to be supporting either Millwall or Wigan, whichever team manages to get through – I know that I will. But what exactly is it that gives us such pleasure when the little guy wins? Personally, I think that, in some way, it helps to reinforce, in our own minds, that our personal struggle to achieve success can also be won. It provides an object lesson for us and encourages us to keep going despite an unfavourable outlook.

Of course, there is every possibility that Manchester United or one of the other giant clubs will actually win the cup this year. But we know that Wigan and Millwall are still in with a shot and that encourages us. It gives us hope.

History and The Underdog

Staying with football, we have the great victory of Wimbledon over Liverpool as a shining example when, as Mottie put it, The Crazy Gang beat Culture Club (1987-8). Similar FA Cup victories, in which the underdog came out on top, occurred in the 1972-3 season, when Sunderland beat Leeds United to produce one of the biggest ever cup final shocks and another massive upset was when Southampton beat Manchester United in the 1975-6 final.

In the same vein, special mention must be made for Greece who won the Euro 2004 football competition and Denmark who won Euro 1992. Both teams were rank outsiders and Denmark only managed to get into the competition on a technicality (the break-up of Yugoslavia) having previously failed to qualify – a truly astonishing achievement.

Famous Victories of the Underdog

  • Hannibal defeated the numerically superior Roman armies at three major battles
  • The supposedly inferior English fleet routed the Spanish Armada
  • Robert the Bruce defeated the English at the Battle of Bannockburn
  • The Royal Air Force defeated the Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain

So we know it can be done but the question is … how? Perhaps we can learn something from history. How did the famous victories listed above come about? Perhaps the answer will surprise you …


The Power of the Ambush

  • Hannibal ambushed the Romans twice & used tactics at the third battle
  • The English ambushed the Spanish Armada with a fire ship attack
  • Robert the Bruce ambushed the English whilst assembling on the battlefield
  • The RAF used radar and Enigma intelligence to ambush the Luftwaffe

Whilst warfare remains an unimaginable horror, I have long been fascinated by what we might call the tactics of war. Great victories have been won by doing the thing the enemy did not expect; by choosing to fight at a particular time, or place, or in a manner that places the opposing forces at a disadvantage.

As they say, in love and war, all is fair. But all of the above military battles were won by ambushing the enemy in some way.

In a peculiar kind of way, Wimbledon also ambushed Liverpool by intimidating the team, starting in the tunnel and continuing on the pitch. Their gung-ho attitude and shouts of ‘Idaho’ both puzzled and unnerved the League Champions who were unable to rise to the occasion. I don’t, for one moment, mean to imply that Wimbledon cheated. They simply used a particular tactic – gamesmanship – to unnerve their opponents though it was still a kind of ambush.

For me, the takeaway from these examples of triumph in situations where the dominant force lost the battle is not only that the underdog can triumph, though that is a very important lesson. It is that choosing the right tactics can be a great leveler. If Wimbledon can win the FA Cup, we inwardly reason, then I can achieve my goal – at least, I know that I think that way.

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