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Sharks and Minnows

The FA Cup final is on 18 May

by Brian Radcliffe

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)

Aims

To encourage us to consider the possibility of exceeding our potential.

Preparation and materials

  • You will need a leader and two readers.

  • Note: you will need to update the assembly with information about the FA Cup finalists before delivering it.

Assembly

Leader: This Saturday is the big one for two sets of football fans. It’s the FA Cup Final, one of the most important matches in the football season, at least for supporters of (insert the relevant team names). Trains, coaches, cars and even a few planes will carry fans to Wembley Stadium for the final of what some say is the finest knockout tournament in the sporting world.

Many months ago, in the summer of 2018, the initial group of 736 teams took part in the first qualifying rounds of the FA Cup. Each win took a club - however small - into the next round, earning it the right to compete eventually with the larger clubs of the Premier League and Football League, guaranteeing more money and greater challenges for these minnows of the football world.

Reader 1: The word ‘minnow’ has two meanings. It can denote a small fish found in lakes and rivers, but it can also refer to a small or insignificant person or organisation.

Reader 2: We can apply both of these definitions to some of the teams in the qualifying rounds. Many of them will have felt that they had little power and even less chance of winning. They will have felt like little fish in a big pond.

Leader: As the rounds progressed, the Premier League and Championship sharks joined the draw. The surviving minnows waited expectantly as the draw for each new round was made. Would they be drawn against one of the top clubs? Would they have the chance to become history-making giant-killers?

All of the minnows will have known their football history. There have, in fact, been several occasions when a lowly qualifier surprised a Premier League club.

Reader 1: During the 2016-17 season, non-League Lincoln City beat Premier League Burnley to reach the quarter-finals of the FA Cup.

Reader 2: Four years previously, Luton Town, competing at a similar level to Lincoln City, beat Premier League Norwich City.

Reader 1: In 2003, Third Division Shrewsbury Town beat Premier League Everton.

Reader 2: Sometimes referred to as one of the greatest giant-killings of all time, Wrexham beat Arsenal in the third round of the FA Cup at a time when Arsenal were reigning champions.

Leader: Sometimes, giant-killing does happen.

Time for reflection

If we were football teams, I wonder which leagues we would be playing in. Maybe some of us would consider ourselves Premier League quality. Others may feel pretty middle-of-the-road, maybe a team in the Championship or near the top of Division 1. Many of us probably consider ourselves in the non-League camp, the smallest of minnows with very little spectator support and not much chance of promotion.

I’m sure thats how Lincoln City, Luton Town, Shrewsbury Town and Wrexham felt when they faced such tough opposition, yet opportunity called for them. A few lucky moments, some inspired performances and a gritty determination to take the chance when it was offered resulted in a remarkable victory for each of them.

So, how can we plan to become giant-killers? How can a minnow overcome a shark? In many ways, it’s not possible to plan such a move. Giant-killing is about seizing an opportunity when it presents itself.

An opportunity might arise through a moment of personal inspiration, a bright idea or an unexpected burst of energy. It could happen to every one of us, but many of us are so surprised at the time, so lacking in confidence, so bogged down by poor self-image, that we let the moment pass us by.

Alternatively, an opportunity might arise through some failure, absence or weakness on the part of people who normally dominate our lives. It might make us feel sorry for them, or a little embarrassed, but the opportunity is there for us to grasp. And we may end up surprising ourselves and others.

Of course, an act of giant-killing doesn’t guarantee that life from that point on will result in unending success. Most of the clubs mentioned earlier probably suffered defeat to run-of-the-mill teams in the ensuing weeks, but nothing could take away their result in the FA Cup match. Only dedication and hard work will result in long-lasting improvement, but the memory of what happened can become a powerful stimulus.

Where does that leave us then? How does the day and week ahead look for us? Are we reconciled to a few failures, some mistakes and the experience of being overlooked? Who knows? Our chance could come today. We need to stay alert. Be expectant. Be ready to seize an opportunity when it presents itself.

As for the FA Cup Final, I dont think I dare make a prediction about whos going to win. What do you think?

Prayer
Dear God,
Thank you for the dream that any of us could be a giant-killer.
Remind us of this and give us courage to take opportunities when they arise.
Thank you that each of us is unique.
Thank you that each of us has abilities and talents.
Amen.

Song/music

‘We are the champions’ by Queen, available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=04854XqcfCY (3.10 minutes long)

Publication date: May 2019   (Vol.21 No.5)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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