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In UK, Tiny Football Team Wants To Be A Giant Killer


An intriguing soccer match taking place in England today has captured the imagination of soccer fans around the globe, including our correspondent Philip Reeves who sent us this letter.

PHILIP REEVES: The English are obsessed with their age-old class system. They talk about it all the time. Class even exists in their favorite sport, soccer -football, as its known here.

The aristocrats are the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool, and above all, Manchester United. In football as in life, the aristocrats usually play amongst themselves. Once in a while though they get thrown in with the lower orders. Today is one such occasion.

Right now, Manchester United are playing Crawley Town. United are top of England's world renowned Premier League. Little Crawley aren't even in the English Football League.

Most English people would struggle to find Crawley on the map. It's tucked amid the grim, concrete sprawl around London's second airport, Gatwick.

These two teams have been thrown together by the oldest, greatest tournament in English football, the FA Cup. The English love this contest for exactly these upstairs-downstairs moments. If Crawley wins today, they'll be down to the last eight. No non-league side have gone that far since the Second World War.

This would require a miracle. Manchester United has won the FA Cup 11 times. Its multimillionaire players are of the finest pedigree. Crawley's men are generally also-rans; tough pros who tried for the big time but didn't quite make it. Now they have a second chance.

Less than 2,000 fans usually turn up for Crawley Town's regular home games. Today's match is at Manchester United's Old Trafford, one of sports legendary arenas. Some seventy-five thousand spectators will greet Crawley's men as they trot out nervously on to this hallowed turf. Millions more are watching on TV.

Crawley's fans are praying fate smiles on their leading goal scorer, a guy called Tubs. Manchester United fans will be more relaxed, knowing Wayne Rooney can always be called on if they need him. Rooney is one of the world's great players. His pay packet's so fat, it takes him just three days to earn the sum Crawley is believed to have paid to him buy Tubs from another equally obscure club.

This hasn't stopped many English from rooting for tubs and his friends, hoping in this time of revolution, football's mighty elite take a beating. This includes the hugely popular Sun newspaper, voice of Britain's working-class, known for its witty headlines. It's sponsoring Crawley because it says the English love nothing more than a sunderdog.

Philip Reeves, NPR News, London.

SIMON: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.