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FA Cup: Stingy Liverpool stymied by Mad Hatters
by Paul Kennedy, January 7th, 2008 8:55AM

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The English FA Cup lived up to its reputation for high drama as four teams from the lower half of the third level of English soccer played Premier League teams over the weekend, and none of them lost.

On Saturday, Oldham won at Everton, 1-0, and Huddersfield beat Birmingham City, 1-0. The next day, Bristol Rovers led twice at Fulham and held the struggling Cottagers to a 2-2 tie.

In the biggest surprise, Liverpool got what was coming to it when bankrupt Luton Town held the Reds to a 1-1 tie. The result followed the Reds' refusal to donate their share of the gate receipts to Luton, which has not paid its players in full in more than two months.

Luton's situation is so desperate that the ball company that supplied the Hatters their game balls demanded their return because they had not paid their bill. Two players showed up at training recently with their suitcases. They'd been kicked out of the hotel they were staying in because Luton could not pay their bill.

Luton arrived 25 minutes before its game at Port Vale last Saturday because of an accident on the motorway -- the Hatters can no longer afford to stay overnight.

Bankruptcy administrators set Monday at 5 pm as the deadline for a buyer to step forward -- two buyers were reportedly in contention -- and take over the club, but for a day at least Luton players put their problems of missed mortgage payments and unpaid car loans aside.

Two years ago, Luton led Liverpool, 3-1, in the third round of the FA Cup only to lose, 5-3. Sunday's encounter at Kenilworth Road didn't live up it the 2006 classic, but the result was certainly stunning.

With Spanish star Fernando Torres resting, Liverpool showed little attacking acumen and was lucky to go ahead on Peter Crouch's goal in the 74th minute, but Norwegian international John-Arne Riise gifted the Hatters the equalizer three minutes later.

Riise's own goal was the only gift Liverpool gave Luton.

According to FA rules, the competing clubs are supposed to take home 45 percent each of the receipts to an FA Cup clash with the other 10 percent going to the FA.

Luton manager Kevin Blackwell, who has been going without pay so the club's apprentices could be paid their $140 a week, called the FA Cup clash a godsend to the cash-strapped club and his players. (The game was a showcase for three players -- David Bell, Dave Edwards and Chris Coyne -- whom the bankruptcy administrator has ordered to be sold to the highest bidder.)

But Blackwell blasted Liverpool for not helping.

"They probably said: 'We have to pay players 100,000 pounds [$200,000] a week. You must be joking! Otherwise, we will be like you!'," Blackwell told the Sun.

Blackwell said the Reds' lack of responsiveness was typical of the lack of support Luton had gotten from what he termed "the so-called football family."

"You just have to accept it," he said. "There are people in life who have got a Rolls Royce while some people have a Mini. We are Mini drivers. We tried to live like a Rolls Royce but that's why we are where we are."

 



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