This afternoon I checked the web for the results of Liverpool’s 3rd
round FA Cup match against Mansfield Town. The
story I found had an unusual headline:
FA Cup - Suarez wins Cup tie for Liverpool with handballed goal
Liverpool won the game 2-1, so I thought that the word “tie” must have
been a typo. But when I checked another story to find out
more about Suarez’s handball, I saw this caption underneath a photo:
No chance: Alan Marriott is helpless to prevent Suarez netting the
Reds’ second of the tie
Clearly, then, the Brits are using the word “tie” to mean “match”.
But why? True, they use “draw” to refer to a match that ends with both
teams having the same score, while Americans use “tie”. But they
commonly talk about “tied scores” during games, so it’s not like the
word has a completely different meaning on our side of the
pond. What’s going on?
I checked a few dictionaries but none of them had that usage in their
definitions of “tie”. I decided to check the online edition of the
Oxford English Dictionary, which I’m able to access via Drexel’s
library. The OED, of course, had the answer.
But to understand the answer, we first need to understand how the FA
Cup works. In most single-elimination tournaments Americans are
familiar with, such as Wimbledon and March Madness, every participant is seeded and each match is laid
out in a tree. When two participants meet in a match, the winner
moves on and the loser is eliminated. Draws are impossible; there is
always some sort of mechanism in place to break ties.
The FA Cup, however, doesn’t work like that. First, there is no
tournament tree. The pairings for each round are chosen at random,
along with which team will play at home. Second, if a game ends in
a draw, they don’t try to settle the match with extra time or a
penalty kick shootout until they get to the semifinal and final
rounds. Instead, the two teams play each other again, this time at
the home field of the team which was the visitor in the first leg.
The OED says that this rematch used to be called a “cup-tie”. For
example, in 1895 the Daily News reported, “The Wednesday men are noted
cup-tie fighters.” (The “Wednesday men” refers to Sheffield Wednesday, a very famous and old English soccer club that
won the FA Cup in 1896.) By 1905 this had begun to be shortened to
Probably the Cup-‘tie’ has been evolved from the phrase ‘shooting
off’ or ‘playing off a tie’ after two competitors have ‘tied’. The
match between those who stand on a level gradually gets regarded as
itself the ‘tie’.
As we’ve seen from the Liverpool headlines, these days “tie” is used
to refer to the first leg FA Cup matches as well.
Interestingly, when “cup-tied” is used as an adjective, it means
something completely different. It’s used to describe a player who’s
ineligible to play in cup-ties for his current team because he’s
already played in cup matches for another team earlier in the
competition. Some examples: “Wakeling, being cup-tied after playing
for Corinthian-Casuals, will be missed in midfield, and Richards will
probably replace him” and “Jimmy Greenhoff, Manchester United’s
£120,000 buy from Stoke City, is cup-tied and will not be eligible to
play against Everton.”
Corinthian-Casuals, with their chocolate and pink uniforms,
are my new favorite English soccer team.