WE’VE got two intriguing nights of knockout action to look forward to this week.
First up is the big trip to Carlisle for the first leg of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy area final.
Then on Wednesday, we can make a brew, sit back and switch on the TV to see where we will be going in the fourth round of the FA Cup on Sunday, January 30.
Leeds’ big replay with Arsenal in live on ITV, and I’m not surprised ESPN have picked out our visit to the winners as a feature match.
Other than being away rather than at home, it’s a fantastic draw wherever we end up going.
Many fans will have gone past the Emirates Stadium on the train and wondered whether they’d get the chance to see Town play there.
I’ve been to Highbury quite a few times, but never Arsenal’s new home, which looks magnificent on TV.
We’ve had a couple of trips to Chelsea over the last few years, and to take on another top Premier League side would be brilliant both for the players and the fans.
But if Leeds win on Wednesday, and they came pretty close in the first tie, then we’ve got a magnificent local derby on our hands.
We’ve got a good record against our neighbours in recent meetings, and I know how much it means to our supporters to get one over on the old enemy from along the road.
Leeds will be encouraged by Ipswich’s win over Arsenal in their Carling Cup semi-final first leg, and the Elland Road showdown should make compelling viewing.
I’ve enjoyed playing against Leeds over the years, and the big crowds mean there’s always an extra edge to our matches against each other.
I can also remember a big cup night at Carlisle, when we got through to the final of what was then the Autoglass Trophy in 1994.
We actually lost the second leg 2-0 but went through to Wembley 4-3 on aggregate, and it’s important to remember that whatever happens up at Brunton Park, the tie is far from over.
Back in ’94, I think we pretty much thought the job was done after beating them 4-1 at Leeds Road, but the second leg seemed to last a very long time!
I think the best approach is to treat each leg as a one-off, and hopefully we’ll win both of them.
I’VE STARTED my training for the bike ride to Brighton, and it’s proving a good way to get rid of those excess pounds put on over Christmas.
Like the Southend ride last season, proceeds go to the Keep It Up campaign, and it’s great news that the ride is full, with more than 160 cyclists signed up to raise funds for a really good cause.
At 260 miles, the route to Withdean, which goes through Loughborough, Milton Keynes and East London among other places, is longer than that to Roots Hall.
But the number of times we went wrong, we probably rode around the same distance last time!
It was a great sense of achievement to make it all the way, and I well remember the reception we got on arriving in Southend.
It was also interesting to pass through towns and villages you would otherwise never have seen, so I’m looking forward to the latest challenge.
I’M ALL for a return of the Home Internationals, but not every season.
As a kid, I used to enjoy the end-of-season tournaments between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
And it’s interesting that the idea of reviving them is being floated.
The Home Internationals were the world’s first football tournament and ran for more than 100 years, so they can’t have been all bad.
I think the fear of hooliganism was a major factor in ending them after 1984, but that’s not as big an issue now because of the improved policing and CCTV and the way the game has become more family orientated.
Some people I know who follow England say international football has lost its shine.
But the buzz created by the prospect of England and Wales playing in the Euro qualifiers shows there is interest in home-nation meetings.
I think a new tournament would draw the fans and therefore provide a financial boost for all four of the countries, and given the cost of Wembley, that would be really useful for us here in England.
I think the games would be competitive as well, because we all know what beating England would mean to the Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish.
In the past, the FA seem to have been against a revival.
But Vauxhall, who are sponsoring them, appear to be keen on the idea, and that’s a pretty powerful driving force.
My main concern is that with the increased focus on the Champions League, our top players are already playing plenty of games.
A Home International tournament every year would be too much in my view.
But as preparation for the Euros and the World Cup, they would be perfect, so why not hold them every two years?