Last Weekend Highlighted The Magic Of The FA Cup, But Is The Competition In Danger Of Dying Out

Last Weekend Highlighted The Magic Of The FA Cup, But Is The Competition In Danger Of Dying Out
Feb 2, 2017

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The FA Cup was once the highlight of the footballing season. At 146 years old, it is the oldest national football competition on the planet and has delivered some of the most memorable moments in English football history. 736 clubs have taken part in this season’s FA Cup; none of which have been seeded or wrapped in cotton wool to guarantee their progression to the latter stages, anyone can draw anyone, the big clubs are exposed, and that is the real beauty of it.

However, in a generation of multibillion-pound TV deals and substantial financial rewards, it is clear that the FA Cup has suffered by and large as a direct result.

The winners of this year’s FA Cup will receive £1.8 million in prize money, when you compare this to the £66.2 million Aston Villa received last season for finishing 20th in the Premier League and the £105.8 million Tottenham secured for finishing 3rd last season, it is obvious as to why many clubs feel the need to prioritise their league position over the possibility of a day out at Wembley. Furthermore, this prize money is set to increase, meaning that the club who finishes rock bottom of the Premier League may receive more than Leicester did for winning the whole thing. With huge financial incentives at stake, you can’t blame owners for predominantly demanding league success from managers, meaning that domestic cup competitions are inevitably of sub-standard significance. Just look at Leeds, Gary Monk made 10 changes ahead of their game against Sutton United.

The demise of the FA Cup really started back in 1999 when the Football Association offered Manchester United, treble winners at the time, the opportunity to drop out of the 1999-2000 FA Cup campaign in order to take part in the World Team Championship, believing that this would strengthen their 2006 World Cup bid. Which, evidently, it did not. Nonetheless, it completely undermined the tradition of English football and was ultimately the first nail in the FA Cup’s coffin.

In May 2015, the FA confirmed that Emirates would be the sponsors of the FA Cup in a £30 million deal and as of August 2015 the cup was to be known as the ‘Emirates FA Cup’, a massive change from previous sponsors such as Budweiser and E.ON who decided to maintain the FA Cup and simply add ‘sponsored by’. Maybe I’m a traditionalist, maybe I’m ignorant to change, but branding the FA Cup in this way does not sit well with me. I think it somewhat devalues the competition. Dyche stated that the £30 million generated through that deal would be pumped into grassroots football and true to his word, in August 2015, the FA made a record-breaking £260 million investment. However, was it really necessary to sell the FA Cup’s name? Did the FA really need that £30 million in order to make a real impact on grassroots football? I’m not so convinced. For me, it was just another detrimental, money making decision, which was not in the best interest of the FA Cup in any way, shape or form.

The media haven’t done the FA Cup any favours either; it’s no secret that Manchester United have had their last 56 Cup ties televised with their game against Blackburn in the next round set to be televised too, that’s every single game since a 0-0 draw with Exeter back in 2005. 35 of these ties have been screened by domestic television channels (BBC and ITV); BBC TV coverage this season has reached 22 million so far, peaking at 5.3 million people who tuned in to watch Manchester United against Wigan. So when these broadcasters with the rights to this competition use it merely for easy viewing figures, how can anyone be expected to buy into the true magic of the cup? Perhaps if the BBC and BT made an effort to capture the real essence of this historic competition, so would everyone else. The BBC claim that due to a replay, the FA made it impossible for them to televise Lincoln’s FA Cup shock against Brighton and instead had to go with Manchester United’s predictable demolition of Wigan. However, I find it extremely hard to comprehend the fact that it was acceptable to wait until after Bolton’s replay with Crystal Palace to decide whether Manchester City or Manchester United would receive the Sunday 4pm slot but the same was not possible with Lincoln. Nevertheless, if this is true, the FA should hang their heads in shame because they have denied a non-league side the chance to play live on national TV in one of their biggest games in recent years. Thankfully, both non-league clubs have received a slot on TV for the forthcoming round.

The real question is, how do we get the FA Cup back to its former glory? I suppose even more importantly, is it actually possible to restore the diamond in the Crown Jewels of English football?

There are a few simple steps the FA could take in order to restore some reverence in the cup once again. Firstly, take the FA Cup semi-finals out of Wembley. It completely undermines and devalues the Final. I attended both the FA Cup final and FA Cup semi-final last season and I have to say, although to go to an FA Cup final was a dream come true, the day as a whole was lessened by the fact that I had already witnessed Crystal Palace win at Wembley just 4 weeks prior. Old Trafford, The Emirates, Villa Park, The London Stadium, the Etihad, Anfield, St. James’ Park and the Stadium of Light are all adequate stadiums that could host an FA Cup semi-final.

Secondly, move the FA Cup final back to 3pm on Saturday afternoon. That’s the traditional kick-off time, it always has been and for many football fans, it will always be. Plenty of people tune into Gillette soccer Saturday and Final Score every week in order to keep up with the 3 o’clock kickoffs, I’m confident the average football fan would find it possible to switch BBC1 on 150 minutes earlier than scheduled. And whilst we are on the subject, restrict all FA Cup ties to the weekend, ditch the Friday night kickoffs, they bring nothing to the table.

Thirdly, provide less cooperate seating at the Final and give a higher allocation to the two respective clubs. Last year, Palace received around 30,000 tickets for the final, as did Manchester United. However, Wembley has a capacity of 90,000, meaning that another 30,000 tickets were distributed elsewhere.

Then, cap FA Cup 3rd, 4th and 5th round ticket prices at £15. A lot of fans, myself included, are season ticket holders and pay a lot of money in order to obtain them. Therefore, the last thing we want to be doing is paying £25 to watch Manchester City stick 3 goals past us with no reply. 13,000 people turned up at Selhurst Park on Saturday, 3,000 were Man City fans. Abysmal. The only way to get more people through the turnstiles is to lower the admission prices.

Lastly, give the FA Cup winners Champions League qualification. Finishing 4th really doesn’t merit a place in the Champions League, therefore it would seem logical to reward the winners of the FA Cup with a place amongst Europe’s elite. If both sides in the final already have Champions League qualification secured, then hand it to 4th place.

 

There is no hiding the fact that the FA Cup has lost its shine, it is no longer the biggest day of the football season, the majority of football fans probably look forward to the Champions League final more than the FA Cup final if truth be told. But I do still believe it is the biggest asset in English football, it is the only competition that provides an equal playing field of opportunity for success and more often than not supplies a romantic story that reminds many people as to why this is the most beautiful game in the world.

“Only now have the club become truly big” – Bill Shankly after Liverpool’s first FA Cup in 1965.

Last weekend showed that the magic of the cup is still well and truly alive but is the most prestigious cup competition in the world dead in so many ways?

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