Ah, the magic of the Cup. The race for the Premiership and promotion and relegation tussles throughout the lower leagues might capture the attention of millions over a long domestic season, but for real thrills the FA Cup stands unrivalled.
Whether it’s two Premiership giants pitted against one another in a winner takes all battle, or a minnow from the non-league world defying its lowly status to pull off a historic victory against a wealthier, glamorous, full-time League side, the world’s oldest cup competition represents all that’s best about the English game.
Hope, drama and heroics are encapsulated in one word that sums up the massive, universal and timeless appeal of the Cup – giant-killing. Every season sleepy, anonymous towns throughout the UK are suddenly catapulted into national consciousness not because of the achievements of their politicians or businessmen, but the heroics of their humble local team.
And boy, how these clubs and communities enjoy their brief time in the spotlight. Players who every day plug away earning their living in a variety of humdrum trades suddenly receive the kind of attention normally reserved for royalty and superstars, with blanket coverage of their achievements and aspirations trumpeted across the media.
Overnight entire communities awake from their collective lethargy and unite in support of their local team, ‘Sold Out’ signs are hastily hung outside overworked ticket offices for the first time in a generation, and chairmen rub their hands in glee in anticipation of a pay-day that will secure the future of the club for a year or two at least.
Every season the FA Cup throws up surprises to quicken the pulse of football fans everywhere. Think of non-league Crawley Town’s recent success in beating league opposition to take on the might of Manchester United at the Theatre of Dreams, and going down only 1-0 after matching the Red Devils for much of the match and being unfortunate not to gain a draw after hitting the bar in the final minute. And what about Leyton Orient’s dramatic come-back against Arsenal in the same round, equalising in the last minute to force a replay at the Emirates, and with it the promise of a much-needed, massive pay-day.
But, according to the guardians of our game, the much-maligned Football Association, the FA Cup is in terminal decline. They want change and, if they get their way, plan to alter fundamental aspects of the competition and, at a stroke, discard the very thing that gives the FA Cup its universal appeal – tradition.
While the exact details have yet to be announced some have leaked, including the abolition of replays, causing a furore in the media and among fans everywhere.
Whether the proposed changes are eventually adopted or quietly dropped, what this worrying development illustrates is not just how out of touch the Football Association is with the football-loving public, but how the governing body of our sport has become a puppet for the major Premiership clubs. Pre-occupied as they are with the supposed glamour and money-making possibilities of European competition, the giants of the Premiership have been collectively lobbying for the demands of FA Cup competition to be reduced, hence the proposal to abolish replays, and thereby lighten the load on players encouraged to give all in their club’s quest for glory in Europe.
This is sheer madness. The FA Cup is unquestionably one of the world’s best known and most respected sporting competitions. It is by any definition a huge success, and remains so. Just ask the fans of Crawley Town or Leyton Orient. The message from football fans everywhere, including the Premiership is leave well alone – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Anyone beg to differ?
Tim Garland – Cardiff City fan