The FA Cup used to be one of the welcome breaks from league football. It used to bring so much excitement and joy to not only the smaller teams, but it used to be a massive goal for the big clubs. Recently, there’s been a lot of slander thrown the way of the oldest association FA competition in the world. It seems that unless you’re a fan of a lower league club, the FA Cup doesn’t have any attraction until at least the quarter finals, and it is only valued once it’s won by your club. But how can such a cherished trophy be dwindling so quickly? What is it that has made it less desirable to the big clubs, to whom it used to mean so much?
To someone with lesser knowledge of the game, an FA Cup game between any top 6 Premier League club and a team outside the Premier League, would look like a friendly, or some meaningless pre-season affair. If the fixture was reversed, at the home of a smaller club against a big club they would maybe be told a different tale, but for the most part the FA Cup doesn’t have the same ‘buzz’ it used to. The cup that has infamously been dubbed ‘Arsenal’s Cup’ should perhaps be rethought, maybe something like the ‘Tale of the Smaller Teams Cup’. Less of a ring to it, but it makes more sense. Unless you’re winning the FA Cup or are following the love tale similar to that of Sutton’s charge to the Fifth Round, where they earned their big match against Arsenal, the games seem virtually pointless.
The biggest tales of FA Cup campaigns nowadays are those small clubs surges. It seems that if a lower league side can progress to anywhere between the Fifth Round and even the Final, it’s a better story than any top half Premier League club actually winning the trophy. Just look back to last season, where Arsenal’s dreary, below average season finished with a 2-1 win in the Final against Chelsea. The biggest story remained of the tournament was still Sutton’s. Although on the day (after the game…), Arsenal fans spirits were high again, it took less than 24 hours for some of them to come crashing back down to earth, crying out for Wenger to leave the club again. The harsh truth for that Arsenal win was that it papered over the cracks. That’s maybe for another post, but that’s all the 13th cup glory done for the club.
Something else that proves controversial year in year out is squad selection. On one hand, you have pundits and journalists, people with influence in the game, screaming out for clubs to continue promoting youth and giving them game time to help enhance the English game from the ground up. Then, when it comes to say a Fourth Round tie between an established Premier League side against a lower league team, and a team of youngsters are fielded (albeit with a strong bench most of the time), there is outrage in the media. Claims of managers disrespecting the trophy and not understanding the culture. Reality is, it’s a lose lose for managers. But for me, the fact that it comes to teams playing second string sides in what was once arguably the second most sought after trophy for English clubs, after the league title, shows that it’s value has drastically plummeted.
I admit this has been a negative post, a little bit of a rant and maybe harsh in some aspects. I’m definitely not saying the FA Cup should cease altogether, but maybe the way the competition is structured should be reevaluated, things such as the replays causing flurries of fixtures etc. Something has to happen to bring back the ‘FA Cup buzz’ because it should continue to be a valued trophy and part of the English game. And no, the answer is not reinforcing fines for weakened starting XI’s. That is utter nonsense. As something that helped grow the game into the globally loved sport it is today, it’s only right that the FA Cup remains a major part of the footballing calendar.