The FA Cup was once one of the most prestigious trophies in England. A competition which could breathe hope in to a team’s season and that could reinvigorate a whole football club.
Now the ‘magic of the cup’ seems to be gone. Many will argue that for lower-leagues sides this isn’t the case, but for the larger teams the competition is now merely an inconvenience.
Over this weekend we watched Premier League side Bournemouth make 11 changes for their trip to Milwall, a decision Eddie Howe justified as “the correct decision for the football club”. This brought home the sad truth that the money in the Premier League has diminished the value of this once great competition.
Liverpool also made 10 changes for their home tie against Plymouth Argyle, only to draw 0-0 in front of the TV cameras. Some will say that the ‘magic of the cup’ is the victory of the underdogs, but for me the beauty of the FA Cup isn’t about watching lower-league teams play second-string Premier League sides.
The FA Cup is about the lower-league teams, coming to Old Trafford; Anfield or the Emirates and beating a full strength Premier League giant. Where is the beauty in playing Liverpool’s academy in a half full stadium?
The lack of interest in the cup has translated to the stands as well. Over the weekend, the all Premier League affair between Hull City and Swansea City saw a crowd of just 6,608.
Had this been a Premier League game, you would have seen at least double the attendance. The absence of the crowd coupled with second-string teams creates a testimonial atmosphere in the ground, one that does a disservice to England’s oldest cup competition.
Teams like Bournemouth; Southampton and West Ham, are all sides that have no real concerns with being embroiled in a relegation battle. So, that leaves me thinking, what else do they have to play for this season?
Nothing. Yet all three teams made whole-sale changes, with Bournemouth and West Ham crashing out the cup, and the Saints were held to a replay by out of form Norwich.
This highlights the stand out issue, that the Premier League has become so powerful, and so financially rewarding that there is more value in finishing higher in the league, than there is in having a good cup run.
Ask any fan of these clubs, would you rather finish 10th in the league, or finish 12th and get to the FA Cup semi-final? Whilst the league might offer more money to the club, as a fan you can’t put a price on a trip to Wembley.
If the FA Cup is to return to its former glory, then their needs to be changes, and that must come from the FA. I believe the best way to do this would be to offer a Champions League spot to the winners.
This would offer teams more incentive to do well in the competition, as the financial benefits of competing in Europe’s elite competition would be staggering.
This would create a more competitive and exciting cup competition, one that could see the return of a trophy we have all grown up to love. If you speak to any former player, they will testament to how much they enjoyed playing in the FA Cup, and watching it growing up.
For now, bring on the fourth round. Maybe Sutton United will get their chance to compete at Anfield. The chances are though, they will come to face a Liverpool side, half of whom haven’t played at Anfield before either.
A sad reality.