Saving the FA Cup

13 05 2011

Andrew Benbow remembers when the FA Cup was really important. And asks what we can do to turn the clock back…

‘What would you prefer to win – the Cup or the League?’
 
Hard to see that being a debate in the playgrounds of today as it was when I was young. And it was a genuine debate. Yes the League proved who was the best team that season, but with the FA Cup came the magic (sorry, I couldn’t avoid the word) of the Final – a special day that would be etched onto collective memories and relived on school fields up and down the country. The FA Cup Final to me is not knowing the words to Abide With Me, a uniquely long build up, dodgy songs and suits, ghosts of games past, and taking a football onto the street at half time to pretend that I was playing. FA Cup winning goals went down in history, the pinnacle of a career unless you were fortunate enough to be a World Cup Winner or Michael Thomas.
 
And it is hard to see why this changed. Yes there are the eye-catching catastrophes – United not defending their trophy, Wembley semi-finals taking away the unique Cup final feeling, and now Premier League games on the same day – but bit by bit the Cup has lost its lustre without anyone seeming to want it to.
 
For the money men of a certain five or six teams the big thing is the Champions League. This isn’t romantic but it is to an extent understandable. Qualifying for the competition can now change a club forever – but if the reason is not to change the club in order that it can compete for honours, then what is the point?
 
And why would the Champions League change things for the majority of fans in England anyway? It is for elite club teams – and will never cross the path of most supporters in the country. For my part I don’t care about the Champions League. I enjoy it as I like good football, but I don’t and will not ever actually care about it. It has nothing to do with my football club and it never will. It’s a different world.
 
The media often blame the Champions League for changing the priorities of the top clubs. But this is clearly wide of the mark – the winners of the FA Cup in recent seasons are overwhelmingly taken from those teams who participate in European competition (14 of the last 15 in fact). Clearly the Cup is not too much of a distraction that they do not want to win it.
 
So what went wrong with the FA Cup? Well, to me, the fans have only themselves to blame.
 
Fans bemoan the loss of the FA Cup while at the same time allowing their managers to rest players ahead of that all important ‘will we be 8th or 14th’ Premier League game. In turn more and more players are rested until bit by bit the Cup is demeaned. Villa at Man City is the most glaring example – they were never realistically going to get relegated, so why not try and win the cup? The nadir for me was when my club, West Brom, were in the hat for the last four of the FA Cup with Portsmouth, Cardiff and Barnsley – and people were saying we should rest players as getting into the Premier League was more important! Why?! At best we will make the Europa League in my lifetime – the FA Cup is the only dream we have. And now seemingly nobody cares.
 
It is hard to see a change to the status quo as we are in a vicious circle – attendances in the competition are down, hence managers largely believe that the Cup isn’t a priority, play weakened teams, and so fans see the Cup demeaned.

I would like the FA to take action. Put their foot down regarding the staging of the FA Cup Final, lobby for the winner to be given a Champions League spot, and put severe pressure on teams over ticket prices. All FA Cup games should be ‘kids for a quid’. Ticket prices should be capped at £20. Give the Cup back to the fans. If they don’t, then in a few years there may be no Cup worth the name.

Follow Andrew on Twitter @AKBenbow

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One response

13 05 2011
Colin

A recurring theme in recent posts is the impotence of the FA when it comes to dealing with the rather obvious issues with the modern game. I’ve lost count of the recent investigations and reviews into the running of the FA which have had precisely no impact. We need a viable, powerful body in charge of all aspects of our game in order to progress on issues such as these.

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