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Whatever Happened to the Magic of the FA Cup?

Whatever Happened to the Magic of the FA Cup?
Thursday,March 1,2018

Every football fan used to have a special place in their heart for the FA Cup.


Whether it was harping back to their own team making it to Wembley, or even better lifting the famous old trophy, or just great past finals and stories, we could all reel them off - Norman Whiteside’s curler, Kevin Moran being sent off, Keith Houchen’s diving header, Gazza going crazy but Spurs still winning, the Merseyside finals, Lawrie Sanchez’s header sending the trophy to Wimbledon…


Even moments you can’t remember watching live but have heard about and seen since, Ricky Villa’s goal, Roger Osborne scoring the winner for Ipswich then celebrating so much he had to be substituted, Jim Montgomery’s save for Sunderland, the Matthews Final, Newcastle winning three times in five years in the 50’s, the White Horse Final - the list goes on.


But these days the FA Cup has become an after thought, an irrelevance, an irritating interruption to the season proper like an international break even.


I’d started to think it was an age thing, remembering the FA Cup as a fond childhood memory, being able to name all the Cup winners from the late 70’s and all through the 80’s, but literally not even being able to name who won the last three finals.


I could reel off Coventry in 1987, Wimbledon in ‘88, Merseyside finals either side, Man United in ‘83 and ‘85 either side of Everton, but as the big clubs began to dominate, and Arsenal, Liverpool, Man United and Chelsea seemed to rotate winning, every final seemed to blend into the others, though presumably Arsenal must have won it recently as Arsene Wenger remains in situ somehow.


At the same time, there was a noticeable change in how much the FA Cup meant to clubs, which filtered down to the fans.


Rather than it being second only to winning the league, not only did clubs prioritise the Champions League over it, finishing in the top four and securing Champions League football for the following season became much more important.


For the clubs for whom playing in the Champions League is an unattainable dream, there was an opportunity to take advantage as the bigger clubs played weakened teams, rotating players and giving the FA Cup less precedence, but there was a change in priorities there too, with retaining Premier League status, and all the TV riches that brings with it, top of the list.


The managers rest players, fans don’t turn up to watch, no one remembers who wins and the whole FA Cup is now greeted with apathy. Even getting to Wembley isn’t special any more, you get there not only for the semi-finals, but when you play Spurs away these days! Anyone watching the Cup replays this midweek will have seen a couple of shoulder shrugging lukewarm affairs.


Swansea had a home tie against Championship side Sheffield Wednesday, but with both sides facing relegation battles, both made five changes from their previous league games, and only 8,198 fans bothered to turn up to see the Swans make the last eight for the first time in over 50 years.


The following night less than 25,000 fans turned up at Wembley to watch a Spurs side with nine changes from the weekend game at Crystal Palace beat League One Rochdale.


Half empty stadiums watching half reserve teams, it’s not exactly all glitz and glamour any more in the FA Cup is it?


So what can be done?


In the clamour for Champions League football, what about forgetting giving the fourth placed Premier League team a spot and instead giving it to the winners of the FA Cup.

All of a sudden managers would be forced to take it more seriously, a move that has certainly breathed life into the Europa League.


Teams are already penalised for making too many changes to their previous League teams in the Carabao Cup, and similar penalties could be handed out for resting players in the FA Cup, though that problem may be a thing of the past with a Champions League spot up for grabs.


Even teams battling relegation would be pressed to play their first choice XI, given the financial security Premier League survival would bring would be softened at the very least from a Champions League campaign.


Seeding teams has been mooted, but that just feels like there will never be any big games in the early rounds, and while the big clubs should all make the latter stages, it almost shortens the competition for fans.


I’m an avid football fan, yet I’ve had no interest in watching this week’s replays, and couldn’t have told you one of the four ties that are now finalised as the quarter-finals. In fact I only know the teams still in it because it affects my Premier League fantasy team with some of my players missing gameweek 31!


For anyone who, like me, didn’t know who was left, Swansea now host Spurs, Man United play Brighton, Leicester host Chelsea and Wigan play Southampton.


Wigan versus Southampton is the Sunday afternoon live BBC1 game on quarter-final weekend...that should get the FA Cup juices flowing in peak viewing time. Sigh!


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