I remember a time when the FA Cup used to mean something.
It was the pinnacle of English football and was held in even higher regard than the League by many. It’s the unpredictability of the draws that appeals the most, pitting minnows against giants in real David vs. Goliath ties and plenty of legendary upsets have been caused down the years. This weekend was the fifth round ‘proper’ and it has left me feeling pretty disillusioned, specifically due to the circumstances in which the club I support, Southampton, exited the competition in a drab affair with Sunderland. In the pre-match build up, Sunderland manager Gus Poyet was quoted as saying, “The worst result against Southampton is a replay” and elaborated by adding, “Is it worse than losing? Yes”.
As a Saints supporter ,when I saw the team sheet for the fixture I knew Mauricio Pochettino did not care for progression in this year’s competition, he even went as far as letting his assistant take all media duties and pretty much just sat on the bench for the whole game whilst Jesus Perez did all the work , with the Black Cats winning the game 1-0 thanks to a Craig Gardner goal early in the second half. Poyet’s words and Pochettino’s actions tell you everything you need to know about the attitude that Premier League clubs have towards the once prestigious cup.
I can see why Poyet spoke as he did, his team are embroiled in a relegation battle as well as reaching the League Cup Final and he did not want anymore fixtures congesting an already busy schedule but surely if there is a chance of silverware you should want to challenge for it? Apparently not and as for Saints, there really was no excuse for such a poor showing as the club are safe from relegation in 8th place but with little chance of reaching European competition qualification, they really haven’t much else to play for but finish as high as possible, which is why the FA Cup should have been a priority. Instead it was half arsed by all involved.
It’s really no wonder when you realise that last season in the Premier League, Wigan who finished in 18th position, leading to relegation, are rumoured to have made £2.3 million in prize money from the league whilst on the other hand Wigan also won the FA Cup yet made only £1.8 million for winning ‘England’s premier cup competition’. So they received more money, plus parachute payments, from getting relegated than winning the cup. That’s staggering when you really think about it. It’s not quite there yet but it won’t be long before the F.A. Cup is held in the same regard as the League Cup, with Premier League teams fielding weakened teams and generally not giving a toss.
The first FA Cup final I can vividly recall is the 1997 final between Chelsea and Middlesbrough, although I remember the ‘Cantona Final’ the year before. The buzz surrounding those finals really was electric. It seemed that everybody would be watching the end of season showpiece, or failing that listening on the radio. Looking back I always think of the Final being a sunny day in North London, just on the brink of Summer; in actuality, not every final fell on a hazy summer day but I guess that’s the regard that I and many others hold it in. The build up was always fun, helicopter shots detailing how far away from Wembley the two team coaches were and who made it there first, the focus on the suits the teams would be wearing, ala Liverpool’s ‘Spice Boys’ and just generally Des Lynam and his marvellous moustache.
The FA Cup’s decline probably started after the 2000 Final in which Chelsea beat Aston Villa 1-0. The original Wembley Stadium and its famous twin towers were to be demolished and rebuilt on in the years to come and the Final was temporarily moved to Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium. This is meant as no slight at Wales but with teams and fans travelling to Cardiff instead of London, it just didn’t have the same feel. Yes, there were some great finals held there but it just wasn’t Wembley. The ‘new’ Wembley was finally completed and ready for action in time for the 2007 final in which Didier Drogba’s Chelsea beat Manchester United after a goal scored deep in to extra time. It’s corny but it felt a little like football had ‘come home’. The following year that sentiment was thoroughly killed. The Semi-final matches that for years had predominantly been held at Villa Park and Old Trafford were then moved to Wembley. For my liking the only games that should be played at a national stadium are Cup Finals or Internationals, the fact that a team can now visit Wembley yet be the loser of a Semi-final is insane to think about considering tradition.
It’s obvious that the monetary infection that affects Premier League is killing the FA Cup slowly and surely, like second hand smoke. It’s not just the Premier League though but the FA themselves that have made some big, bad decisions which have lead to this current juncture. I really hope the desire once again picks up for this significant competition but right now it’s hard to look past the fact that the FA Cup is like an elderly person with Emphysema, hooked up to an oxygen tank, cursing their bad life choices.
I hope to once again witness the beautiful push broom perched atop Des Lynam’s top lip dancing joyfully whilst he utters words along the lines of “…and Stalybridge Celtic are now just one mile from Wembley on this sunny May afternoon and shortly they will be on the pitch, getting a feel of the grass, in their Peach Felt suits…”
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