Originally Published: Jan 6th 2012 @
The F.A Cup final: the match every young boy dreams about. Scoring a ninety-third minute winner against your bitterest rivals in front of a packed Wembley before triumphantly marching up the infamous thirty-nine steps to lift the oldest trophy in cup football to the cheers of 50,000 souls in addition to millions watching at home. A life-defining scenario we all play through our heads a thousand times a year.
Or at least used to.
Now, the famous cup is nothing more than a distraction from the more significant duties of league football. With the millions involved at the top, Premier League sides are preoccupied with retaining their status as a tier one side; fighting for European football next season; or trying to succeed on the continent this. In public, every manager will insist it is still a huge competition but that’s just all part of the deceit.
Come this weekend’s third round, of the twenty Premier League sides only two might play their strongest eleven, the Manchester clubs, and even then these selections will be made due to ulterior motives. In this, the glamour tie of the round, local hierarchy ranks more significant than progression in the competition. From City’s perspective we saw this in the 2010 Carling Cup semi-final as the blue side of Manchester succumbed to their preoccupation of beating the enemy.
On Sunday, the red side could be even more desperate for victory than their hosts as this campaign has seen Mancini’s men rise to the task and take giant leaps into rivaling their old foes and winning a first league title in over forty years. However, City themselves would be stupid to forget that it was only twelve months ago that this very same competition provided the platform for them to build their title-challenging gallacticos. Nonetheless, Premiership triumph is what they will have their eyes set on.
As for Sir Alex, can he really ever prioritise a competition he famously snubbed over a decade ago in favour of the ‘Mickey Mouse’ World Club Championship? That unforgettable decision in 2000 changed the state of our domestic cup forever.
It didn’t help the famous old competition’s stature when just a year later Wembley had shut down and saw the upheaval of club football’s biggest match as the final moved to Cardiff. In an age where top-tier survival is imperative and prioritised as the number one season objective, not even being rewarded with a trip to HA9 culminated with the cup falling further into obscurity. For the big clubs, a possibility of playing in Europe’s elite competition overtook filling the trophy cabinet with domestic honors.
Now more than ever, football is a business and for the owners money is everything. The prize money in the cup, compared to that of league standing or European entry, is a pittance. There was a time when our sport was run by pride but now it’s run by greed. If those running a club can’t put the effort in is there any wonder that fans too have become disillusioned?
Look at Blackburn this week, who are prepared to boycott their match with Newcastle in favor of local non-league outfit Chorley. In fact, even Manchester City struggled selling tickets for their third round date with United as pleas to supporters could be heard over the tannoy during Tuesday’s match with Liverpool. There was a time tickets for a game of this magnitude would be even more sought after than a trip to Charlie’s Chocolate Factory. Now they’re easier to find than an ex-lover of Katie Price.
Meanwhile, the modern era has destroyed the magic of the cup for small clubs too. The masses of money involved at the top have led to squads full of depth and quality like never seen before. For the non-league and lower division sides it is impossible to compete. Even when confronted with a third choice Premiership eleven, a League Two simply cannot match that caliber and tragically the concept of “giant killing” no longer means what it used to. In recent years, real upsets have been so infrequent that even when a team at the bottom of League 1 beats a team bidding for promotion to The Championship the David vs. Goliath analogies are rolled out in abundance.
It’s a sorry state of affairs for The F.A Cup which has resulted in the steady decline of the world’s oldest cup competition. Attendance, viewing figures, and general interest levels are at an all time low and even a return to Wembley hasn’t saved it. The final itself is no longer held in such high esteem as even reaching the semi-final is rewarded with a trip to the capital – another vindication that power lies with money which is coupled by the awful rebranding courtesy of Budweiser. Tragic.
Whether the Cup will ever recapture it’s glory days of yesteryear remains to be seen but in the current climate there is little wonder as to why kids on the playground no longer dream of that showpiece final and instead prefer to beat Barcelona in Europe. As far as this season’s competition goes; who will win and who will lose?
And who the hell even the cares.