Is the magic of the FA Cup diminishing?
Whether you watch your football miles up in the sky at Old Trafford or if you stand metres off the touch line at Wealdstone, the FA Cup means something to you.
For every British football fan there’s a connection with the cup, even if the ‘magic’ is slowly deteriorating year by year.
There’s no denying that it’s still a fascinating aspect of our beautiful game. Year in year out, fans sit forward on their couches, waiting with that unique sense of hope of who they’re going to be drawn against in the third round of the cup.
For others the dreams start much earlier than that, as non-league sides battle it out for a place in the first round of the cup. As a new generation of fans are bred, though, how much of the loved tradition and magic still remains in the FA Cup?
For the smaller clubs, the magic is still there without a doubt – and it will be for years to come.
The chance for them to have a game with one of the Premier League giants, acts as their highlight of the season. Whether they’re sending 3,000 to an away end in West London or if they’re packing out their home ground to the max – the FA cup always brings the hope and possibilities of an upset for the non-league and low league teams.
These sort of teams are guaranteed to put everything into the games, and this is why the big clubs find it so difficult going these small places looking for a result. Even though there were few shocks in this years third round, we saw heartwarming performances that showed us just what sides like this are capable of.
16th placed Northern-Premier League side Blyth Spartans were 2-0 up at half time versus Birmingham in the third round, and looked likely to pull off the shock of the round before the midlands side pulled three back in the second half.
AFC Wimbledon nearly snuck past Liverpool, via ‘the beast’ Adebayo Akinfenwa, only for Steven Gerrard to save the day with a brace. Sheffield United arguably pulled off the biggest upset though, as the Capital one cup semi-finalists thrashed QPR 3-0 in a game which just a few years ago, they would have been strong favourites against the Hoops.
No doubt that all eyes will now be on Cambridge United as they host Manchester United in the fourth round.
On the other hand, the big teams have arguably put less and less emphasis and less priority on the cup, as their attention focused on other competitions.
This has taken its toll on the spirit of the cup, as managers have felt the need to rest key players in fear of injuries. In the past, managers have found themselves making 9,10, even 11 changes in some cases to their starting lineup. For these sides, the cup has come almost like an unwelcome distraction, whereas it used to be a highlight of even a Premier League players season.
Newcastle, under Alan Pardew, announced before this season that they won’t be placing any sort of priority on either cup, and they would be wholly concentrating on their Premier League campaign. Unfortunately, this just shows how the cup has become like a chore for the big sides, something that they do just because they have to and show no desire.
The ‘giants’ arguably still put more into it than the mid-table top flight clubs, due to their desperation to win some silverware.
Arsenal felt that they had to win a trophy last year to end their drought, hence the extra effort shown in the cup. The teams further down the table seem to care less about the cup, as their main and only target is to stay in the division.
You’re guaranteed to hear managers and players justifying cup exits by saying that they can now focus on their leagues duties. Some managers, though, see it as an opportunity to build on confidence. If their team is facing a low league side and they feel that a big result is on the cards, squad morale is due to go through the roof afterwards.
These trends of low priority on the cup may have come from the increase of foreign players/managers in the premier league. They would be totally unaware of the tradition and previous efforts put into the FA cup.
In contrast, British players and managers will have grown up dreaming of appearing in a final at Wembley. Every kid in Britain has that dream of walking onto the pitch for the final, so if they have that dream in sight when playing professionally; they are going to go for it.
The chances of a story like Wimbledon, 1988, happening again are so slim. As the gap between the big clubs and the smaller clubs becomes bigger – the chances become shorter and shorter.
Additionally, it seems that the FA have done everything they could possibly do to take away all the beloved attributes of the cup that we love, or loved. The timings of FA cup games have been tampered with to allow the Premier League to flow, almost agreeing that the Premier League is more important than their own cup.
In late 2014, it was announced that the third round may not take place in the first weekend of January for the first time in the cups history. This angered the FA cup lovers in the country, as did the move of the final from its classic 3 o’clock kick off to 5:15 – to accommodate TV companies.
This angered fans the most, as it was a further example of tradition being crushed by television and more lucrative deals taking priority.
However, last week, in the tie of replays, a lot of this was proved wrong. Two all premier league ties proved exceptional entertainment for the watchers.
At Turf Moor, Burnley threw away a 2-0 lead before Spurs came back to snatch the game 4-2. Both sides had strong lineups and were both battling fully for the win, with a real sense of meaning. Whereas in East London, West Ham took Everton into penalties, after a yoyo style 90 minutes followed by a similar half hour of extra-time.
It was like a throwback in terms of both teams fighting with passion for the win. Similar to the Burnley game, both sides had full strength teams and it proved a tense and exciting match for everyone witnessing the encounter.
The Hammers ended up winning 9-8 on penalties, after ‘keeper Adrián tucked away the winning penalty. West Ham celebrated jubilantly, whilst some Everton players even had tears in their eyes.
Match-winner Adrián celebrated like he had just won them the cup, not the third round replay.
It was a genuinely brilliant thing to see, after the various bad press the cup has got in recent years, West Ham proved to us that there’s still fight left in the cup, there’s still passion and there’s certainly still excitement.
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