The FA Cup is missing its magic

Kathy Blake, INCSC
Tuesday, December 27, 2011
1:19 AM

I joined in the Pink’un question and answer session last week for the first time. Not to get my name in the paper, but to get some help with a genuine dilemma. Should I buy my ticket for the FA Cup tie against Burnley on January 7th or not?

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I really am undecided. In previous seasons this would have been a no brainer. I have always loved the FA Cup. When I was a little girl the FA Cup final together with the Queen’s speech were just about the only occasions in our house when the whole family used to forget everything else and sit round the tele. The cup final was a magical day and we used to watch the programme from start to finish, although in those days the pre match stuff seldom amounted to more than one hour before kick off. It was the Mecca for football fans, the highlight of the sporting calendar. I longed for the day when I could be there myself and watch Norwich City in the final.

But I’m afraid to say that this magic has died for me over the past 20 years. Exactly why this has happened I’m not really sure. Maybe it is to do with the commercialisation of the trophy, the advent of sponsors, the scurrilous, arrogant attitude of some of the so called big clubs in fielding weakened sides in the competition, or just that everyone has a pretty good idea that the final will comprise of one or two of four clubs. Stoke City bucked the trend last season by getting to the final, but not since the late eighties when Wimbledon and Coventry won the trophy, has it captured the imagination of the likes of me. I can’t actually remember when I last watched it in its entirety. I wonder perhaps if it is also to do with the type of player top flight football is attracting now. A lot of them know very little about the FA Cup and its traditions when they arrive on these shores. In other countries, knock-out cup competitions are not held in anywhere such high esteem as ours is, or was. In Spain, for example, it is common for gates of four figures to turn up for cup games, especially if the fixture isn’t being contested by any of the top clubs. Our TV channels seem to be more interested in foreign cup competitions, than those who actually live there. I know you shouldn’t really generalise, but another factor may be that a lot of the overseas players seem high on skill but low on the endeavour and fighting qualities that are essential in the FA Cup.

But I think the real reason is that the penalty of failure in the league is too ghastly to be contemplated these days. There is such a gulf in financial rewards, particularly in the Premiership now, that status cannot be risked for the sake of a dalliance with the fleeting mistress that is the FA Cup.

Managers started it of course, understandably I suppose, because they have the most to lose, ie their jobs, in the event of league failure. Relegation equals sack. But it has spread to fans now. I was horrified when I first started to read on message boards a few years back, people saying that we should get knocked out as quickly as possible, and return to the serious business of league football.

But what is worrying is that I am starting to think like that too. City’s worst performance this season was against MK Dons in the Carling Cup. Paul Lambert said after the game that he was very angry with his players because of their performance. But was he really? Was that the public face of being a shrewd manager? After all who am I to question the judgement of a man who has got everything else right? If come May, that early exit means we retain our Premiership status, then his call was a good one.

But it does make me wonder whether I should waste £15 on a repeat performance. I expect I will though. If this is THE year, then I don’t want to miss any part of it.

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