It’s funny how every pundit, presenter and commentator alike seem to have referenced the Third Round of The FA Cup as ‘one of the best weekends in the football calendar’ over the last three days. They’re not fooling anyone though, are they?
‘The Gerrard Final’ of 2006 feels like the last proper cup final. Chelsea’s extra-time triumph over United the following season also had a bit of the old-school feeling of significance to it.
However, in the year 3000 when not much has changed but they live underwater, our descendants will surely look back at 2008 as a marker season of when The FA Cup lost a large portion of both its credibility and importance.
Portsmouth one, Cardiff City nil. Kinell.
It's been a whole 10 years since Cardiff City's FA Cup final against Portsmouth in 2008
— Cardiff City Online (@CardiffCityLive) May 17, 2018
While one could argue that Portsmouth’s achievement epitomised the ‘magic of the cup’, you can’t help but feel that it was all a bit blag in a season where three English sides reached the semi-finals of the Champions League and even Arsenal found a way to the quarters.
Ever since, the ‘big sides’ haven’t treated the competition with the same gravitas and there’s definitely been a knock-on effect for the more humble sides in the top flight and below.
As the powerhouses of the English game have begun to view the cup as either a hindrance or an opportunity to give some game time to fringe players, the best of the rest have lost interest. Although they’ve done so without the same justification.
It’s like when the cool lad in your year ditched his once holy pair of Air Max for some brand new Gazelles. Everyone has to follow suit in order to maintain social status.
On Saturday, Brighton rested Davy Propper, Pascal Groβ, Lewis Dunk, Solly Marsh and Glenn Murray in their Third Round clash with Bournemouth. It’s as if they’re in some other competition that they haven’t told anyone else about, or maybe they still fancy top four? What in the world are they resting players for?
The FA cup has lost its magic… Friday night games
More 12.30 and 5.30 kicks offs than 3 o’clock’s on a Saturday and all bar one game at 2 o’clock on a Sunday 🙄🙄 aswell as keeping semif finals at Wembley 🤦🏽♂️ #themagicofthecupnomore @FA
— Jack Lambert (@JackLambert18) January 4, 2019
Although nine of the last ten winners of the Cup have come from the current top six (or the Sky six as mid-table conspiracy theorists like to call it), it’s too often been a manager trying to save face or even his job, realising there are only about two other half decent sides taking it seriously that year.
In 2016 and 2018, Louis Van Gaal and Antonio Conte both used the tournament as a departing middle finger to their employers days before they lost their jobs, Manchester City’s win in 2011 was a necessity in order to justify the spending of the club post-takeover, and there’s a lot to be said about Arsene Wenger managing to cling onto his job off the back of a perennial FA Cup win.
While it remains brilliant for lower league and non-league clubs up and down the country, for the cup to ever recapture its halcyon days the best of the best must view it as worthwhile again. This won’t take away from the experience of the Accrington Stanleys or Port Vales of this world if anything it will only make it more special.
The feeling of getting taken seriously when going to Old Trafford rather than facing United’s under 18s amid a flat atmosphere at half twelve on a Saturday when frankly no one’s that interested doesn’t quite scream ‘the magic of the cup’, as much as the BBC would have you think otherwise.
At the moment, you can’t blame the Premier League’s super six for putting the competition at the bottom of their priorities. The Third Round is slapped onto the end of a truly unforgiving festive schedule and lies days before the League Cup semi-finals.
Between Christmas, the Third and Fourth Rounds, Cup Replays, a two-legged tie against their London rivals Chelsea and the furious pace they must go at to sustain any sort of a title challenge, Spurs could end up playing eighteen games across December and January which just feels unfair. That includes two north London derbies, a trip to the Nou Camp, Manchester United away and a two-legged tie against Chelsea.
It’s a similar story for City, Chelsea and whoever the fourth team in that competition are.
Burton? As in Burton Albion from who are ninth in League One? Really? Did they just get a bye through every one of the last five rounds or something? Someone should look into that.
With their best chance of winning the league in almost thirty years, Liverpool will probably play Lazar Markovic and three lads I’ve never heard of tonight, which is going to be brilliant.
Arsenal have already left Heathrow to try and get to Kazakhstan or wherever they’re playing in that endless Europa League knockout stage, which they may well have to win to get back to Heineken and Gazprom advertising hoardings next year instead of Kia and FedEx.
As more money comes into the league, better and bigger names are pushed onto the bench. A starting berth in cup competitions is now the compensation clubs are willing to pay out in order to keep the likes of Petr Cech and Davide Zappacosta around.
The financial consequences of relegation have forced the dross of the division to focus everything on survival. Equally the money to be made by promotion to the richest league in the world means there’s no time to think of anything else.
— Bristol City FC (@BristolCity) January 5, 2019
There’s no glorious shining beacon in the distance either. The new Wembley is quite crap. Handing it out to club sides for temporary use, moving the semis to under the big arch and having play-offs as far down as the National League there has taken away the exclusivity and honour of getting to play on the once ‘hallowed turf’ of northwest London.
Giving a Champions League spot to the victors would seem a reasonable idea to at least restore some importance to football’s oldest competition, but even then there’s plenty of problems that it would carry.
With the interlinked rivalries in between pretty much all the top six firmly set in stone at this point (seriously I reckon Tottenham fans are the only ones who are even half alright at this stage), there’d be a frequent issue of clubs competing not just to win silverware, but to win a European berth for their arch-rivals.
Imagine United finishing second, Liverpool fourth and the Mancs playing in the cup final knowing that a win qualifies ‘those scouse bastards’ for Europe. What a night that would be.