The FA Cup is the single, most important football competition in the world. It is the oldest football competition still contested and the best, and is loved the world over by players and fans alike.
The FA Cup attracts 736 clubs to take part (and this number would be even greater if it were not for FA imposed restrictions) across 10 levels of the English football pyramid from Arlesey Town to Arsenal, from Liversedge to Liverpool and from Mangotsfield United to Manchester United. It has produced thousands, if not millions of unforgettable memories, whether they be unbelievable giant-killing feats, winning the trophy outright or just seeing your name in an FA Cup Extra Preliminary Round programme.
It doesn’t have the same financial reward as Premier League and Champions League competitions do, but what it lacks in monetary return it more than makes up for in individual reward. Ask anyone who has ever played football one question. An FA Cup winner’s medal or a chance to play in the Champions League? The answer is FA Cup medal almost every time. Ask fans, even fans of Premier League clubs. Would you prefer an FA Cup run to a top four finish in your League? And the answer? Well, you already know it.
And yet there are some who would like to see the FA Cup marginalised even more than it is already. The FA Cup Final used to be the showpiece end of season event. That was played around with, but at least that has since been restored, although the traditional kick-off time has been replaced by a more income generating 5.30pm kick-off. And the reason? Money. Yes, it comes as no surprise that decisions to marginalise the FA Cup are all made based upon wealth generation and nothing to do with what is best for football. Wealth for the diminishing number of already wealthy clubs. Wealth for the already money-grabbing media. Wealth for the not-interested in football owners. And sod all to the rest.
Now those self-same ‘money first, football nowhere’ individuals and organisations want to diminish the FA Cup’s standing even further. There’s too many fixtures, they cry. Let’s do away with FA Cup replays, they demand. Let’s play FA Cup matches during the week and leave the weekend free for when the global viewing figures are at their peak. It’s funny how none of these leeches are asking for the Champions League to be re-organised, a major contributor to fixture congestion guaranteeing as it does six games to be played as a minimum for all participants. The FA Cup, by contrast, usually only involves six games as a maximum if you win the Trophy, replays aside.
Of course the Champions League is where the money’s at so no-one is going to try to marginalise that. Any proposals that might be put forward for that competition would be to increase the number of fixtures and make it an exclusive competition for the elite few. More fixtures, more television rights, more money. The formula is simple.
However, the Champions League is for the small minority, and if anything in football can be changed for the better it’s going to take the silent majority to do something about it. Recent mass fan action in response to hefty ticket price proposals forced Liverpool FC to make a U-turn (even though, like all other money grabbing clubs, they’d been getting away with price hikes and fleecing their fans for years), and a similar mass action by football fans (and players) nationwide may be needed to prevent the FA from kowtowing to these profit maximising accountants and keeping the FA Cup as it is.
I urge all fans of Premier League clubs to petition their club’s board members to go to FA Cup matches played in August through to December. Talk with their counterparts at those clubs, speak with the thousands of volunteers who keep these clubs going, converse with the players and fans involved in these games, and find out what the FA Cup means to them. Yes, finance will be central to their response, but finance to stay afloat, finance to repair the clubhouse, finance to fund away travel, not finance so that their player’s Bentley can be upgraded to the latest model. But financial benefits aside, there will be something else that will be evident from spending time speaking with those involved in these clubs, and that is passion and pride by the bucket-load.
For a non-league or lower league club player, to even just participate in the FA Cup is something to tell the grandchildren. To win a Cup game or score the winner in an FA Cup tie, this is what dreams are made of. For fans, beating local rivals, hosting (and beating) a so-called giant, winning against the odds with a last-minute screamer, these are the sort of things that make their hearts swell. They’re never going to see their club’s name etched on the famous trophy, but FA Cup glory takes many shapes and sizes.
For the money men of Premier League clubs, it would do them the world of good to be exposed to the emotion of that lower level FA Cup experience, and maybe then when future decisions about the game are made, it will be for the benefit of football in general and not just benefit of their wallets. Maybe then they will realise that by promoting the FA Cup, rather than marginalising it, that that is the right way forward.
So I have one message to the FA, to the media and to the richest clubs in the country -leave the FA Cup alone!