It’s the FA Cup final tomorrow and I really could not care less. Manchester United will be “entertaining” Crystal Palace in Wembley’s “showpiece” final which kicks off at 5.30 pm. It kicks off when? 5.30 pm, that’s when. This is yet another nail in the coffin of the oldest football tournament in the world.
We talk a lot about tradition in sport and nowhere is the tradition more rich than in the FA Cup. Or rather it was. There are so many things wrong with it these days, I am worried not so much whether it can be saved in the long term, more whether it’s worth saving at all.
The FA Cup kicks off at 3.00 pm on a Saturday afternoon. It always has done. 3.00 pm on Saturday is, or was, the proper kick off time for all football matches in the land, except in Tranmere, once a fortnight on a Friday night. The reach and money of the FA Cup has transformed football. The Premier League is nearly everything, qualifying for the European Champions League is nearly everything else.
The FA Cup was slow to react to what was happening and started the long road to irrelevance, a journey that was hastened when ITV acquired the rights to show it. The BBC, thank the good lord, has got the rights back and they’re doing a good job with a moderate product. What can we do to make it better?
I’ve said it several times already: the final kicks off at 3.00 pm on a Saturday afternoon. Getting to Wembley is a reward for the teams who make the final so stop hosting the semi-finals at Wembley and go back to neutral stadia. There are numerous grounds around the country where semi-finals could be hosted. This must be a priority.
Then, stop holding the draw for the next round until all the games have been completed. In other words, don’t have the draw before the final game has even been played. It’s stupid and wrong.
And here is my main suggestion: the FA Cup winners should get a place in the Champions League, as should the Cup winners in every other country. No one would be putting out their second string then, would they?
These are very modest changes, but important ones too. FA Cup glory in itself is sadly not enough these days. I am not the only person who will not even bother to watch the final tomorrow. I know most of London will be rapt to attention – this will feel like a home game for the Red Devils – when the two teams line up, but I won’t be.
The FA Cup has become a strange bird indeed. I find myself absolutely compelled by the Third Round draw, where the big boys come in, but with each passing round I lose more and more interest, finally arriving in a state of apathy.