The FA Cup is dead. Long live the FA Cup, even if it’s on life support. That’s the message of this year’s tournament. A competition with a magnificent history, now reduced to near irrelevance in the modern world. Even the good games, like Newport’s win against Leicester City reserves was tarnished by the fact that they did not beat Leicester’s first team. Not Newport’s fault – you can, as the cliche goes, only beat what is on front of you – but if the aim of football is to field your strongest team in order to win football matches, the FA Cup is failing.
Nowadays, I don’t support, in the conventional sense, anyone. I have grown disillusioned by the club I supported all my life, Bristol Rovers, and no longer attend games. By my own definition of what a supporter means, I am no longer a supporter. In my world, if you don’t watch your team in person on a regular basis, you are an armchair fan. That’s me. I’m an armchair fan of Liverpool, Barcelona and Feyenoord and of the three, I can only claim the latter as having any familial or geographical connections. Last night, I sat down to watch Liverpool reserves exit the FA Cup at the hands of Wolves. At the end, I wonder why I bothered.
Liverpool clearly didn’t care about winning at Wolves. Manager Jurgen Klopp picked a side he would never pick for a Premier League or Champions League game. I like Klopp and I like Liverpool, but last night Klopp insulted the name of the FA Cup with his selection and his very obvious lack of interest in the dross unfolding on the pitch. He did not even pretend his lack if interest on the touchline and when the final whistle went his expression never changed. If he had been interviewed and said how pleased he had been to lose, I’d have believed him. it certainly looked like it.
If Liverpool disrespected the FA Cup, then they were not alone. All the top clubs omitted so called stars, albeit usually against lowly opposition, as in Arsenal’s reserves easy win at Blackpool and in the seven goal non thrillers involving Spurs and Manchester City. However, the organisation that disrespects the FA Cup more than any other is the FA.
The first thing to say is that the big change in football was the introduction of the Premier League, an elite competition for the very richest clubs in the land to make themselves even richer. The Premier League became the priority for football clubs and the FA Cup in particular became a lower priority and and eventually no kind of priority at all. So, how do we save the FA Cup?
In reality, we can’t. I can come up with some suggestions how the competition might be saved but in reality we know they will not take up. They might include:
- Playing all the games on the same day and, where possible, at the same time. This won’t happen because international rights sales mean the FA shifts games around to suit overseas viewers and not English clubs and fans.
- Keep replays in every round. This might encourage clubs to put strong sides out to avoid having to play yet another game.
- The FA Cup winners to get a place in the Champions League. The ‘prize’ of a Europa League place is not that attractive, is it?
- Play the semi-finals at neutral grounds and never Wembley.
- The FA Cup final kicks off at 3.00 pm.
There are probably lots more ideas, especially since mine are all retro, geared around tradition, but you know that none of them will ever be implemented. You know why? The big clubs and the Premier League will never allow it, that’s why.
Klopp did disrespect the FA Cup. Thousands of Liverpool fans travelled to watch a team stumble meekly out of the competition. He disrespected them, too. I wish he’d just say so rather than pretend he didn’t.
And here’s another thing: how many grounds were sold out last weekend? Not many. Wolves played the Premier League leaders last night and had over 6000 empty seats. Other grounds were far emptier than this, despite drastically reduced ticket prices.
It’s over, friends. Sure, the FA Cup will limp on into the future, the odd non or lower league team will beat a higher league reserve team, but is that a future anyone will look forward to?