FA Cup - The romance lives on
The Football Association Challenge Cup, or more commonly known as the FA cup, is the oldest association football competition in the world. A competition beloved for the memories and the ‘giant killings’, and so many inspiring success stories, that every football fan has some fond memory hidden in the back of their minds of this renowned competition. It is the only competition in which you see non league teams stand shoulder to shoulder for 90 minutes against the giants of the English league.
Since its inception in 1872, the FA cup has acted as a catalyst to the growth of English football. It was once considered of equal, if not more, standing with the league title by the fans. Over the years, it can be seen that, despite the rich lineage, the FA cup has lost some of the shine and appeal that it once harbored.
One of the major reasons to the fall in the importance of the FA cup can be attributed to the prize money. With the enormous amount of money that is showered on the Premier league and the Champions league winners, it is not uncommon for the bigger teams in the league (most commonly Arsenal) to play an under strength team in the competition. The more worrying side of this is the tendency for the smaller teams to do the same. With the fight for survival in the balance, the tendency is to field a weaker team to keep the players fresh to play in the league and retain their divisional status and all the riches that go with it. Even the teams wanting to gain promotion have been doing the same. Due to the clubs choosing money over the FA cup and fielding a weaker team, attendance is dwindling. This is a far cry from the early days when the stadiums used to be packed to the rafters.
One can also argue the change in the UEFA champions league and Europa league has also taken a toll on the FA cup. Before 1997, only the Premier league champions entered the Champions league while the second placed team entered the then UEFA cup (currently the Europa league). Due to the minority of teams’ participation in the Europe’s most elite competition, the prominence of the FA cup was beyond doubt for the other teams searching for silverware. The comparatively massive increase in the participation in the European competition has, without a doubt, taken its toll on the FA cup competition, with the clubs preferring the former due to the financial benefits and the prestige gained due to European glory.
Perhaps the biggest dent to the legacy of the FA cup was made by the FA itself back in 1999 when they themselves betrayed their great tournament. With England harboring the hopes of hosting the World cup 2006, the FA was influenced by the government to allow the FA cup holders Manchester United to compete in the Club World Cup competition at the expense of the FA cup. This was the first time the holders failed to defend their title in the competition. Sir Alex Ferguson has, since, gone on to say that he regrets the decision and has been a constant and vocal endorser of the competition and we constantly see him fielding good squads in the competition.
But despite all the facts like low attendance and weekend squad, the FA cup continues to be an important competition, albeit not reaching its former glories. The recently concluded match between Manchester United and Chelsea showed the importance the cup holds to both these teams with the latter being the defending champions.
One of the most important traits of the FA cup is the giant killings and the unforeseen success stories. The dual shock provided by Barnsley in 2008 when the knocked out both Liverpool and Chelsea or Portsmouth winning the competition in 2008 despite all their financial troubles and relegation battle, and more recently when Luton Town , a non league club, knocked out Norwich City at Carrow Road earlier this season. It can even be argued that the magic of the FA cup is not all about the big teams but about the smaller clubs dreaming and striving for a trophy, which has proven to be within reach for every club throughout its storied history. For the non league and lower league sides who are much removed from the shiny bright lights of the European competition, FA cup continues to be a priority beyond compare.
The romance of the FA cup is still alive. Despite the distractions, the FA cup continues to have something of a romantic aura around it. Maybe it’s the chance to create history at Wembley or the hope to write their names in the pages of history of an iconic and storied competition that has stolen many envious glances around the world for its legacy. Whatever the reason is, the magic of the FA cup still survives; you just have to look for it.