Sunday, 13 March 2011

Has the FA Cup lost its significance in the modern game?

The FA Cup is like poetry. Every fan, has a handful of brilliant FA Cup moments. And in recent years there have been so many special and unforgettable moments.

But it seems the FA want to change the structure of the FA Cup in order to make it more appealing and entertaining. However, has the cup really lost all its magic and appeal? Hell no.

Take last year’s FA Cup. Portsmouth had a dream run in the cup. Amongst all the uncertainty off the field, the team managed to go all the way to the final. The most refreshing moment of Portsmouth’s run was beating Tottenham in the semi-final. The FA Cup set the platform for whole nation to root for a Portsmouth win. It was almost as if the character and unity of that Portsmouth team triumphed over ability of the Tottenham side. That semi final proved the the unique characteristics of the FA Cup were still alive and kicking. The Portsmouth players showed how much they desired to be successful in the FA Cup even amongst all the adversity off the field.

Giant killings are a huge characteristic of the FA Cup. Some argue that the modern FA Cup has lost its giant killing feature. Does anyone recall Barnsley in the 2008 FA Cup? That Barnsley team beat two Champions League standard sides. In the fifth round Barnsley went to Anfield and grabbed a late a winner to knock out Liverpool. And in that Liverpool team, the reds had seven players who had won the Champions League. So it’s not the case Liverpool fielded a completely weakened side. Furthermore, Barnsley were candidates for relegation during their heroics at Anfield. And the fact they came to Anfield and won emphasises the magnitude of the giant killing.

In the next round Barnsley faced the mammoth task of overcoming Chelsea. Chelsea fielded 11 regular international players but were still defeated by Barnsley. Barnsley’s two giant killings demonstrates the magic of the FA Cup. As it’s typical of the FA Cup, that form and reputation goes out of the window. The player who scored the winner for Barnsley, Kayode Odejayi, hadn’t scored since September. Six months later, he breaks his goal scoring drought to knock Chelsea out. Now that’s beauty. It’s as if Barnsley’s cup story came out of a fictional book.

However, by the end of the 2007/08 season, Chelsea made into the Champions League final. There is an argument that the top teams nowadays give more prominence to their European competitions rather than the FA Cup. Arguably, this is true. European competitions give far more money to the clubs in terms of television revenue and more prize money. So the more successful you are in Europe, the more you earn in terms of finance. So its unsurprising that clubs would rather success in Europe than FA Cup success. But it doesn’t mean the FA Cup has lost its value or magic. At the end of the day, players want to be successful. And success in football is measured by the trophies you win. Winning the FA Cup is still a big deal for players. It’s still a hugely reputable trophy and any player will see that winning the FA Cup is a fantastic achievement.

The 1985 Heysel disaster lead to all the English teams being banned from European competitions for 5 years. This had a significant effect on the domestic English cups, especially the FA Cup. As it meant the FA Cup was given more distinction as it was the biggest cup competition for every English team and its fans. Hence why the 1988 FA Cup final was seen as a massive shock. As Wimbledon beat Liverpool to win their first ever major trophy. The result was seen as a massive surprise as Liverpool were firm favourites to win and had recently been crowned league champions. The fact English teams were unable to play in Europe, this helped maintained the strong interest in the FA Cup during the 80’s. As the press gave more priority to the domestic cups over Europe and the fans along with the players were far more passionate about the FA Cup.

Arguably, the format of the European Cup and the Uefa Cup have had an effect on the importance of the FA Cup. Before 1997, the Champions League was only eligible to the teams who won the Premier League. While the runners up in the league would enter the Uefa Cup Winners Cup (what we would today call the Europa League). This meant that England only had one club in Europe’s elite competition.

So in other words, there were around three English teams every season representing England in Europe before 1997. The small minority of English teams participating in Europe meant the FA Cup continued to hold its prominence. As to most clubs it was the biggest cup competition to win.

The simple fact the English teams were relatively poor in Europe before 1999 could suggest why the FA Cup was continually seen with great importance. During the period from 1991-1997 no English team made into the final group stages of the Champions League. Thus demonstrating their European assault would have ended prematurely. The fact it ended early suggests more importance was given to win the FA Cup. As it was the biggest cup competion for every English side.

Man United did finally break through the group stages in the Champions League. And even won the European cup in 1999. Man United’s success meant they had to represent Europe in the Intercontinental Cup (now known as Club World Cup). In order to participate, United had to withdraw from the FA Cup that season. They were the first team in FA Cup history to not defend their trophy.

A constant criticism is that Man United’s actions meant the ‘demise of the FA Cup.’ As it showed the bigger clubs were not interested in the FA Cup and other competitions were more important. But that simply isn’t the case. For a team to represent the WHOLE of Europe it must overshadow their FA Cup commitments. Of course, it would have been far better to see United competing in both cups. But Man United’s actions have been taken out of proportion. Man United is one club. Just one team. How can one team’s decision affect the whole of the FA Cup? And the teams participating in it? Man United’s rivals didn’t think ‘oh now Man United don’t want to play in the FA Cup, we don’t want to play in it anymore too.’ If anything, Man United’s decision made other teams take the FA Cup with far more seriousness. As it meant one strong contender was out of the FA Cup.

The FA Cup offers hope, pride and excitement to football. There is no better feeling than seeing the underdog triumph against all the odds. The FA Cup is like a beautiful chronicle. Every year, there is a result or a story which rejuvenates every football fans passion for the game. Every year there are memorable fixtures which the fans will never forget. Yes, the FA Cup has lost some of its significance in the past few decades. But its still is a magical competition.

The FA Cup has something iconic about it. Maybe it’s the idea of making history at Wembley, the most grand and historic stadium. The cup has a strong heritage which oozes pride and expectation into every single fan. No fan wants to see their side being embarrassed by a lower league team nor do they want to see their team lose to their bitter rivals. The FA Cup is all about pride and glory.

The cup sets the standard. The customs of the FA Cup are envied across the globe. The competition offers a mixture of the modern and the past traditions. Take this example. The last time Man United played Man City in a semi final of the FA Cup. Man City won. And were beaten by a certain Bolton. Can history reapeat itself? Only time will tell!

But the FA Cup is still alive and kicking. And long may it continue.

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