The Romance of the F.A. Cup
By John NicholsonThe romance of the cup is an old cliche, but the FA Cup is very important in English football. It connects all levels of the league structure together for one big competition. The clubs with all the money and power in the game are forced to have to engage with the roots of the game. It’s very healthy and democratic and is needed now more than ever as the upper echelons get richer and more distant from rest.However, the notion of the romance of the cup is based largely around the competitions traditions of giant killing, of the mighty being humbled or at the very least being given a tough time. This is a very resilient tradition and it goes deep in English football culture but it’s increasingly based on very thin ice because it happens less and less.And I can tell you now who is likely to win the cup. It will be Manchester United, Arsenal or Chelsea.I’m not a mystic in being able to tell you this, just look at the record books. Only Everton in 1995 have won it outside of this trio plus Liverpool since 1991. 16 years, only 5 winners. That’s quite amazing in a knock-out tournament, more amazing still when you look further back because only 9 clubs have won it since 1980; that’s 27 years. It wasn’t always like this; in the 1970s 9 clubs won it in 10 years.There are very few genuine upsets in the cup any more and when they do occur such as Swansea beating Sheffield United this weekend, it’s because the Premiership club has fielded a weak side, almost to get knocked out so as to be able to put all effort into the league campaign.The increasing predictability of the cup is leading to some calling for changes in the tournament, Paddy Barclay thinks there should be overseas clubs invited to take part – such as Real Madrid or Milan, to increase the interest and glamour. It’s an interesting idea but stops it being a domestic contest and turns it into a European cup and the domestic nature of the competition is one of its great assets.But something needs to happen because fans are starting to stay away from what in previous years were big cup games. Birmingham had 11,000 empty seats for their home game against Newcastle — despite Newcastle selling all their tickets and being a division higher than the blues.The competition needs freshening up. Let’s make it a UK cup from the very starts, form the qualifying rounds and bring in the Scottish and League of Wales and Northern Irish clubs too. Lower league clubs should get a bigger cut of the gate money when they play a team higher in the league structure so as to promote their financial health and to give their fans a reason to turn up.To increase the possibility of top flight sides being knocked out — which is where a lot of the excitement resides, replays should be abandoned in favour of 90 minutes, extra time and penalties. It’s possible for a lower league side to draw a one off game and win it in extra time or on penalties, it’s almost impossible to draw one game then win the next, especially if it’s away from home. As long as the lower league club is picking up the lions share of the gate money, this would compensate them for the loss of replay finances.There is already too much predictability in football. We know who is going to win the Premiership at the start of every season within 2 or 3 teams; it’s the same in most countries. Virtually, the same teams play in the Champions League every season. The F.A. Cup is the last remnant of the romance, hopes and dreams that have sustained and nurtured the football community these past 130 years. It shouldn’t wither on vine and become just another two or three horse race. Its essential democracy and wild card nature needs to be preserved and enhanced otherwise it will continue to be another cakewalk to an ever less worthy trophy every season for the usual suspects.John Nicholson writes each week for Football 365 and EPL Talk. You can listen to John’s wonderful stories on episode 30 and 45 of the EPL Talk Podcast, as well as purchase his excellent Footy Rocks book and order one of his unique rock’n roll T-shirts.