This morning I was listening to BBC Five Live commentator Alan Green complaining about poor attendances in this weekend’s FA Cup matches. The two examples he gave were the crowd of less than 15,000 for a west Midlands derby between Birmingham City and Wolves, and the fact that tickets were still available yesterday for Sunday’s Manchester derby, although it is now sold out.
The last time Birmingham played Wolves at St. Andrews was in the Premier League, last May. The crowd that day? More than 26,000.
Those are two isolated examples, but when watching FA Cup matches on television this weekend, it’s a safe bet to say that you’ll see more empty seats than a typical Premier League weekend. And this is the magical third round of the FA Cup. One of the highlights of the English football season.
Alan Green’s comment about the apathy among football supporters got me thinking. If the majority of football supporters in Great Britain either can’t afford or can’t be bothered to show up to watch one of the crown jewels of English football, why not give those of us who do care the opportunity to watch some of these games in person? While Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore has ruled out the 39th game, the concept of playing some professional competitive matches overseas is something that the Football Association should consider.
Why not play Manchester City against Manchester United in New York? It would be a guaranteed sold-out crowd. And it’s just a seven hour hop across the pond. If not the Manchester derby, the FA could pick one or two selected ties from the third, fourth and fifth rounds of the FA Cup and play them overseas to add more excitement to the tournament. But most of all, it would add a massive shot in the arm to a cup competition that most Brits are nonchalant about.
No matter what happens in the FA Cup between today and Monday, you can be assured of two things. One, a few of the British newspapers will write about how the magic of the FA Cup is gone. Two, one or two of the panel on The Guardian’s Monday edition of the Football Weekly podcast will moan about how uninterested they are in the cup competition.
The level of interest among most English football supporters about the FA Cup and Carling Cup continues to decline year after year. Meanwhile, soccer fans around the world would be far more excited and interested to see a match in-person from one of the world’s most famous cup competitions. Some Brits may argue that it may tarnish the history of the tournament by playing some of the games overseas, but I’d argue that the rise of the Premier League, the priority that is placed on Champions League qualification, plus the indifference most supporters of Premier League clubs gives to the FA Cup has already tarnished the tournament. And that indifference seems to get worse as each year passes.
If the Brits don’t care, be rest assured that we foreigners do.