I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve heard that the FA Cup deserves more respect from football supporters. In fact, I’d argue the opposite. It doesn’t deserve more respect. If anything, it just deserves to be given a fair chance.
Let me explain. I’ve found that a FA Cup weekend often separates soccer fans from the fans who passionately support their club. For example, how many of you will wake up tomorrow for the early FA Cup kick-off to watch Brighton and Hove Albion against Newcastle United? Unless you’re a Brighton or Newcastle supporter, many of you may decide to sleep in tomorrow. As a result, the number of TV viewers tomorrow will certainly dwindle compared to a typical early morning Premier League match.
Some soccer fans who plan on skipping tomorrow’s early match will argue that many Premier League clubs field B-teams. Plus, they may argue that the winner of the FA Cup trophy doesn’t qualify for Europe, nor does it bring with it a large enough pot of cash. And the tournament, many will argue, is an unnecessary inconvenience during a busy time of the soccer season where a FA Cup run can have the damaging impact of hurting a club’s season in the Premier League where clubs have a greater opportunity to generate far more revenue from TV money.
While I’d agree with many of those arguments, the competition still offers a unique opportunity for a club to win silverware. Premier League squads are large enough and should have enough depth to compete in the league as well as in a cup competition. Each club has to make their own decision what priority the FA Cup is, weighing up the risks and rewards of a successful run. But I would argue that there is still enough quality, relevance and fascinating story lines (and matches) in the FA Cup to give it a fair opportunity.
Some of you may have noticed that watching the FA Cup on TV is a very different viewing experience than the Premier League. The camera angles are often not as good — due to a combination of fewer cameras used as well as the position where the main camera is situated. Plus, the sound of supporters at smaller grounds in the Football League and non-league don’t seem as loud as a Premier League stadium because of the smaller attendances as well as the poorer acoustics of small grounds.
On top of that, the TV broadcasters who televise the FA Cup in the UK (where we’ll see their images and hear the voices of their commentators) will be ITV and ESPN. So the broadcasts themselves will “feel” different instead of the glossy TWI/IMG feed that we’re accustomed to when watching Premier League matches each week.
So even watching a FA Cup game looks and feels different. But it does make the competition feel unique, which it is.
Another reason why the FA Cup isn’t as exciting for some American TV viewers is because they know less about the teams and players in the Championship and Football League. This season is worse than any in recent memory because beIN SPORT acquired the US media rights to the Championship, but have done the league a massive disservice by only showing a select number of matches. Even during the winter break when Serie A and La Liga games were no longer being shown on beIN SPORT, the Miami-based soccer network decided to show re-runs instead of live Championship matches. So, it’s no wonder than Americans and ex-pats feel so disenfranchised from lower league opposition than in perhaps a decade.
Having said all of this, there are some Americans who recognize the importance and quality of the FA Cup, who look forward to the third round (and subsequent rounds) and have a fervor for the competition that would surprise many Brits.
But for those of who are on the fence or who are not FA Cup believers, give the tournament a chance this weekend. Make time to watch the games. Even if the FA Cup matches feature teams you don’t support, make time to research the lower league opposition to gain a better understanding and appreciation of where they’ve come from and what it means to them. It’s a weekend to give time and respect to teams (that will be shown live on US TV and Internet this weekend; see below) such as Mansfield Town, Cheltenham, Macclesfield, Peterborough and Brighton.
This weekend is an occasion where, I believe, it separates the die-hard soccer supporter from the casual fan. The latter will only be interested in his or her team. The former will have a deeper appreciation for the sport as a whole. The difference is enormous.
I’ll be watching. I hope you will too.
Saturday, January 5:
Brighton vs Newcastle (FA Cup), 7:30am, FOX Soccer Plus and FOX Soccer 2Go
Southampton vs Chelsea (FA Cup), 10am, FOX Soccer
Peterborough vs Norwich (FA Cup), 10am, FOX Soccer Plus and FOX Soccer 2Go
Macclesfield vs Cardiff (FA Cup), FOX Soccer 2Go
West Ham United vs Manchester United (FA Cup), 12:15pm, FOX network and FOX Deportes (Note: Some FOX affiliates will be showing this game delayed; check local listings)
Sunday, January 6:
Swansea City vs Arsenal (FA Cup), 8:30am, FOX Soccer
Mansfield Town vs Liverpool (FA Cup), 11am, FOX Soccer
Monday, January 7:
Cheltenham vs Everton (FA Cup), 2:45pm, FOX Soccer Plus and FOX Soccer 2Go