I wasn’t going to blog this week. I’d said during one of my earlier pieces that it wouldn’t be a regular thing. It wasn’t that I hadn’t seen any football, 3 games in 7 days gave me plenty of food for thought. One of those games was on the much-debated plastic, but I’d touched on that earlier. I didn’t want the blog to turn into a match report either, it’s not really my thing, short attention span and all that ! To be honest, there was nothing much in the world of football to give me inspiration, or even annoy me ( for a change ). And then, as if by magic, step forward the Premier League “Cartel”, and their thoughts on the FA Cup and it’s future structure.
For those that didn’t see or hear it, the Premier League want FA Cup replays removing. The same replays that to certain clubs lower down the pyramid could be the sort of financial windfall to keep them in existence. Those clubs in League’s One and Two, perhaps with a bit of good fortune a club in Non league – who see nothing of the Premier Leagues Billions – for them the dream of the FA Cup is to draw one of the so called “Big Clubs”, either Home or Away. With a bit of luck, both. They are realistic enough to know they won’t win the competition, but for the players its a test of their abilities, and for the owners a chance of extra income that the 20+ Home league games don’t provide. Most lower level clubs budget for a league season, anything from a Cup run is a bonus. This is true at whatever level you enter the FA Cup, from clubs that start the competition at steps 6 and 7 in early August, hoping to battle through the preliminaries for a few thousand pound, to clubs hoping to still be in the hat ( or bag ) when the big clubs from the upper echelons enter at Round 3. An attractive tie, a full house, and some TV exposure can see clubs bag around a quarter of a million pounds. If you throw in a replay, well you could add a similar amount. To the majority of clubs in League 2, even some in League 1, these two games could be financially the equivalent of half a season of league action.
That’s the financial side anyway. However, the Premier League clubs see this competition as no more than a hindrance, similar to how they view the League Cup. They have no need of cup money, from either competition, such is the windfall from the latest TV deal. So consequently, they treat the cup with a growing disdain. This was shown this weekend, as Manchester City played at Chelsea. The visitors had squad shirts with bingo numbers on, with just 2 regulars on the pitch. The day before Arsenal hosted Hull City, with the visitors making 10 changes from their previous fixture. A draw found both managers adding to the debate on replays, both calling for the games to be decided on the day. This isn’t the romance of the cup, it’s the harsh reality of making, and staying in the Premier League. It’s almost understandable how managers pick sides based on this.
So what is the answer ? How does the FA Cup win back its appeal ? I’m afraid it doesn’t. The Cup has been in a steady decline for years, not helped by the Football Association itself. They’ve been happily accepting TV money, but at a price of games being played from Friday to Monday, and a Cup Final played at 5:30pm on a Saturday night. The Cup itself has had many forms of sponsorship, again cheapening its image. Even the reward for winning the Cup is less than a couple of Million pounds prize money, and a place in the much ridiculed Europa League competition the following season. A day out for players and fans it may be, but the FA have seemingly even taken that joy away, with transport from the Capital finishing before the final whistle, and more and more corporate tickets given out at the cost to loyal fans attending.
There are more problems than answers that’s for sure. However, one answer ( or incentive if you like ) could be to offer the team winning the Cup an automatic place in the Champions League. Instead of it going to the team finishing 4th in the Premier League, how about give it to the Cup winners ? This has a two way affect. Big clubs are more likely to target this route into Europe ( 6 0r 7 games as opposed to 38 ) as well as making the competition for a 3rd place finish in the Premier League that bit harder.
At the end of the day, if so-called big clubs don’t want to prioritise either domestic cup competitions there’s not much anyone can do about it. But is the FA Cup necessarily worse off for it ? What if we were to flip the whole debate on it’s head ? What’s wrong with seeing a Final that wouldn’t feature any of the powerhouses of the game. What’s more romantic than say a Wigan vs Manchester City final ? Would any Wigan fan in attendance that day honestly swap what they witnessed in 2013 for a mid-table finish in the Premier League ? A lifetimes dream of seeing the cup lifted, or countless defeats and relegation battles with the games elite. If the ( so called ) Big 4/5/6 want to prioritise the league, let them. If that means fielding weakened teams, let them. There’s more chance that way we’ll see a different teams name on the cup. This alone would surely breathe life back into the worlds oldest and best cup competition.