The third round fixture of the FA cup has traditionally been one of the most exciting days in the footballing calendar. The minnows of football mixing it with the big boys of the Premier League with the potential for some huge upsets and opportunities for non league teams to make some life changing revenue. It has always been a huge occasion.
However, in recent seasons the cup has lost some of it’s charm. The oldest club competition in world football has seemingly turned in to more of a chore and an inconvenience for many teams, rather than a privilege to be a part of. Admittedly the lower league teams still get the opportunity for their dream ties away at Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool etc, but you get a sense that the magic surrounding these ties is somewhat lost as soon as the team sheets get revealed. Take the recent tie of Liverpool vs Plymouth. Premier League vs League Two. A massive tie for Plymouth and the 9,000 travelling green army. However, when the team sheet got announced, and the Liverpool squad was revealed, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed for the Plymouth fans and players. Liverpool had chosen a team with an average age of just 21, leaving the majority of their stars on the bench. The game felt less of an occasion than it would have done if Liverpool had gone, even half full strength. It was highly underwhelming. Fair play to Plymouth, they got their draw and their replay, a brilliant achievement, but the magic and glamour just wasn’t there.
It appears to me that the bigger clubs are to themselves, more important than the competition. Like the whole thing is an inconvenience to them that requires further incentive than the glory of winning such a prestigious and historic competition. Fielding reserves and youth team players with no apparent desire to progress and win the trophy. A kind of ‘take it or leave it’ attitude.
As much as the clubs are at fault for the decline of the cup, the same can be said for the fans. I will leave out league one and below as there is genuinely a level of excitement from supporters of those respective clubs, reflected in the following from Plymouth as previously mentioned.
Whilst watching the highlights of the cup, I couldn’t help but notice the appalling attendances at St Andrews and the Cardiff City Stadium to name a select few. Birmingham City drew a total of 13,171 fans, whereas the Cardiff/Fulham game drew a measly 5,199. The atmosphere is disappearing and for such an iconic competition this is very sad to see. In terms of a solution for the problem, there doesn’t seem to be one as yet. It appears that tradition is old fashioned and something new and more exciting is needed to capture the imagination of clubs and fans alike. Perhaps the idea of a Champions league place as a reward for the winners will improve the appeal of the FA cup, however until something is done about this, football traditionalists such as myself will have to deal with the competition they love being neglected by the clubs who have gained so much success from it.