LONDON MOOTSPORTS

How much lower can the FA Cup go?

Something has to be done to restore glory to the competition

Tomorrow night sees the start of the FA Cup 5th round. For the first time (as far as I know) a round of the cup will all be played in the week, not at the weekend. Is this, I wonder, the latest nail in the FA Cup coffin?

In recent years the Cup has slipped further and further down the pecking order of important trophies to win. At one time, early in my life, the FA Cup was the crown to win. I would almost say it was more important than the league in the perception of fans.

There was a time when FA Cup final was the only game shown live on TV. Hard to believe now, but that is the truth of the matter. On Cup Final Saturday in May everyone with a love of the game made their plans around the 3pm kick-off. It was the conclusion of the season. It didn’t matter whether you supported one of the teams involved, you watched or risk not being part of work conversations the following Monday. If there was shopping to be done, you had to time it so you would be home to watch the big game. The major TV companies would build-up to the game for several hours and celebrity supporters would be rolled out onto the Wembley turf to say what they thought might happen.

In short, it was a big deal. Nowadays the BBC is fighting bravely to try to maintain the glamour of the Cup, but it seems to be fighting a losing battle.

When Match of the Day started it was literally that – one match. It began in black and white on BBC2 on August 22 in 1964 showing Liverpool V Arsenal. Just one match each week on the telly was not enough to undermine the glamour of the Cup. But the advent of Sky and its deal with the Premier League was, in my opinion.

At a stroke the FA Cup was not so special. Indeed, the winning of the League became much more important as fans could track their team’s progress more carefully, even if they were unable to get to a game.

Over the years the following has happened to undermine the Cup:

*Soccer on TV became much more widespread.

*In 1999 the European Cup Winners’ Cup ceased and the winners of the Cup were given a place the UEFA Europa League.

*In 2000 holders Manchester United did not defend the title, preferring to take part in the FIFA Club World Championship.

*No date for the one, but the money involved in staying in the Premier League meant that teams started putting Premier League survival ahead of FA Cup glory. So teams close to relegation starting putting out weakened sides to “save” their stars for league action.

*Kick-off time for the final has regularly been moved from the 3pm on a Saturday slot.

*Recent TV coverage showing large gaps in the stands suggests that the fans are no longer willing to part with their cash to watch live matches.

This week all the cup games will be resolved on the night. Replays after the fourth round have been ditched. A shame, especially for clubs for lower leagues hoping for a money-spinning relay away to a big side. I would concede that in its history, replays were allowed to get out of hand. It had been know for six games to be needed to resolve a tie.

So what would I do to restore the glamour of the Cup? Make winning it worth a place in the Champions League! That’s what. That league is not just for champions any more, so why not? This season, with the uncertainty surrounding Manchester City’s participation next time, would be a good opportunity to do it. Though, that said, City could still win the FA Cup which might put a spanner in the works.

London’s hopes in this year’s competition are carried by Arsenal, Chelsea and Spurs. All three will play on the back of defeats.

Please soccer authorities do something to restore the glory of the Cup. You know it makes sense. Maybe ditch the Mickey Mouse League Cup whose final is today, of course.

Arsenal face a difficult away game at Portsmouth tomorrow night. Difficult in that they will start as favourites and they are playing on the back of a shock defeat at home to Olympiacos. Nine times out of 10 Aubameyang would have put that late chance away. Make that nine-and-a-half times.

Chelsea were, frankly, embarrassed by Bayern Munich in the Champions League. The performance of Gnabry must have upset Gooners fans again given he slipped through their fingers. On Tuesday, they face a tough tie against Liverpool and much depends on the strength of the side the Reds put out.

Spurs were beaten by big rivals Chelsea last time out but have a chance to get some momentum today when the take on Wolves at home. Not an easy one based on current form. Spurs are up against Norwich on Wednesday but, as mentioned above, will the East Anglian side save players for the fight to stay in the Premier League?

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David Buckley

Dave Buckley is a career journalist. “I once went painting girders for a week and discovered I didn’t like heights,” he says. “Apart from that it has always been journalism for me in one form or another.” Past publications worked for include the South-East London Mercury*, Kent Messenger, Daily Express, Today*, News of the World* and Hong Kong Star*. All those marked with an asterisk no longer exist (trend emerging?). He owned and edited a Thailand-based property magazine before returning to England and currently works as a production editor for an East Midlands-based publishing group.

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