Welcome to the Virgin Media Midweek Kick-off! As the 32 teams remaining in this season’s FA Cup duke it out this weekend for a place in the next round, we ask sports writers Barry Glendenning and Dan Masoliver whether the cup has finally lost its magic, or is in fact more vital than ever.
The cup ain’t what it used to be
“You get the odd giant-killing, but none are as seismic as they were” – Barry Glendenning, writer for the Guardian
Europe beckons the best
Money talks and since the mid-90s, more successful top-tier teams have prioritised the qualification for a place in the UEFA Champions League over winning the FA Cup, making the Premier League all important. Giving a place in Champions League qualification to the FA Cup winners instead of whoever finishes fourth in the table would certainly give these teams added motivation to advance as far as possible, but that’s never going to happen.
The days of upsets are over
For football fans of a certain age, fourth division Wrexham's late come-from-behind win against reigning league champions Arsenal at the Racecourse Ground in 1992 was the kind of stunning JFK moment that you just don't get any more. The FA Cup still throws up the odd giant-killing, but the obvious indifference of many teams from the Premier League and Championship towards the FA Cup means none are as seismic.
Even the FA’s lost interest
The Football Association showed what little regard they have for their own famous knockout competition by convincing Manchester United to withdraw from the 1999/00 FA Cup to compete in the FIFA World Club Championship instead. The hope was that United's involvement in Brazil would help England win the bid for the 2006 World Cup... which was eventually staged in Germany. Well done, FA. Good work.
Premier League priorities
Liverpool demonstrated where the FA Cup lies in their list of priorities by fielding a team largely comprised of youngsters few but their most devoted fans had ever heard of for their third-round tie against Exeter City. Both teams served up a 2-2 thriller, but if Liverpool's inexperienced kids had lost, would it really have constituted a shock? The fact it's difficult to say speaks volumes.
Past its prime time
The fact that the draw for this weekend's FA Cup fourth round fixtures was staged on The One Show probably tells us all we need to know about how far this once mighty competition has fallen: "... and finally, Carlisle will play MK Dons; now here's Gyles Brandreth on the history of the British stained glass window industry." Eh?
Think Barry is spot on? Vote here.
The cup is better than ever
“It’s go hard or go home, and infinitely more exciting as a result” – Dan Masoliver, Virgin Media sports editor
It’s all to play for
Pundits will talk up certain games as “crucial” or “six-pointers”, but the truth is no single league fixture matters that much. That’s why the Premier League minnows – like José Mourinho’s Chelsea earlier this season, for example – are more than happy to park the bus when facing stronger opposition, and see out a dull, goalless draw. The cup affords managers no such luxury – it’s go hard or go home and infinitely more exciting for spectators as a result.
You get genuine upsets
The cup is more democratic than the Prem – twice as many teams have won it in the past decade – and more unpredictable. Who could forget Chelsea’s implosion against Bradford City, or Liverpool’s loss to Oldham. Every season, the teams at the top of the FA’s pyramid get taught a lesson in humility by lower-league opponents, and few things in football are more satisfying. Who cares if it’s because Manuel Pellegrini played his third-choice keeper and a trio of untested 12-year-olds in central midfield? Certainly not the history books.
It’s where dreams are made
Only a supporter of a Premier League team will argue that the FA Cup doesn’t matter anymore. For them, UEFA Champions League qualification, or avoiding the financial sucker punch of dropping into the Championship, are more exciting than cup glory. But just try telling that to fans of Eastleigh, Exeter or Salford City, for whom making it into the televised rounds of the FA Cup will have been the highlight of their season, if not their footballing lives.
Cup final day
Once your team’s been knocked out, it’s inevitable that the cup starts to feel less relevant. Boring, even. But for those sides – and their fans – that make it all the way to the competition’s climax, nothing comes close to the buzz of marching up Wembley Way on cup final day. The teary-eyed elation if you win, the crushing, open-mouthed disappointment if you lose – it’s an intoxicating cocktail of emotions.
The romance is out there
Premier League fans often feel like little more than walking dollar signs, rather than the beating heart of their clubs. Week in, week out across the country, however, hundreds of lower league and non-league sides rock up to play on boggy, bobbly pitches, not for vast riches but for the love of the game. If the FA Cup reminds people that grassroots football is alive and well, and encourages them to go support their local team, then the romance will live on.
Is Dan on to something? Vote here.
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