Well it’s the 3rd round of the FA Cup today, the classic round where footballing minnows come up against the mighty. Results are just coming in but I’m not as excited by the whole thing as in previous years. I really do think the Cup has lost some of its magic in recent times. It wasn’t surprising to hear Reading’s Dave Kitson saying he couldn’t really give two sh*ts about today’s Cup fixture against Spurs on the grounds that Premiership points are more important. Umm.
What seems to have happened is that for Premiership clubs survival is everything and the dream is Champions League qualification and its massive revenues. Everything else is just a side-show. For Championship sides the dream is promotion to the Premiership and its huge revenues. If you were to ask virtually every Premiership Chairman and manager beneath the big 4 sides which they’d prefer 3 more points or another Cup match I’m pretty sure they’d say the former. Even for the sides who are pretty much safe from relegation they’d probably think similarly. Ask Man City which they’d prefer, qualification for the Champions League in 4th place or a brilliant FA Cup Final victory and I wonder what the Board and management would opt for? 4th place I’d reckon.
So most of the Premiership sides can’t be bothered. Those that are, ironically but unsurprisingly really, are the top 4 sides. They have big enough squads to rest key players and yet still get through to the final stages with ease. The FA Cup is virtually a guaranteed return for one of them now. When was the last time someone from outside the big 4 won the Cup. Have a guess. It was Everton in 1995. The last unfancied winners? – Wimbledon way back in 1988 -20 years ago! Those romantic Cup Final wins by lower Division sides no longer happen. I was there to see Millwall v Man U in the last final with a lower league side and it was an annihilation.
So although we’ve seen Everton, Bolton, Birmingham and Blackburn beaten today by lower league opposition, is it likely things will change this year? I seriously doubt it – and I’m not looking forward to Gaunty returning to the airwaves all cockadoodledoo again on Monday and crowing about Cov’s win against Blackburn. I also doubt whether any of these clubs’ Boards and management will be that sad to go out of the Cup (with the possible exception of Everton) – certainly none of their managers will be sacked because of it. To some Chairmen it might even look like a strategic imperative.
So should we just let things slide with the Cup becoming more and more irrelevant and interesting? I witnessed at close quarters what happened at Middlesbrough when they got through to those finals in the late 90’s. It was exciting and captured the imagination of the whole town and inspired a generation of new fans to support the club. I know what effect it can have and I’d hate to see the magic fade away.
So I’d like to suggest a few changes to maintain interest:
– I think clubs which qualify for the Champions League shouldn’t be entered for the League Cup (they don’t need the distraction) but should be allowed to remain in the FA Cup but must play all games away (unless the opposition prefer not to). Draws against other top 4 sides to be played at neutral grounds (not Wembley)
– all games in the FA Cup to be decided on the first match – via extra time and penalties if necessary – to allow the smaller sides the best possible chance to snatch unlikely results
– the FA to award a prize fund of £50m for the winners, £10m for the losers to provide an incentive for all teams to want to win it including disaffected Premiership sides. Let’s face it, if McClaren’s worth a £10m contract the jewel in the crown must be worth f*cking winning for its own sake. Make it the best competition in the world again.
– League Cup matches to be determined by a single match too. Winners of this to go into a revised EUFA cup which reverts to a straight knock-out single match format with 1/2 sides from all leagues also competing from the CL runner(s) up spots. Absolutely no sides dropping down from the CL. Let the CL faff around with boring little leagues and seedings and predictable winners and once you’re out, you’re out. Make the EUFA Cup a beautifully spontaneous, vibrant and attractive tournament again – rather than an expensive chore.
I’d be interested in your views but Moscow as Man U are playing Villa in the Cup on the TV don’tcha know and I’m suddenly up for it again.