The question above gets asked a lot nowadays, so has England’s once premier cup competition, REALLY lost its magic?
I went to the Derby County-Stoke fixture yesterday, hoping to see on of the shocks of the day from my local team, against their Premier League opponents. This never quite materialised, as Stoke showed their European quality, and eventually cruised home to a 2-0 victory, but the atmosphere within Pride Park, was electric from the start. City, had brought 6,000 fans to spice it up, whilst the home support turned out well enough, to make up a crowd of 22,000, only a few thousand off the average crowd the Rams get this season. Whilst the match may have ultimately have been disappointing, there were a few periods of pressure and possession from Derby that showed they could compete with their counterparts, who had internationals like Peter Crouch, Kenwyne Jones and Ryan Shawcross all playing some part in the game. Infact, Stoke themselves were last years runners-up in the competition, and may fancy another Wembley final at the end of the season.
Many of the Cup’s criticisms, are of it’s poor attendance’s, lack of excitement and that many of the top clubs don’t care for it. These can all be proved to be invalid. Attendance wise, many of the poorly attended games are actually due to the smaller clubs in the Cup, having tiny grounds that are filled to capacity for their big day out. The flipside of this is when a team like Blackburn draws a lower-league side, and has a half-full ground at most. For occasions like this, reduced ticket prices are a must! Set prices, such as £10 for adults and £5 for kids, would be brilliant. Stadiums would be full of families, and those who would be usually priced out of attending league games, due to the rocketing prices of the modern-day game. This would also create a long-standing impression on these attendees, and perhaps entice them to more in the future.
Lack of excitement is also another failing. We’ve just finished the 4th round stage of this season’s competition, yet there have been matches like Arsenal-Leeds, Man United-Man City and Liverpool-Man United, big games no matter what the competition. Shocks have been plentiful too, with Premier League sides Newcastle United and Wigan Athletic being knocked out by Brighton and Paolo Di Canio’s Swindon Town, who went suitably crazy at the end of the memorable match. League Two’s Crawley Town have continued their reputation has giant-killers, reaching the 5th round for the second successive season, after defeating Championship ‘City’s’ Hull and Bristol, and now have the best looking tie of the 5th round, a home tie with Derby’s conquerors Stoke. Another way of resolving this has been a claim to give the bigger sides a seeding, meaning they have to play those unseeded, lower league clubs, and cannot play each other. I feel this would be pretty awful, and lose the vital mixture of the bigger games, City-United, and the potential banana skins, Swindon-Wigan. If it must go ahead, the big teams should be forced to play their games away from home, thus giving lower teams, a bigger chance of victory. Possibly THE moment of the season came in the previously mentioned Arsenal-Leeds game, when Thierry Henry, on his Arsenal return, scored the winner for his beloved club, reaffirming his status as club legend. Without the FA Cup, this wouldn’t have happened.
As for the top clubs not caring so much for the tournament, this can also be disproved. Last season’s winners, Manchester City got their first trophy for 35 years, kickstarting their title challenge for this season, which they are currently leading. Sure, they and city rivals Man United may now be out of the tournament, but only after high-profile games with rivals of a similar calibre. The likes of Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham still remain, and all will be looking for a cup win, as it looks the most likely source of a title for all this season-bar Liverpool, who’ve reached the Carling Cup final. It gives many mid-table teams, the likes of Stoke, and previously Portsmouth, Southampton etc, if not a decent chance of victory, then a route into Europe via the runners-up spot. Many have claimed a Champions League spot should be the incentive for the winners to get the bigger teams more involved, and fans back interested in the Cup, but the simple victory of the Cup must be enough of an attraction, as clubs like Arsenal and Liverpool will want to break long barren runs without trophies.
So, I still personally, believe that the FA Cup, does matter to many fans up and down the country, of all teams, as it provides them a chance of glory, be it a giant-killing in the 3rd round, or a big team the trophy they need to kickstart a legacy, a la Manchester City.