This past weekend saw two of the biggest FA Cup upsets in history, with League Two new boys Cambridge United holding 11 time winners Manchester United to a draw and League One Bradford City subjecting the Premier League leaders Chelsea to their first home defeat of the season, coming from two goals down in the process. Quite rightly, the competition was championed as one of the greatest in the world. But with the FA prioritising the Premier League more and more each year, is the oldest club competition in the world losing its unique prestige?
There is no doubt that if you were to ask any manager in the top flight which competition they would rather win, every one would choose the Premier League over the FA Cup. They can’t be criticised for saying this either, considering the fact that it covers their entire season, gives them the chance to play in Europe and offers a huge financial reward. For this reason, I don’t think that clubs themselves can be blamed for the lack of emphasis that is being put on the FA Cup, because the modern game is ruled by money and for a team in the top flight the prize fund of this competition is just not tempting enough. Of course for smaller clubs, especially those outside of the Football League, the monetary reward that comes from even the very early stages of the competition could be enough to give them a real boost, and in some extreme cases, even be enough to guarantee their future.
As a supporter of a mid-table Conference side, I know all too well the excitement that comes each year with the FA Cup draw. It is the chance for a big away day at a world famous club, and the guarantee of a pay-out which could cover the fee of a top player at our level. The third round of the FA Cup is in my opinion the most exciting, and represents everything that this ancient competition is, when the biggest clubs in the country are brought into the cup, with a large number of the very small clubs still around. This naturally presents the opportunity of a real David and Goliath situation and perhaps the chance to see an upset that could go down in history.
A big talking point this year was the fact that there was a full programme of Premier League fixtures on New Year’s Day, meaning that there were talks of shifting the FA Cup from its traditional position in the first weekend of the New Year. Many football fans, including former FA Cup heroes such as Mickey Thomas, openly criticised the way in which the tradition of the cup was slowly being phased out in favour of the more modern and glamorous competitions, and I completely agree.
It goes without saying that the FA Cup will never be able to offer the financial reward that is given in the bigger competitions of the modern game. However, it is a symbol of what football always has and always should be – the chance to see two teams from opposite ends of the Football League ladder going into battle on a level playing field, fighting for the pride of their fans. The magic of the FA Cup is something that should be proudly cherished by everyone involved in football in this country, but unfortunately if things keep going as they are, we may see it become nothing more than a sideshow to the premier League.
By Matt Bircham – @