A routinely asked question seems to pop back up when the FA Cup returns into the football consciousness at the Third Round – has the FA Cup lost its magic? This question is usually shunned away, with the beauty of the competition resurfacing in a cup upset every year. But, with this iteration of the FA Cup, the glamour might just be fading. Demoted to the lower reaches of the TV Guide on ITV 4, the Third Round draw at Boreham Wood seemed to have less eyes on it. Has this famous cup competition lost its magic? Or, is the magic only fading from the cynical perspective of the bigger club?
The FA Cup is the most prestigious cup competition in the English football pyramid. The promise of a big tie for a smaller club at a Premier League ground still generates excitement, for example. Recent seasons have thrown up some brilliant FA Cup upsets – Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds humbled by Crawley 3-0, Bradford seeing off Premier League Chelsea at Stamford Bridge 4-2, Lincoln’s mighty Cup run seeing them win 1-0 at Turf Moor. The magic of the cup isn’t completely dead, an upset is always around the corner. Even with last season’s instalment, Marine’s clash with Spurs saw them generate an income that is huge for a club of their size. Losing 5-0 on the day, the game alone secured funds that will transform Marine off the pitch and give funds to improve their playing squad.
But, with the first few rounds of the competition this year, you can’t help but feel the FA Cup is losing its once previous vital nature. Vital in people flocking to watch the non-league minnow take on the bigger club, a real David vs Goliath scrap. I think my subdued reaction to this year’s FA Cup is down to ITV 4 taking on a number of games in the first few rounds, with the likes of Boreham Wood v St Albans left to rot away down the TV Channel guide. Demoting those games to lesser channels left a bad taste in my mouth, only worsened when the Third Round Draw – once a captivating event – was also done without the usual publicity behind it. It feels as if they’re uninterested in the lower clubs facing off against each other and only interested when Manchester United or Manchester City finally enter the competition. It’s a shame as the Stockport v Bolton replay was a class watch, with Stockport being 2-0 down after 10 minutes before fighting back to win the match 5-3 in extra time. Shown on BBC Two, it unfortunately didn’t leave a dent in the football world like it should have done. It still generated a mass pitch invasion, a sign that the crowd at Edgeley Park were still in love with the cup. Foiled by Rotherham in the round after, Stockport evidently still believe in the magic of the cup.
It’s an even bigger shame that the ties for the Third Round chosen for TV do not reflect this same belief in lower-league magic, as the likes of Chesterfield and Kidderminster were shunned for all Premier League ties to be aired. Swindon v Manchester City and Millwall v Crystal Palace make sense for TV coverage, especially the latter with the added spice of a South London rivalry. But, West Ham v Leeds and Manchester United v Aston Villa are baffling television selections and, to me, shows a lack of appreciating why this cup competition has such prestige. West Ham v Leeds is also a Premier League fixture a week after the televised FA Cup clash, played on a Sunday also for the inevitable Sky Sports coverage. That makes the FA Cup clash being on TV even more bewildering, stealing a spot that should go to Chelsea v Chesterfield with the National League leaders dreaming of an upset at Tuchel’s Blues. Even Yeovil’s home tie against Bournemouth makes more sense, than offering up yet another televised match at Old Trafford. These TV picks, for me, show the direction the cup is heading in – put the smaller teams on the smaller channels, leave the Premier League teams in the limelight.
It’s not as if you’ll get the Premier League big boys fielding their strongest sides either, with the FA Cup used mainly as a pool for reserve players to get their opportunity to impress. Certain Premier League managers also treat the competition with a level of disdain. For instance, Jurgen Klopp failed to make himself present on the dugout for Shrewsbury’s replay at Anfield last year. The vocal German’s disdain was at the fixture congestion issues faced by his Liverpool side and the FA Cup becoming a distraction from the fixtures he’d rather put his effort into. If Klopp didn’t want fixtures piling up, why did he name such a weakened side in the initial draw at Shrewsbury? Start by respecting the competition and not expecting a Shrewsbury walkover, and then you wouldn’t have to fear unnecessary fixtures coming your way. One plus of the bigger sides not taking the competition as seriously as others is a shock winner in the final, with Leicester City lifting the trophy last time out courtesy of a Tielemans screamer. Upsetting the odds by beating Chelsea, the joy on the faces of the Foxes’ players, fans and chairman reminded me of the beauty of this well-established cup competition. The glamour might be diminishing, but it remains.
Some of my best memories as a Peterborough United supporter connect to the FA Cup, like Posh beating Steve Bruce’s Aston Villa 3-1 at Villa Park to send thousands of Posh fans into raptures. Moreover, seeing my side at Stamford Bridge against Chelsea was a surreal day. It was made even more surreal when Tom Nichols scored to make it 3-1 still in Chelsea’s favour, resulting in Antonio Conte bringing on N’Golo Kante against a then League One side.
For me, the FA Cup still holds a certain magic to it. With the Carabao Cup, those games feel without a purpose. The FA Cup remains the most important cup competition in the country, but the magic is diminishing. In an age where the big clubs prioritise their Premier League title race over the famous cup, we could well see another Leicester City story this season. With Posh playing League Two Bristol Rovers in the upcoming Third Round, it will be intriguing to see what Peterborough United can offer up in this year’s instalment also.
By Kelan Sarson