Before sounding like an elitist, it is a given that for smaller teams – Oxford United, for example, who will play Newcastle United or Birmingham in the fourth round later this month – the FA Cup provides an opportunity to make a significant amount of cash, potentially keeping them alive until the next big draw in a few years’ time. That is great – if a little unfair on the teams around them not lucky enough to secure a big tie.
Plymouth Argyle supporters travelled back down south triumphant from Anfield on Sunday afternoon following the 0-0 draw which secured a replay at Home Park. They delighted in knowing that the tie will eventually be worth considerably more than half a million pounds to them, win or lose in the replay.
That money might be put towards new training facilities, or, more likely, a new contract and bigger wage packet for star man Graham Carey, who is attracting suitors from further up the divisions.
But whilst the general perception of the FA Cup is that the underdogs are king, few would want to watch an FA Cup Final featuring two teams from outside the Premier League.
Jurgen Klopp has higher priorities than the FA Cup, and so made ten changes, fielding the youngest ever Liverpool side, including players like Ben Woodburn who is still young enough to be set homework to complete over the weekend. The fact that he dared to change so much is indicative of the stature the FA Cup has among fans at the top.
Eddie Howe made similar changes – eleven in fact – and suffered a defeat to League One side Millwall. As embarrassing as a 3-0 defeat to a side in the league below might be, Howe knows that as long as his Cherries side stay in the Premier League that will all be forgotten. Rightly or wrongly, the Premier League is paramount – the FA Cup is no longer as important to those sides that would make it more interesting to watch.
Wind back thirty years plus, and the FA Cup Final was the only live game shown on TV. It is impossible to create the same buzz around watching the final when there are matches shown live on almost every day of the year. We are all used to watching live games now: even the Vanarama National League can be caught on BT Sport several times a season.
Live matches are not the only novelty now in the past – the semi-finals are now at Wembley as well as the final, making reaching the showpiece venue that much easier. Devaluing the FA Cup due to live TV games is no fault of the FA, but the same cannot be said of the semi-final fiasco.
Replays might draw in big money for a select number of teams lucky to get the right ties, but for the top teams, they mean another unwanted distraction. Southampton, who drew 2-2 with Norwich at the weekend, will surely make wholesale changes again since it comes in a month already compacted with league fixtures and a two-legged EFL Cup semi-final against Liverpool. The FA Cup is last in a long line of priorities.
Matches like Tottenham playing Aston Villa are shown on TV, with the only reason being that TV companies want an upset. Instead, what occurred was bias towards the underdog, followed by a routine 2-0 victory for the Premier League side.
Tottenham playing a league game against a team at the foot of the table would be unlikely to get much interest generated, but a cup tie against even lower opposition was heavily talked about – purely because TV gets viewing figures.
For lots of fans, the FA Cup might be a chance to have a go at beating the elite, but the competition has generally lost its magic. How many semi-finalists or finalists can you name over the last ten years? Compare that to the number of Premier League or Champions League winners.
This might sound like an elitist talking down to the poorer quality sides in lower divisions, but at the end of the day, we should want the best teams to go through. After all, if Liverpool had been knocked out because they changed the entire team (and they still might in the replay), or Peterborough had sprung a surprise and beaten Chelsea as the TV companies would very much have liked, the competition would be much poorer as a result.
Players in the past grew up mesmerised by the FA Cup; Martin Keown was inspired to play football because of it. But for this generation, the feeling is somewhat different: the FA Cup is now a distraction from the most significant fixtures coming in the league, at least for those at the top, who have the quality to make it appealing.
In times gone by the FA Cup was important even to the best teams in the country. It still is to an extent now – no one would turn down winning it as Manchester United did last year – but the Premier League is absolutely king. Ask Jose Mourinho what is more important this year, and we all know what the answer would be.
The FA Cup has lost it’s magic and is in need of reform.
This article was submitted via our Write For Us feature. Think you can do better? Submit your own article by clicking here, and give yourself the chance of winning monthly cash prizes…