Over the past three weeks, two things have been made abundantly clear. One, FIFA has demonstrated that disingenuous, fraudulent, dishonest and corrupt are not just bywords for politicians. And two, the Football Association has made it strikingly clear that the national game has neither the time nor the patience for the FA cup. The former, to all intents and purposes, is actually rather more obvious as just in case you were living under a rock back in November, two of the worlds most oil-rich and bureaucratically insane States surprisingly won their bids for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. The latter, as we have seen, just isn’t something that the FA deem sufficiently important anymore.
Now, when we think of the FA cup Final, instant feelings of those long Saturday mornings sometime in Mid May usually spring to mind. The routine tradition, the pre-match build-up and nostalgic ceremony that just isn’t found with any other sporting cup competition other than perhaps the Superbowl, of course we didn’t have Janet Jackson’s boobs at half-time, maybe just Mottie’s sheepskin instead.
Nowadays, as we saw two weeks ago, the FA cup final doesn’t even justify the afternoon to itself, as we saw with the other half of Manchester drawing with Blackburn to win the Premiership. I genuinely find this a sad indictment of our game that the FA cup, much like other cup competitions, has had such a severe fall from grace. In some respects, despite the fact that the FA have to take part of the blame, it is the clubs themselves who have created this proverbial rod for their own backs by shying away from the romanticism and hope that a decent cup-run can generate in favour of stability and pragmatic realism that staying in the division evokes. Premiership and Championship clubs are now so concerned with staying in the division or indeed, trying to get there, that every aspect of their season, every decision made throughout the club is with the Premiership Holy Grail in mind.
Is this really the future of English football? Cup competitions provide fans with the opportunity to dream a little, to sense that something, however absurd the odds might be, may just be about to happen. Would it then, be OK for fans of teams such as Bolton and Blackburn to be happy with sacrificing the romantic potential of a decent cup run for dogmatic stability? We all know about the riches the Premiership offers, this is all too obvious, but then what is life if we can’t force ourselves to dream a little?
What future do we face in football if at the start of every season our immediate concern was with stability? And for what end? Ian Holloway, who for most of the season has been lauded by the national press, stated in the run-up to their relegation decider with Man United that it ‘would be the end of the world’, if Blackpool were relegated (a team with by far the smallest playing budget the Premiership has seen). This complete obsession with the Premiership, has amongst other things, turned the FA cup into such a secondary constituent of the season that even teams in the Championship and League 1 fielded weaker teams this season so as to keep the first team players fresh for upcoming league fixtures.
Try saying all of this to a genuine Man City supporter and they would most probably disagree, that you could understand. For Man City though it was less about the splendour and beauty of the FA Cup and more about trying to eradicate the 35 year wait for silverware. For the Premiership’s elite teams the FA Cup is nothing more than a hindrance to their League campaigns and their quest for European qualification. It’s as if we live in a vicious and depressing cycle where football is no longer about the raw emotions that we associate with a good cup run but of the constant quest for stability and the predictably bland. With the move to an evening kick-off next year nearly all connections with the past splendour of this great English tradition will be broken. This, if anything, says everything you need to know about our game in 2011.
Read more of Thomas Walters’ articles at This is Futbol