Cooney and Black

If the FA Cup were that much of an attraction, it would have found a front-line sponsor by now, instead of being shunned. It’s a competition that belongs to yesteryear.



THE health of the FA Cup continues to deteriorate. It could be dead in five years unless it undergoes drastic surgery.

As a competition, it doesn’t mean a thing any more. It’s had its day, and the time is coming when it could be kicked into the long grass, and abandoned.

If it were that much of an attraction, it would have found a front-line sponsor by now, instead of being shunned for what it really is…a competition that belongs to yesteryear.

Did I hear someone mention giant-killing? QPR’s 3-0 defeat by Sheffield United may well have been a relief for Harry Redknapp, who can now concentrate on staying in the Barclays Premier League.

A bigger surprise would have been if Rangers had won: they have recorded only two FA Cup victories in the last 14 seasons.

Realistically, the divide between the small clubs and the Premier League is now a gulf. Perhaps the Cup in future should be a knock-out competition, excluding the Premier League sides.

This weekend’s event underlines the argument. Only three clubs – Dover, AFC Wimbledon and Yeovil – had sold all their tickets before kick-off time. Gates were down, with Burnley closing one stand for the visit of Tottenham.

Football cannot continue to live in the past. Once the Cup meant something, but the Barclays Premier League and the Champions League are all that really matter now.

Even clubs who qualify for the Europa Cup have started complaining about fixture congestion, and about having to play on Thursdays.

Very soon, midweek replays will be dropped, like they are in the Capital Cup. Nobody needs extra matches any more.

The FA Cup belonged to the days before the massive expansion of the Premier League, when replays were played the following week (until the police stepped in), and when the Cup Winners’ Cup was a European competition that meant something.

Back in 1999, Manchester United controversially announced they were pulling out of the FA Cup because they were involved in the World Club Championship. It’s been devalued little by little ever since.

Few teams play their strongest side nowadays; most use it as a stepping stone for emerging talent.

The hard truth is that no club wants to drop out of the Premier League and thus forfeit the riches that go with it. As I’ve already stated, sponsors don’t want to know, and the general public are no longer attracted to second-rate soccer.

In contrast, the television companies milk it shamelessly. When the third round draw was televised, the BBC screened it from an aquarium in Hull, playing up the theme of the minnows swimming with the big fish.

There were images of sharks and whales, and dramatic accompanying music. It looked, and was, ridiculous. Much the same as Jimmy Bullard’s appearance on Sunday as a Beeb analyst.

Football in England is dominated by the Premier League. It should be that way, too, for it is the best advert for the game. The public wants to see stars, great talents, superb teams, and levels of skill that offers hope for the well being and improvement of the national side.

The FA Cup has become an advert for clubs who mainline on mediocrity. There hasn’t been a great final for donkeys years, nothing to demonstrate how entertaining English football can be at the highest level.

Compare that to the Champions League and some of the great football we regularly see from Europe. Perhaps it is the reason this country lags behind the rest of Europe.

We are rooted in romanticism, David v. Goliath contests and all that nonsense. In the end, it matters not. What we should be striving for is quality, class, technical ability.

How can you build home-grown players and groom them when so many games are clogging up the calendar? Players need time to recover. A major step forward would be to have a two-week winter break at the very least.

I suggest we stop living in the past and looking over our shoulders. All that can be seen are images that no longer have anything to do with the modern game.

We revere the old days with total nostalgia, and sentimentality. We always reach back into the past instead of looking forward to the future. Perhaps it’s time for the FA to look long and hard at their competition. It was the mainstay of the season once. Now it just gets in the way.

If it has to exist still, let the Premier League clubs withdraw if they want to. Give them the choice of entering it, or not. Not everything about past days are good.

The FA Cup in its present format has outlived its place in football.


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