The FA Cup took centre stage at the weekend. But is the famous competition being treated with the respect it deserves? Gavin Caney takes a closer look
Try telling the players and fans of Newport County that the FA Cup does not matter.
As many awoke nursing sore heads on Monday having enjoyed their giant-killing exploits against Premier League Leicester City, their 2-1 victory had in fact not been a dream.
It had been every inch a memorable reality at a packed Rodney Parade in front of the BBC cameras.
It was everything that the ‘Magic of the FA Cup’ stands for. Lower-league team gets their moment of giant-killing glory in front of their delighted supporters who will talk about the triumph until their dying day.
So why did the after effects of Newport’s greatest party fail to ease the headaches of those concerned with the state and reputation of not only English football but the world’s most famous knockout competition?
For a start, notice the obvious omission above. The word Emirates was dropped from the ‘FA Cup’ because the inevitable sponsorship of it took further shine off the once incredibly coveted trophy.
Then realise that Leicester’s loss came as a result of the now customary top-flight club’s decision to play a weakened team. While the starting XI of the 2016 Premier League champions still included five players who pulled off their miracle success, it was not a side that Claude Puel would send into league combat.
So, while it was a cup shock in the true sense of the word, it was almost a watered down upset compared to the days of Ronnie Radford and Hereford’s iconic humbling of Newcastle on a pitch that resembled a ploughed field.
While managers and the money men above them continue to prioritise, and perhaps rightly so, league positions or safety or promotion, the FA Cup no longer provides a welcome distraction – it’s an annoyance.
A much-changed Liverpool, eyeing their first title since 1990, were knocked out as were Championship pacesetters Leeds United and Norwich City.
The only thing worse for them than being beaten by Wolves, QPR and Portsmouth respectively would no doubt have been a replay.
It’s almost, sadly, become the competition that many aren’t bothered about winning – or don’t feel they can thanks to the dominance of the game’s elite. It’s fallen behind the bright lights and riches of the Premier League and Champions League in terms of value.
Yet before you feel sympathy for the FA or the state of its cup, realise they’ve caused plenty of this harm themselves.
Back in 2000, don’t forget they pressurised Man United to pull out of defending the FA Cup in order to play in the Club World Championship and try to boost what was eventually England’s failed bid to host the 2006 World Cup.
Then remember that this weekend’s frankly awful scheduling – which saw nauseating blocks of fixtures – was created by the FA’s decision to sell TV rights that enhanced the overseas viewers’ experience.
It was another blow for the match-going fan and stripped another layer of prestige off the no-longer shiny cup that used to glisten. A day out at Wembley was every fan’s wish back in the day. Now you’ve only got to make a semi-final to get at least one.
So is it any wonder that fans are voting with their feet or turning off now the FA has helped the magic vanish?
Competition’s numbers just don’t add up
Only 31% of matches (10 out of 32) kicked off at the traditional time of 3pm on a Saturday after the FA signed an overseas TV deal, which saw ties rescheduled to allow for more games to be seen by viewers outside of the UK.
- A crowd of just 16,134 watched Premier League strugglers Fulham crash out of the competition with a home defeat to Oldham. Craven Cottage’s capacity is 25,700.
- Ole Gunnar Solskjaer made it five wins from five as caretaker manager when his Manchester United side, containing nine changes, knocked out Reading.
- £135,000 will be given to each of the eventual 32
third-round winning clubs.
- Tottenham’s much-changed starting XI still contained eight internationals as they thumped Tranmere 7-0 on Friday evening.
- Six of the ties were televised across FA Cup third round weekend.
Friday, January 4: 7.45pm
Tranmere 0 Tottenham 7
Saturday, January 5: 12.30pm
Man United 2 Reading 0
Bournemouth 1 Brighton 3
Burnley 1 Barnsley 0
Sheffield Wed 0 Luton 0
Shrewsbury 1 Stoke 1
West Brom 1 Wigan 0
West Ham 2 Birmingham 0
Saturday, January 5: 3pm
Bolton 5 Walsall 2
Gillingham 1 Cardiff 0
Brentford 1 Oxford 0
Aston Villa 0 Swansea 3
Middlesbrough 5 Peterborough 0
Everton 2 Lincoln City 1
Accrington Stan 1 Ipswich 0
Chelsea 2 Nottm Forest 0
Fleetwood 2 AFC
Derby Co 2 Southampton 2
Saturday, January 5: 5.30pm
Blackpool 0 Arsenal 3
Bristol City 1 Huddersfield 0
Crystal Palace 1 Grimsby 0
Norwich City 0 Portsmouth 1
Newcastle 1 Blackburn 1
Sunday, January 6: 2pm
Woking 0 Watford 2
Preston 1 Doncaster Rovs 3
QPR 2 Leeds United 1
Sheffield United 0 Barnet 1
Man City 7 Rotherham 0
Fulham 1 Oldham 2
Millwall 2 Hull 1
Sunday, January 6: 4.30pm
Newport County 2 Leicester 1 (BBC)
Monday, January 7: 7.45pm
Wolves 2 Liverpool 1 (BBC)
- This week’s poll…
What would help bring the most prestige back to the FA Cup?
Champs League qualification for winners
No Wembley semi-finals
More 3pm Saturday KOs
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