James Beeson looks at five reasons why the oldest competition in football, the FA Cup, simply doesn’t hold the same appeal it used to.
The FA Cup, once the pinnacle of English football, the stage where dreams were fulfilled and hearts broken, appears to be on the wane.
Low attendances, weakened sides and a general lack of interest have seen this once glorious competition become nothing more than a mere distraction for many English clubs. Here are five reasons for FA cup’s fall from grace.
1) Poor Coverage – Increased commercialisation in football has already lead to the League Cup being renamed the Capital One Cup, and since the 2008/09 season, the ‘FA Cup with Budweiser’ has been shown exclusively on ITV.
Whilst this is not necessarily an issue in itself, with ITV being available for public consumption at no extra cost to viewers, the coverage of this once magnificent competition has deteriorated significantly during this period.
Constant advert breaks, coupled with meagre highlights and shoddy punditry have deterred viewers and taken the sheen off the FA Cup to such an extent that many football fans now avoid watching the competition entirely.
2) Resurgence of the League Cup – Traditionally seen as the lesser of the two domestic cups available to English teams, the League Cup, or ‘Capital One Cup’ has seen somewhat of a resurgence in recent years, with some thrilling ties and big upsets.
Just last season, Bradford City of League Two defeated the likes of Wigan, Aston Villa and Arsenal to reach the final of the competition. Despite being beaten 5-0 by Swansea in the final, Bradford’s plucky spirit and hard-working attitude inspired football fans across the nation and rejuvenated the reputation of the League Cup, perhaps to the detriment of England’s ‘major’ Cup competition.
3) Foreign imports – Increasing numbers of foreign players and managers on our shores could be causing a shift in attitude towards England’s cup competitions. It has been argued by some experts that many foreign players and managers do not ‘understand’ the true significance of the FA Cup.
In many foreign leagues, the domestic cups are not treated with the same respect as their league counterparts, and imported managers and players may be translating this attitude with regard to the FA Cup.
This distain for the cup was exemplified in the example of the then-Liverpool manager Gerard Houllier, who in 2001 refused to allow his players to celebrate following their FA Cup triumph over Arsenal because of an important upcoming UEFA cup match.
4) Premier League revenue – Many Premier League sides in recent years have been criticised for fielding weakened teams in the FA Cup, thus demeaning the competition in some way.
However, in reality this is perfectly understandable. The growth of the Premier League as a global brand has seen revenue streams to clubs increase exponentially. As a result of this, many top-flight clubs tend to prioritise their league objectives ahead of Cup success and thus do not take the FA cup seriously, playing a mixture of squad players and youth team prospects.
It could be argued that this has caused some of the magic of the Cup to disappear in recent years; It is hard for Watford fans to get excited about a tie with Manchester City when most of City’s star players are unlikely to be playing in the match. (Although, City did start Sergio Agüero as he continues his rehabilitation from injury.)
5) Predictability – Even considering the fact that many Premier League clubs do field increasingly weaker sides in the FA Cup, there appears to be a decline in the number of ‘giant-killings’ in the competition in recent years.
The gulf in revenue streams between top-flight and lower division teams means that in the majority of cases, Premier League sides can afford to rest key players and still come out on top in FA Cup ties.
This lack of un-predictably has caused the Cup to become less exciting to watch, with Premier League teams tending to dominate; Chelsea have won four of the last seven FA Cups, whilst the Cup hasn’t been won by a non-Premier League side this century!
In order to restore the FA Cup to it’s past glories, a serious change in attitudes is required. A huge ‘giant-killing’ or a change of coverage would help enhance the experience of the competition, but it is the underlying attitude of distain for the competition that may prove fatal for the oldest association football competition in the world.