The FA Cup is a competition that is constantly talked of as being devalue, but manages to survive season after season providing entertainment along the way.
In some ways, it mirrors the County Championship. What was once the blue riband of England’s sporting calendar is now marginalised to a point, often played in front of dwindling crowds and with the scores found out on the internet afterwards.
Premier League teams, we are told, are at the forefront of this devaluation. Bournemouth changed all eleven players from their previous leasubseq a breathless draw with Arsenal, for their third round cup tie at Millwall. They lost, handsomely.
Serve them right, come the cries, though one suspects that Cherries fans will lick their wounds for a short while then come to terms with the job in hand – the league.
Yet there is little incentive for Bournemouth to use the energy of their star players in the cup. In the last 20 years, only two winners of the competition have come from outside the group of the two Manchester sides, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea.
Wigan were victorious in 2013, and Portsmouth in 2008. It would be disingenuous to suggest those sides subsequent struggles were as a result of their cup success, but the trips to the Europa League they earned would not have been beneficial to squad who were not bolstered by the extra Champions League funding.
You’ll note, I have not once mentioned the trophy in all of this. I support a traditionally second or third tier side. Aside from playoffs, the only competition I have seen them win is the Yorkshire Electricity Cup (1994/95, a 4-2 win against Hull, if memory serves). Every year we hope for a cup run, not expecting to win it, but at least make a splash – maybe if we got a big draw we could get on TV, because there’s no other reason we’d get picked – neither big enough to be giant killed, nor small enough to be minnows.
Even at Championship level, there is a disinterest in the cup, with rafts of changes being made. Again, there is no incentive not to do. The only way a Championship side can enjoy a successful cup run (realistically) is to progress to a point where one of those big five knocks them out.
The team changes themselves are not the cause of the devaluation of the competition, in other words, they are the effect.
The devaluation has come with the fact that, firstly, winning the competition is almost definitely a closed shop, and secondly, the money that a televised tie can bring in is generally given to those sides most likely to win it; money goes to money.
In some ways, that makes sense. The choice of Liverpool v Plymouth for television might seem natural over, say, Millwall v Bournemouth. Yet there was always likely to be more chance of an upset at the Den, something that perpetuates the story of the ‘magic of the cup’.
For all this complaining, nothing will change. The free-to-air broadcasters will continue to screen ersatz Premier League ties, or occasional victories for the big boys, starved as they are of such viewer-drawing fayre elsewhere.
Bournemouth, Swansea, Everton and the like, will continue to view the competition as an inconvenience, something they can’t win and few seem to care whether they progress or not.
To save the FA Cup, the competition itself needs to demonstrate a little integrity – perhaps to insist on one all non-Premier League tie to be screened, perhaps to insist on a maximum number of player changes. In other words, the FA must stand up to the Premier League.
We all know that won’t happen.
Congratulations to Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea or one of the Manchester clubs; FA Cup winners 2017, 2018, 2019….