Four ways to bring the magic back to the FA Cup
Another FA Cup weekend of weakened teams playing largely uninspiring games in front of half empty stadiums. It has been the same old story for as long as many fans can remember. Once the greatest tournament in the world the grand old Cup now comes in a distant second behind the bread and butter of the league.
It’s time to act. Time to bring back the magic.
1) Offer the FA Cup winner a Champions League place
In my opinion, this is fundamental to the cups survival. It would rejuvenate the tournament in an instant. Champions League football is the be all and end all, a destination for glory and riches.
It would ensure that the big four / six would take the cup seriously, almost replacing the top four as a pre-season target. It would also be a tantalising prospect for those middle tier teams who are generally safe from relegation but never threaten to get a Champions League place via the league. It offers hope to all teams that there is a route to the Champions League. An end to the closed shop. It would ignite the dreams of fans of all clubs that this really could be their year.
Yes, I understand the arguments that this, in principle, is unfair that the cup can be won with an element of luck while league places are earned. But then the playoffs are not fair but these have proved hugely successful. Infact the fourth place team in a league should not really be in a tournament called the Champions League anyway.
I’m not sure whether this option would be allowed under UEFA rulings but it’s worth investigating based on the boast it would bring the Cup and the English game.
2) Let’s leave Wembley for the final only, please
Since the FA Cup semi-finals have been held at Wembley it has taken a certain shine from the final itself. The final has almost, by default, become an extension of the semi-finals. One of the appeals of the FA Cup was the day out at Wembley for both players and fans. A unique opportunity to see your team at the home of football. An element of that mystique has gone.
It may be nostalgia but I am sure semi-finals were better in the old days when English grandest stadiums were split 50/50 and the atmosphere unrivalled in any game. Those against would argue that playing these games at Wembley allows more fans to watch their team but where were those fans on a cold winters evening in the third round?
3) Include FA Cup games as part of the season-ticket
I must admit I am going in here a bit blind, but my understanding is that FA Cup games are generally not included in a season ticket and therefore are an extra cost to season-ticket holders. If games were part of the season tickets most holders would attend the games even if just part of their normal match routine. After a busy Christmas period and with cash tight many I expect would see the FA Cup as an opportunity to ‘have a weekend off’ especially when they have to go to the effort and costs of buying tickets.
Getting grounds full is an important factor in creating memorable cup ties and the snowball effect begins. I am aware that the competition guarantees away fans more tickets so there would need to be some logistics to sort out but not beyond the capabilities of most clubs.
4) An end to weakened sides
It’s a big frustration to fans of lower clubs who turn up hoping for a once in a lifetime opportunity to see global superstars and for bigger clubs whose fans want to see their strongest sides giving them the best opportunity to win the trophy.
It is one of the biggest insults to the tournament.
The FA need to get tough. A rule that would, for example, limit the number of changes from a clubs last (or even last two) Premier League games to say four players would be a step in the right direction. The risk is destroying a relationship with managers whose chairmen judge them on league positions.
But if it brings back the magic then it is worth a go.