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The FA Cup, Forever Magic

Thursday 27th February 2014
Despite the vast wealth and attention drawn by the Premier League and complete disrespect shown by Television, this season's FA Cup has proved why it is far more than just an inconvenience.

Over recent years, the credibility of the oldest domestic Cup competition in the world has been questioned due to the ever growing schedules of teams throughout the country and the money driven focus of promotion and relegation. However, the fifth round draw of 2014 suggested that the top clubs had rekindled their affection for the competition. Out of the 16 teams in the draw, 10 were from the Premier League as opposed to just five in the 2012/13 equivalent.

For any team, whether they are in the chase for a title or embroiled in a relegation battle, the chance of playing knockout football with the prize of a trip to Wembley and potentially winning one of the most historical trophies has to be a welcome break from the pressures of a league campaign. This was proven on a grand scale by Wigan last year as they won the Cup and secured European football despite their impending relegation from the Premier League.

Before the 3rd round in January, Aston Villa's Paul Lambert went on record as saying that he felt that Premier League clubs could “do without” the FA Cup. His comments caused outrage among football fans, none more so than those of his own club, as they have gone without FA Cup glory for 56 years. Lambert's complaints over only having a small squad failed to be backed up by having six days rest prior to their game against League One's Sheffield United and then a further 7 days before their next Premier League fixture. Villa lost the game 2-1, an embarrassing defeat for both the club and Lambert. In reality, after going out of the Carling Cup, the FA Cup stood as the only real opportunity for Aston Villa to reach Wembley again and with their great heritage, it certainly was another missed opportunity.

The flip side of that result saw Sheffield United, who have struggled to keep their heads above water in League One, progress into the fourth round and find themselves now only one game away from a semi-final appearance.  The subsequent momentum of their Cup run has buoyed the fans and the players and seen them rise to 12th in the table well clear of relegation worries.

Above any unfortunate comments from manager's or weakened team selections however, is the complete disrespect and lack of understanding shown towards the FA Cup by the television companies holding viewing rights. Gone are the days where there would be free to air televised games on Saturday at noon and teatime, before a Sunday afternoon kick off. ITV, self titled as ‘The Home of the FA Cup', have very rarely shown more than one game in any given Cup weekend. With ITV also showing the draw for the next round, it is either rushed through before the round's fixtures have even been completed or sandwiched cruelly between a Coronation Street omnibus and Miss Marple. The last draw took place before four fixtures in the round had reached a result, as a once brilliant and theatrical process has been reduced to a farce. BT Sport have regularly shown two matches in a weekend but with their coverage only available to customers, the majority of the potential viewing audience struggle to see any of those games. This is through no fault of BT, as they try to maximise their football offering, but the FA as they have ignored the working man again by dishing out the rights to those willing to write the fattest cheque. Where BT Sport are at fault however, are in the showing of Monday night FA Cup games. The FA Cup is a historical event which is played at the weekend to allow those who work all week a day out, home or away. To show Brighton vs Hull on a Monday night displays how detached television producers are from football fans. Hull to Brighton is a round trip well in excess of 500 miles and on a Monday evening, is neigh on impossible. The way in which the Cup has been treated by Television over the last five or six years, from the days of Setanta to ESPN, has done nothing other than devalue it as a spectacle and decimate it as an important and historical title.

On Monday evening (the 24th February) I was present in the crowd as Charlton won at Hillsborough, beating Sheffield Wednesday in the fifth round fixture, rearranged due to a postponement. There were upwards of 25,000 fans present, with a place in the quarter finals at stake. The huge atmosphere created by both sets of supporters was down in no small part to the appetite that there still is among football lovers for a great cup run.

The FA Cup is and always will be a great competition in the eyes of football fans in England and globally. If it is shown the respect it deserves by those who have the most control over it, then it can become the very best of Cup competition's once again.
James Dean
A lover of football. Season ticket holder at Sheffield Wednesday and known as the "Andrea Pirlo of the North".

Total articles: 24

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