The Secret Footballer: The FA has helped devalue its own Cup

Joss

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The Secret Footballer: The FA has helped devalue its own Cup

Whether by hosting semi-finals at Wembley or pressuring Manchester United out in 2000 the game's so-called governing body has failed to protect its showcase event



The FA Cup final used to be a major event on the calendar. Photograph: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

One of the books I particularly enjoyed last year, along with four million others, was Freakonomics, a light-hearted way of using economics to get to the bottom of certain cultural phenomena. The more memorable chapters tackled the reasons why drug dealers live with their mums, how does a relaxing of the abortion laws relate to a drop in crime throughout the 1990s and, perhaps the most difficult to answer, why has the FA Cup become so worthless?

OK, so that last one wasn't in the book but there are one or two interesting observations to be made if we apply some rudimentary economics to the level of interest that some clubs, and the Football Association for that matter, attribute to the world's most famous knockout competition.

An obvious starting point would be the huge financial rewards many clubs have benefited from since the Premier League's inception in 1992, but there have also been a couple of spectacular public-relations disasters that have blighted the FA Cup thereafter, all of which have gone a considerable way to devaluing the competition.

A couple of examples are the pressure the FA exerted on Manchester United to withdraw from the competition in 2000, in the mistaken belief that participating in the Fifa World Club Championship would help England to stage the 2006 World Cup and the latest masterstroke, which appears to have been to overlook the significance of the small print in the contract with Uefa that states no game can be played at Wembley two weeks before the Champions League final. As a result, we now have the world's oldest knockout competition being played on the same day as four Premier League fixtures, one of which, as fate would have it, looks as if it will determine the outcome of the title. Moreover, hundreds of thousands of travelling football supporters – not that they seem to figure much in any of the authorities' thinking these days – will miss some, if not all, of the Cup final. All of this detracts from what promises be a fascinating match between two passionately supported clubs that have gone a long time without winning any silverware.

What I find difficult to understand is how a governing body the size of the FA can spot, and fine, West Ham's Danny Gabbidon for telling fans who have abused him to F-off on his Twitter account but can't see that hosting the Champions League final is in direct conflict with the final of its own showpiece competition. If the FA is throwing money at ideas to try to revitalise the FA Cup, why did it strike a deal that completely belittled the competition? I guess the easy answer to that question would be the need to service the debts that come with a national stadium that cost more than £750m to build.

How times have changed. When I was a kid the FA Cup final was a major event on the calendar. The whole day was set aside to enjoy the occasion and everything surrounding it. From the pre-match build-up to the main event, you were immersed in it. I'm not a big one for nostalgia but if a wedding commands two weeks of solid coverage these days, then surely the FA Cup final can find an audience that merits the best part of a day?

There was also a time when I could reel off the FA Cup winners and losers, the goalscorers and the heroes and the villains – I knew everything there was to know about the competition. Yet I would struggle to do likewise for the FA Cup finals in the past decade and I'd imagine that's the case with many people. The over exposure of the Premier League and the easy access to Europe's finest players means that, for now at least, the game to watch is the Champions League final.

The FA cannot compete with Uefa's prize money and nor should they be expected to, but I believe our governing body could do more to protect the status of its showpiece event. You will, for example, do well to find a player who believes that hosting a semi-final at Wembley is a sound idea. What made the FA Cup such a fantastic piece of silverware to win in the past was surely the uniqueness of playing the final at Wembley. Sadly, many of us believe that today it is too easy to play at the world's most famous stadium.

But the blame for all of this – if you want to apportion blame – is certainly not exclusive to the FA. I can't remember a time in professional football where clubs, managers and players have been more aware of which side their bread is buttered. Fourth spot or the FA Cup? Fourth spot. Premier League survival or the FA Cup? Survival. Stoke City or Manchester City will pick up £1.8m for winning the FA Cup, which is the difference between finishing 15th and 17th in the Premier League.

The prize money is not the motivation at this stage of the competition – it's all about trying to win the famous trophy – but as long as £30m is on offer to reach the Champions League and the same sum dangled in front of those clubs fighting to stay up, the FA Cup will never be taken seriously by top-flight clubs in the early rounds. Chairmen certainly make it clear where they feel the priorities lie at the start of the season by offering huge survival bonuses to players and managers.

For all that, the FA Cup clearly isn't worthless. For those lower down the leagues the romance of the competition lives on, as we have seen once again this season. And whatever the Stoke and Manchester City players stand to collect in bonuses this afternoon, a winner's medal will be priceless to them. It's just a shame that the FA has forgotten the value of its own competition.

twitter.com/TSFguardian

---------- Post added at 03:53 PM ---------- Previous post was at 11:24 AM ----------

appropriate time to bump
 

fuelledbypassion

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Totally agree, and it is a real shame. I think a lot of the romance of the FA Cup has gone because of the influx of foreigners - it just doesn't mean as much to them. There are still some old school managers such as SAF who show the competition the respect it deserves, but you just have to look at way most managers prioritise their games. I remember Liverpool being embarrassed a number of years ago when Rafa Benitez played a second string 11 and lost (Traore OG I think?), the CL seems to dominate the thought of every manager nowadays.
 

ajt09

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Oct 23, 2009
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Another thing that bugs the **** out of me is this. Why the **** have 4 premiership games-one of which being a title decider-on the same day as the FA Cup Final. It REALLY boils my urine when this happens. This would never have happened years back, but now its acceptable. Like today, it feels like a Prem match as a result. And next year unbelievably, to keep the tv rights holders happy, the kick off time will be 5.15. I am sick and tired of the FA (and tv broadcasters) of treating this competition, which has so much history, like just another match. What next-have the coverage on Channel 5 or something? I loved the FA Cup (notice the word loved), but it's been ruined for me, along with many other fans, simply because they simply couldn't give a flying fig about what the true fans want.
Rant over.
 

Calum

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Dec 22, 2009
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I agree it should always be on Saturday with no other games on with the kickoff at 3
 

Mike

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Feb 5, 2009
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I remember in 2002 when Arsenal won the double, the FA Cup Final was a week before the final week (still had United (title decider) and Everton to play) of the Premier League and I remember thinking why the ****? This is still my favourite cup competition in England but it does seem to have lost its magic over the past few years.
 

Joss

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Totally agree, and it is a real shame. I think a lot of the romance of the FA Cup has gone because of the influx of foreigners - it just doesn't mean as much to them. There are still some old school managers such as SAF who show the competition the respect it deserves, but you just have to look at way most managers prioritise their games. I remember Liverpool being embarrassed a number of years ago when Rafa Benitez played a second string 11 and lost (Traore OG I think?), the CL seems to dominate the thought of every manager nowadays.
Woah - SAF has fielded plenty of weakened teams in the competition this year, and almost paid the price. Arsenal (VDS was MOM), Southampton, Crawley Town.

I don't think foreigners has anything to do with it tbh -- as the article says, and as ajt said, it's the FA and TV who have undermined their own competition. Plenty of players understand it just as much - would you feel like Vidic didn't know what it meant? Vieira? Gilberto? etc.

Agree that a lot of managers clearly don't seem to rate it that much and AW has fielded weakened sides in the past, but I do think that once it gets into the final stages, most teams do take it completely seriously.

Timing is ridiculous, though.

Another thing that bugs the **** out of me is this. Why the **** have 4 premiership games-one of which being a title decider-on the same day as the FA Cup Final. It REALLY boils my urine when this happens. This would never have happened years back, but now its acceptable. Like today, it feels like a Prem match as a result. And next year unbelievably, to keep the tv rights holders happy, the kick off time will be 5.15. I am sick and tired of the FA (and tv broadcasters) of treating this competition, which has so much history, like just another match. What next-have the coverage on Channel 5 or something? I loved the FA Cup (notice the word loved), but it's been ruined for me, along with many other fans, simply because they simply couldn't give a flying fig about what the true fans want.
Rant over.
Couldn't agree more.
 

fuelledbypassion

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Dec 11, 2009
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V Arsenal:

V Crawley:
V Southampton:
How exactly are those teams showing any disrespect to the FA Cup? United rotate often anyway, and the only truely weak players that have played in those fixtures are Bebe and Obertan. In each game, SAF's decision to rest big players such as Rooney, Berbatov, Vidic etc have been vindicated.

And for the record Joss, no, it wont mean as much to Vidic. I am sure he didn't dream of winning the FA Cup when he was a child; a dream that many of us will have had many times.
 

Alcaraz

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To be fair you cant really blame this on the managers or players, ask any one of them and they will say that being in the top 4 of the Premiere League would be as good as getting into the FA Cup Final and obviously a Premiere League medal or Champions League medal is so much more coveted than a FA Cup medal nowadays, which you cant really help as arguably it is harder for teams to win those 2 competitions

I find the League Cup to be surplus to requirements, it looks like a U-23 cup to me until the finals when teams will play their best 11 in hopes of attaining one more silverware. I think if the League Cup is streamlined into a official Youth Cup instead, then maybe players will focus more on the FA Cup . If this state of affairs continues, eventually like it or not Managers will start to field weakened sides in the FA Cup just like they do in the League Cup as we have seen this season how the League has grown in competition with as many as 5 teams having sufficient quality to win the title and obviosuly their is the Champions League
 
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