Football / Sport

How can we regain the magic of the FA cup?

Arsenal FC v Chelsea FC - FA Cup Final : News Photo

Arsenal celebrate winning the 2017 FA Cup, after defeating Chelsea 2-1 at Wembley. Source Getty Images

The FA Cup final is one of the biggest football spectacles of the year. But fans are now disengaged with the competition, with Wembley hosting the semi-finals of the competition and Premier League teams often fielding weakened teams. Not only that but this year the Royal Wedding has been placed on the same day as the final, highlighting a distinct lack of respect for football’s eldest tournament. How can we regain the magic of the FA cup?

In 2007, Television statistics show that the final attracted 9.9 million viewers. Yet last year’s final managed two million less. Has the FA Cup become so out of touch that it has lost over a fifth of its audience?

Ian Dennis is a Senior Football Reporter at BBC Radio 5 Live and has been reporting on football since 1989. He said: “I think the FA Cup has lost a little bit of its mystic.”

Ian Dennis (left) and Chris Waddle (right) at Meadow Lane

“It’s still a special competition but if you were to compare it to when I grew up as a boy, then it was a massive deal. The build-up would start early in the morning, you’d have reporters on the bus and it all geared up towards kick off at 3 o’clock.”

However, when you compare the build-up from the 1970s to the present day, there isn’t actually much of a difference.  In 2017, BBC One dedicated 6 hours and 35 minutes of content to FA Cup final action, with special episodes of Football Focus and a two hour preview scheduled on the most watched TV channel in Britain.

Another issue that fans take note of is the constant squad rotation from managers. Teams often field weakened sides against lower opposition as they prioritise their league position over domestic success.

Ian said: “I would say the majority of the clubs in the Premier League use the Cup as an opportunity to look at some of the fringe players.

“Then when it gets to the latter knockout stages it tends to be still the big clubs who have the depth and the resources to make it through and therefore still be in a position to challenge for the silverware come May.”

In this year’s competition, Arsenal played an entirely different starting 11, against Nottingham Forest, to the team that faced Chelsea in the semi-finals of the Carabao Cup four days earlier. They lost 4-2 at the City Ground with no first team players in the squad, leaving fans outraged.

However, Ian said that the FA themselves need to take some of the responsibility for sides fielding weaker teams: “This year, the FA Cup came on the back of a very hectic festive schedule of games.

“It was inevitable when you’re playing five games in the space of 14 days that they were going to make changes.

“So, I think we need to try and have a common sense approach to make sure that there is a decent break between the festive games and the FA Cup Saturday 3rd round which is always the first Saturday in January.

“I think this would then help make sure that the FA Cup is shown the respect that it deserves.”

Current Middlesbrough manager Tony Pulis is also a long-standing admirer of the FA Cup. He spoke to the media before his side’s 4th round FA Cup match against Brighton.

Tony Pulis addressing the media

He said: “The FA Cup will always be special for me because I can remember, years and years ago, as a young boy running out and pretending to be one of the players who were playing in that final.

“In the 60s you waited for the big games, you waited for the World Cup and that Saturday in May when the FA Cup final came around.

“I’d play until about half-past two then go inside and listen to “Abide With Me” and then sit down and watch the game.

“We’d then go out again and play until about 10 o’clock at night, until it was dark. They were special occasions.”

Fans’ final grudge is the home of English football, Wembley, being used for the semi-finals of the competition.

Since 2008, the new Wembley has hosted the semi-finals of the FA Cup with traditional fans expressing their distaste at this decision because it detracts the prestige from the final.

Ian said: “I’m a traditionalist; I think that just the final should be at Wembley.

“I think from a player’s point of view it was always special to say I’m there at Wembley now and it takes away a little bit of the novelty factor.

“The only plus point about it is that when you look at the venues of where the semi-finals used to be held – Hillsborough, Villa Park and Old Trafford – the attendances would have been about 60,000 and you could have about 30,000 each.

“If you go to Wembley, there’s a chance of an extra 10,000 supporters being able to see their side, so I think it’s good for the supporters because more get to see an FA Cup semi-final.

“I don’t think it’s a question of the FA Cup being able to reclaim its former glory, I think what we do need to do is to try and preserve it as best we can.”

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