Wednesday, 2 February 2011
The Death Of The FA Cup
Back in the day, or in my case the 1970s, it was just about the most thrilling sporting tournament there was, climaxing with the Final itself, an all-day excite-a-thon, a one-nation TV moment matched only in pulling power by the Morecambe & Wise Christmas Special.
Hard for youngsters to believe, but the Final was the only domestic club game screened live during a season. Winning the cup was arguably more important than securing the league title. The tournament traditionally yielded a wide spread of winners, occasionally a team from outside the top division.
And there's the rub, of course... for since the advent of the Premier League/Sky, everything has changed. Not just in terms of wall-to-wall live coverage, but the abundant riches. The resultant gulf between "haves" and "have nots" has long since made it highly improbable that an unfashionable team will ever bag the prize.
The facts speak loudly. In the last twenty years, only two winners (Everton in 1995 and Portsmouth in 2008, still both Premier League teams) have come from outside (and I hate this phrase) "The Big Four". The "unachievable" Double — only won twice last century up to 1971 — is now a regular haul.
There are other things to take the shine off the old tin pot. In a gibbering frenzy induced by the rare chance to show unedited games, the BBC, and now ITV, inevitably screen ties featuring Premier League teams (or Premier League reserve teams), undercutting the very "romance" they keep banging on about.
And then there's the status of Wembley. After the surrender of its exclusivity — hosting the semis, play-offs and everything else — is hoofing on the "hallowed turf" really that big a deal anymore? So improved are club pitches (when did you last see a player get muddy?), that gone is the thrill of watching teams strut their stuff on a showpiece bowling green rather than their usual approximations of the Somme. (Kids, seriously. Go to youtube. Punch in "Baseball Ground".)
I'm just a misty-eyed romantic. The genie's long since out of the bottle. But has the time come to kill off the FA Cup for good? When they bulldozed the old stadium, its mecca, maybe they should have laid the competition to rest, too. It might have been kinder in the long run.