Thankfully, another FA Cup weekend has passed. Another weekend filled with talk of the “Magic of the Cup, the “Glory Game” and more references to romance than your average Valentine’s Day. But enough is enough! It’s to wake up and smell the coffee that has been brewing for a good many years now. Time to just face reality.
Put simply, just saying something doesn’t make it so, and repeatedly saying that the FA Cup is the greatest domestic cup competition in the world counts for very little in a football world where money doesn’t just talk, it bellows. If people would actually like to see the FA Cup restored to greatness, then something radical needs to be done or the Champion’s League and the Premier League will continue to push the Cup in to the realms of the sideshow.
So here are four suggestions to properly revive the Cup, as talk of tradition alone will not do it. Maybe some or all are not practical – but they might spark a debate all the same.
1. Forget romance and think finance
Balance sheets and the bottom line count more than trophies in modern football. If the Cup had a more head-turning prize fund, then clubs would certainly take it more seriously. Consider that the FA Cup winners Wigan got more in prize money when relegated from the Premier League than it got (just over €2 million) for winning the Cup at Wembley. Were the FA to raise the prize fund through multiple big name sponsors (as in the Champions League) and getting more for the TV rights worldwide – clubs could be made see the competition as more than a mere distraction.
2. Merge the FA and League Cups
As the League Cup semi-final drama at Old Trafford showed last week, domestic knockout football is still brilliantly compelling. But is there really room for both competitions? Rightly or wrongly, domestic cup fixtures are seen as an unwanted drain on the physical resources of playing staff. So, why not take the best of both competitions – and give the managers what they want, less fixtures. And as part of the idea, why not play the new cup competition midweek only? Many Premier League fans complain that the FA Cup deprives them of league football at the weekend, especially when their sides have made an early exit, so leaving Saturday’s as the preserve of the league should help get them on side.
3. Start the cup earlier
The further you progress in the FA Cup, the more likely the cup ties will impinge on the Champions and domestic league end games. So, if suggestion 2 above were implemented, space in the fixture list will have been created to start the domestic cup earlier. Round 3 could get underway in October, for example. And a current strength of the League Cup is that it is done and dusted in February. Doubtless clubs chasing league glory or survival, or Europe’s biggest prize, might find that more palatable.
4. Get the semi finals out of Wembley
I guess everyone bar the FA’s bean counters would surely agree with this one. FA Cup semis should be returned to the traditional large regional club grounds – Old Trafford, Villa Park, etc. – with Wembley being the preserve of the finalists and their fans – a prize in itself.