Nostalgia is a wonderful thing, particularly during FA Cup ties. One phrase that seems to come up a lot is the assertion that a particular game is a so-called ‘old-fashioned cup tie’, a term that seems to be used increasingly in radio and television coverage, even for a game between two sides in the same division. But, what on Earth is an old-fashioned cup tie? What defines it, and sets it apart from other cup ties? And why on Earth do commentators, pundits and fans yearn for them so much?
Perhaps they refer to those FA Cup games played in the 1950s and 1960s, always played at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon between two teams roared on by thousands in the terraces, with the sound of rattles filling the air and the inevitable squelching of mud from the pitch under the players’ boots. Perhaps they refer to those games even earlier in history, dominated by superb attacking play and a complete lack of regard for both defending and the safety of players, and where a hard tackle would earn almost as much applause and cheering as a goal.
Were things really better in the 1960s? Has the FA Cup lost so much of its magic that we now all hark back to its so-called ‘glory days’ before Sky Sports, the Premier League and Adrian Chiles? Or, does this go deeper, and suggest that football fans now look at the game in general, and yearn for a more innocent time, when money was not the driving force behind players, managers and clubs, and when there was no diving, feigning of injuries or general play-acting?
Perhaps it is a combination of the two. The FA Cup has absolutely lost some if its magic thanks to the rise of the UEFA Champions League, the Premier League, and the vast riches available by finishing in a high league position. Now, any giant-killings are treated like a valuable commodity, simply because in the vastly uneven distribution of resources in the English game, a team will have to be either seriously unlucky or seriously outplayed to be knocked out of the cup by opposition from a lower league. Hence, when Norwich City were defeated 2-1 at Carrow Road by Leicester City, it was described as an ‘old-fashioned cup tie’ by seemingly all and sundry among the assembled media, as it saw a relatively full-strength Premier League side outdone by an opponent from a lower league. The fact that their opponents’ side was filled with top flight and some international experience was ignored. It was an old-fashioned cup tie, apparently, simply because one team went in as the clear underdogs, and came out on top.
Not only this, but any cup tie that has even an element of physicality is now described as being one of these ‘old-fashioned cup ties.’ Even though it was between two Premier League sides, and ended in a 0-0 stalemate, the first game between Everton and Sunderland was one such occurrence, with the large and vocal crowds and a number of uncompromising tackles making various pundits go weak at the knees for how this game was ‘just like the old days.’
It is a somewhat sad indictment of the English game that in this era driven by the media and by a seemingly insatiable desire for wealth, many of us still look back misty-eyed at the past, even those who are driving the game further and further towards being about millionaires, billionaires and who can splash their cash the most wisely and avoid running up huge debts. The game has changed irreversibly since its perceived ‘glory days’, and there is now no real comparison between Leicester City’s result at Carrow Road and Bedford Town’s famous 2-1 victory away to Newcastle United in 1964. The concept of an ‘old-fashioned cup tie’ is essentially an empty expression. There is little that could be considered old-fashioned about the FA Cup, or English football in general.
Nostalgia is a wonderful thing.