Growing up if somebody mentioned the FA Cup to me, what came to mind was little grounds, muddy pitches and the chance for a smaller team to have their turn in the limelight. I’m sure every football fan can name one or two key FA Cup moments that epitomize the magic of the competition. For me it’s got to either be Gary McDonald’s 25 yard strike at Goodison Park in Oldham’s 1-0 defeat of Everton or the scenes on the pitch at the end of the game after we had beaten their Merseyside rivals Liverpool 3-2 on our own turf. However it has been said in recent years that the cup’s magic is slowly disappearing and there are a few things from this weekend’s third round that suggest it is vanishing at an alarming rate. Whether it be the under-strengthed teams that have been fielded to play by the bigger clubs or the concerning low attendance figures for the ties; both are things that prove that something needs to be done to re-ignite the interest and excitement that has previously come with the cup.
Yes this year we’ve had Stourbridge reaching the 3rd round and Curzon Ashton just being edged out by AFC Wimbledon in that 4-3 thriller in the previous round, but the fact that out of the elitist teams, Manchester City were the only one to play their first strength team exemplifies that the competition isn’t being taken as serious as it previously has been and is seen as a poor second in comparison to the league.
The players chosen to play is not the only choice that you have to look at surrounding the 3rd round. The choice of televised games has come under lots of criticism with only two of the six games to be shown on TV featuring a side below the Championship, Liverpool v Plymouth and Cambridge v Leeds. For me personally, this completely goes against what the cup is about and the first three rounds or so are for those smaller teams and their players to have a chance to shine on the big screen and potentially cause an upset. The attendances at the games this weekend have also made it into the headlines with low crowds being recorded, in particularly at the Cardiff v Fulham match, which kicked-off at the strange time of 11:30am.
One way to make the cup as important as it has been in the past would be to make the prize of winning it much more appealing, in that the winner of the cup could earn a Champions League play-off place instead of giving a spot to fourth in the league. This would mean that strong teams are fielded in every round as it could be seen as an easier way to gain access to the world’s biggest domestic stage.