Is the magic of The FA Cup dying?

Image from Wikipedia Commons author: Carlos Yo

A few weeks ago, BBC Pundit and former Newcastle striker Alan Shearer said that clubs making big squad changes for FA Cup ties are: ‘’cheating fans’’ out of an FA Cup run saying ‘’clubs care about money while fans care about trophies. That’s very unfortunate.’’

In a bygone era of ‘Cupsets’ by lower league teams against the Premier League big-boys, this prompted me to ask the question is the magic of the FA Cup really dying? To find out more I had the chance to speak to James Chisem: Secretary of the Huddersfield Town Supporters Association and James a presenter on the Lions Live radio show which is aimed at other Millwall fans. With both Huddersfield and Millwall progressing into the latter rounds of the competition this season, it seemed a good chance to ask their supporters their opinions after their fifth round games in the competition.

One of the main arguments given by Premier League and Championship managers for resting players in cup competitions is that they need to be kept fit for League action. With both Huddersfield and Millwall vying for promotion from The Championship and League One respectively I asked the question: Has your Cup run helped your League Form in the push for the playoffs and potential promotion?

James: I’d have to say yes. A lot of people seem to believe that, after a certain point, the FA Cup becomes a distraction. But as far as I’m concerned, a win is a win, and success breeds success. The gritty away victory at Rochdale in the 4th round kept the momentum going into the Brighton and Leeds [League] fixtures. If we’d have lost, it might have taken some of the wind out of our sails.

George: No if anything it has hindered us.

Mixed responses from both here but it is perhaps understandable, Huddersfield are in division above Millwall and would be more likely to have a bigger and better-equipped squad to deal with both a cup run and a busy League campaign.

I then asked the two firstly what were their favourite moments of the competition this season and then their overall favourite memory of the FA Cup following their side.

James: Michael Hefele’s brace against Rochdale, without a doubt. Firstly, because the guy is a cult hero, and thoroughly deserved some of the glory usually reserved for attacking players, and secondly, because it showed we can mix our game up if needs be.

George: Beating the Champions of The Premier League [Leicester City]

What has been your favourite moment FA Cup moment ever?

James: That’s a tough one. If I have to plump for one, though, I’ll go for the 3rd Round home tie with Liverpool during the 1999/ 2000 season. Granted, we lost, but the stadium was packed, and it was a real eye-opener to see what until this season had been our best team since the 1970’s go toe-to-toe with the big boys.

George: Getting to the FA Cup final [in 2004]

Again mixed responses from both here, what was surprising was that James valued Michael Hefele’s performance against a League One side higher than holding Manchester City one of the Premier League’s elite to a 0-0 draw. Millwall on the other hand, have been one of the surprise teams in The FA Cup in the past decade or so reaching the FA Cup final for the first time in 2004 and the semi-final in 2013 before beating Premier League champions Leicester City with 10 men in the fifth round in one of the highlights of this season’s competition.

Despite this though both were in agreement that the magic of the FA Cup, in general, is dying to an extent, which was worrying.

James: On one level, it’s hard to deny that it’s become much less important for clubs, and that’s down to the mind-boggling finances and skewed incentives of modern football. The FA is to blame, quite frankly, and it does my head in when they, along with pundits and officials from other governing bodies, accuse managers of “disrespecting the Emirates/Budweiser/Tyrell Corporation FA Cup.” I mean, come on: these are the same people who have completely failed to get a handle on football’s inequality problem. Is it any wonder that Huddersfield has opted to rest some of their key players against a team like Manchester City when a promotion is on the cards?

George: For the big clubs yes [it is dying]

However while they believed the magic of the FA Cup was lessening, they don’t believe that the magic of the FA Cup is dead.

James: But—there’s always a but—Sutton United still beat Leeds United, Lincoln City still beat Burnley, and Millwall still beat Leicester, and if that’s not magical, I don’t know what is! I suppose it depends on who you are and where you are at the time!

George: For the little clubs NO [it is not dead]

Whilst Alan Shearer and other pundits have questioned the importance of the FA Cup to some of the so-called bigger teams putting out weakened sides, there is no doubt that lower league clubs have capitalised upon this. As James eluded to, Lincoln beat Burnley a side 4 divisions above them, in the 5th round, Millwall beat the Premier League Champions and non-league Sutton United stunned Championship heavyweights Leeds United. Yes, it is true that some teams are not taking the competition seriously but that is giving Lower League sides the chance to progress and create some upsets along the way.

In particular, Lincoln City’s 1-0 triumph away to Burnley was a game that both James and George believed was the shock of the tournament so far. For a Non-League team to reach the quarter-finals of the FA Cup for the first time was a magical moment and important for the non-league side of the game considering the vast gulf of money between the top tier and the 5th. To see a set of part-time players beat one of the Premier League big boys was certainly magical and shows that the FA Cup is still thriving.

Not only that it gives clubs from the likes of Leagues One and Two and The National, much-needed finance and Lions Live certainly believed that ‘’it’s important for all lower league teams.’’ As we saw for Sutton United the FA Cup prize money goes a long way as they used some of their winnings to repair a hole in the bar roof!

While Huddersfield were knocked out in their 5th round replay away to Manchester City, Millwall are looking forward to their quarter final away to Tottenham in the last ever cup game at White Hart Lane ‘’it will go down in history books.’’

To sum up, yes the FA Cup is dying if the views of this pair are anything to go by. Premier League teams and Championship teams are making league games a priority, that’s where the real money seems to be at. But the Lower League teams are creating more and more upsets and providing the magic of the FA Cup is still alive and kicking as we move to the latter stages of this year’s competition.

Whilst it is sad to see football’s most prestigious domestic cup be devalued, there has been a more even playing field this season and the competition is providing to be more entertaining for it. Could we see more upsets in years to come as more and more teams play weakened sides? I certainly think so.

James D’Arcy

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