We’re constantly reminded about the ‘magic of the cup’ when FA cup games roll around in the football calendar but having just witnessed the third round is it perhaps fair to say that the ‘magic’ has never been so lacking? That’s certainly the claim from many.
What did round 3 prove?
Well, firstly, it became clear that a lot of clubs couldn’t care less about a cup run and they’d rather pour their resources into league campaigns. Of course, Premier League teams are the ones that are most guilty with a number of managers opting to change the majority of their line ups.
Take Sheffield United for instance; they won promotion from the Championship last season and find themselves sitting in eighth place. There is absolutely no danger of relegation having accumulated 29 points from 21 games and, if we’re honest, what are they going to achieve in the league beyond their current position?
Chris Wilder, who has done a terrific job with the Blades, should be looking at the FA Cup thinking ‘we could win this’. Instead, Wilder changed his entire starting XI for their match against National League strugglers AFC Fylde. To be fair to Sheffield United, they did get the job done but only narrowly and it begs the question of all these teams who make wholesale changes. Why risk it?
Fixture overload & possible solutions
One of the most common complaints from those at the top table is around the sheer number of games they have to play at this time of year and the associated injury risk. It’s a fair point given that most sides have played five games in 15 days over the festive period but there is only so many weeks in a year so what are the football authorities supposed to do?
After the weekend’s FA Cup action a lot of media publications called for the FA to consider scrapping replays, which would align it with the Carabao Cup. Taking such action would remove an enormous part of English tradition from the competition and, even if such decision was taken, the approach only stacks the odds more heavily in favour of the ‘big boys’ – but maybe that’s what they want.
The Premier League generates so much money that to them a match settled on the day is simply one less game to worry about but for lower ranked sides it’s a lost opportunity to bring in revenue that could transform a club. If you consider a team like Rochdale then you can begin to understand the importance of the tournament format.
By making the third round, Rochdale would have banked around £100k, which is enough to cover more than 10 days of their wage bill. It’s not a measly amount by any stretch but in a scenario where they were to lose on penalties in a ‘must find a winner’ situation the replay at St James’ Park, a match that would be Rochdale’s equivalent to a NFL Super Bowl, wouldn’t happen.
Not only might that fixture be the only opportunity some of those players get to play in a stadium like St James’ but the club would also receive in the region of 42.5% of gate receipts, which given the Magpies have averaged an attendance of over 45,000 this season would be a huge bonus for their lower league opponent. Given the financial stress standing on the throat of some clubs – like Bury who have already gone bust this season – a change to this model by the FA would be the ultimate betrayal to the bottom tiers of the pyramid.
But the magic is no more…
If you believe what you see on the major sports channels and papers, you would be lead to believe that the magic of the FA Cup is a thing of times gone by. We firmly recommend you go and watch 40-year-old Aaron Wilbraham net an equaliser against the Toon.
Go and watch League One Tranmere claw back a three goal deficit against Nigel Pearson’s rejuvenated Watford or check out the strong team Jose Mourinho named as Middlesbrough took last seasons Champions League runner up to a replay.
The magic is well and truly alive, and it is still more unpredictable to guess the winners of the FA Cup matches, than to bet on the contenders of the Kentucky Derby on Twinspires.com. You just have to believe, and a surprise can always be up the sleeve.