Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Problems and Solutions: How to Fix the FA Cup

Ok, so here it is. Matter of fact. Like it or not....The FA Cup is dying! Year by year, the world's greatest domestic club cup competition is being reduced to a shadow of its former self. The big teams no longer hold it in high regard, premiership club managers use it as an excuse to blood a few youngsters and even a portion of footballing fans consider it as an inconvenient break in the league season!

If the league cup is the Mickey Mouse cup of English football, then this is looking certain to be dubbed the Donald Duck sponsored FA Cup competition.

Why Do we love the it? Because at its best, this sort of thing happens:

and of course, once in a while, one of our favourite clubs gets in on the action:

To understand its decline, we must look at the causes. A couple of esteemed colleagues and I discussed this very matter recently and put it down to the following reasons:

1) The dominance and importance of the premiership
2) The amount of games top clubs now have to play as a result of inclusion in the Champions League/UEFA Cup.
3) Finally, and hugely importantly...you can get to Wembley without reaching the final!
We shall take these points one by one, and see if, through reasonable and rational thought, we can identify some 'root and branch' reforms to assist the FA Cup in reclaiming its past glory.

Ok, so the premiership is good. The fans it, the players love it, the media practically salivates onto their microphones over it and because of this, money gets chucked at it from everyone with a few quid to a few billion quid in their pocket.

This avalanche of cash means that the premiership's importance to those involved in it is paramount. With relegation, comes a huge financial loss, day trips to Doncaster and incidents involving people with three teeth hurling house bricks at the team coach. In short any distraction to the feat of avoiding relegation is met with despondency.

Quite simply, to counteract this sentiment, there must be greater financial reward for winning the cup. The current payout is naff - £1,800,000 for the winner. The big clubs are never going to be persuaded by such a trivial amount. Let’s make it £20,000,000 for winning the thing. I'm sure that a few oil rich Sheikhs or Russian gangsters could be convinced to chivvy in for this .You watch everyone get motivated then. I'll concede that this does little to address the problem of a growing financial gulf in the English clubs, but hey, this is about restoring the FA Cup to its proper place.

Now the European issue brings further problems for the status of the FA Cup. Quite simply, European club football is a joke. You might think you like it, you may never miss a Champions League game – regardless of who’s playing, you might have even been duped into thinking the format is great. It’s not. It’s shit!

When a team finishing 4th in their domestic league can call themselves contenders to be the greatest club in European football, something is very wrong with the system. It’s another example of money talking. The champions league is the greatest money spinner in World football and has done much to create the financial gulf in domestic club class that I spoke of earlier. There should be three distinct European cups, similar to days gone by:

1) A 2 leg knockout cup reserved for only the winners of every domestic league in the EU.
2) A round robin cup/knockout cup for the also-rans of their respective domestic leagues (2nd & 3rd placed only)
3) And this is where we come in…a European 2-leg knockout cup for the winners of the primary club cup of the EU nations. It should be considered more prestigious than the UEFA cup – and prized accordingly - but should be seen as a lesser cup than its Championship winning counterpart. If the winner is already in the Champ cup it goes to the runner up.

Again, this would do much to incentivise teams to battle for FA Cup glory. This was how it was before and it worked. Greed has just blinded people as to the simple perfection of this format. In addition, fewer games played by the big guns might re-ignite their passions for winning their domestic cup trophy.

Finally, and this is where I see the simplest and most achievable of reforms to aid the struggle of the FA Cup, STOP PLAYING SHIT MATCHES AT WEMBLEY!!!!

Throughout the history of sport, one of the great rewards for reaching a competitive sporting final has been the fact that the individual/team is allowed the great honour of plying their trade on the grandest of stages. From the Coliseum of Rome to the heralded Madison Square Garden of New York, to the Molineux (writer bias detected), the greatest sporting stadia have always been reserved for the best of the best in their respective sporting fields.

Wembley has become a whore of the sporting world. Semi finals, lower league trophy finals, and – slightly off point- Bon Jovi concerts are all now regular features at our premier national stadium.

So I say, fuck off Jon Bon, take the Johnson’s Paint Trophy and stick it up your arse. Wembley is for winners (and runners up). Wembley should be reserved for only the following events (in no particular order):

1) The FA Cup Final
2) The World Cup Final
3) The newly formed (see earlier comments) European Champions Cup Final
4) The return of Christ.

So these are my humble suggestions to make the FA Cup brilliant again. Tear my logic to pieces if you wish, or support my statements. But be constructive! Let’s enact some people power and get a dozen good suggestions and march them straight to the FA headquarters and say “Oi, Bernstein, sort it out!”

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