Heart of Football

Debate – Cups

1. What is your fondest personal memory of the FA Cup? Does the competition still hold the importance nowadays that it once enjoyed?

Simon Toye: I have two FA Cup experiences; weirdly they both involve Man City. The first as a boy going to Man City vs Halifax at Maine Road in 1998 (I was 12) in the first round. My dad took me as we’d been following Halifax a bit but compared to The Shay, Maine Road was really something else!

Second is the third round tie in 2014 Blackburn Rovers vs Man City. That was 0-0 and a defensive master class by Rovers to earn a replay. The replay was great. 

We got pasted 5-0 at the Etihad, BUT our travelling support was immense. We didn’t stop singing all match. Including chants of “We’re gonna win 6-5!” Special in itself but also my parents and brother all came too to watch my club both legs.

Richard Pike:  Fondest personal memory was watching an FA Cup third round tie between Man Utd and Chelsea, the then holders, at Stamford Bridge. Man Utd won 5-3 and we were on a family holiday in New Zealand at the time.

I personally feel the sparkle has gone out of the FA Cup a little bit. There have been so few upsets in the third round with only two non-league sides making it that far. One of them, Hartlepool, were a Football League club for years until recently and the other AFC Fylde are a well-monied new contender.

The size of PL squads nowadays and lack of interest in from Championship clubs chasing promotion to the PL means the tournament isnt what it was and reform is needed.

James Foster: Wycombe Wanderers, 2001. I have no connection to Wycombe, nor their club, but that was my first real fairytale giant killing memory. The magic of the cup. And it sparked a love affair with managing lower league sides on Championship Manager, trying to create my own slaying of Goliaths from my humble Third division home at The Shay.

That Halifax side was a beast once I’d got my hands on them… And sadly, no it doesn’t, I’ll expand with the remaining answers.

Andrew Flint: There can only be one memory for me, and that’s Ryan Giggs’ sublime solo goal tearing through Arsenal in the semi final in 1999 at Villa Park. United were on the ropes; down to 10 men, Phil Neville had given away a penalty which Schmeichel battered away almost by sheer force of will, then that glorious misplaced pass from Patrick Viera… That entire season was a nine-month hedonistic blur, with that moment one of the most thrilling highs.

Overall I think the FA Cup is using up a lot of the credit it has built up over the remarkable history of the competition. To be more precise, I think it is the game itself which has overtaken the romance of knockout football. A product as globally popular as football was always going to be exploited for profit, and the riches on offer in the Premier League and European competitions are simply more important to the bottom line of most clubs. 

2. Have the FA neglected the prestige of their cup competition by selling sponsorship naming rights to Emirates, allowing betting companies to stream otherwise unavailable broadcasts, moving the final to 17:30 and staging the semi finals at Wembley, among other decisions?

ST: I don’t have much of an issue with the sponsorship. It’s the way of the world now. Everything is sponsored by something or someone. Players themselves carry home and away sponsors often, not to mention every show on TV too.

Betting companies should not be able to stream matches. Full stop. Not only does it devalue attending the game in person, it doesn’t do much to curb the increase in gambling addiction in my opinion.

I’m not convinced the time of the final is all that much of an issue. It’s not like it’s a night game, tea time is as good as 3pm for me. Semi finals should not be played at Wembley….end of discussion. If they want them at a set neutral venue then play them at the Millennium Stadium. It’s stood in for Wembley before anyway but Wembley should be for finals only and England home matches. 

RP: This is a major factor in the competitions decline. When non televised games like Gillingham vs West Ham are kicking off at 6.15 pm Sunday evening, unless you are a fan of the clubs involved, it spurs little interest.

Likewise, even fans of the teams involved may be put off by such an anti-social kick off time. Having semi finals at Wembley is a killer too, should be on neutral grounds with the final solely at Wembley. Finally, bring back a 3pm kick off on Saturday for the final as more convenient for fans across the country.

JF: Hugely. The FA as a competition has probably been on the wane for the last decade to be honest. The majority of the big teams play massively weakened sides at times, even the Premier League sides that will comfortably finish mid-table play the kids, and they have literally no other chance of silverware. As a fan of those clubs that must be infuriating.

The ethics behind betting companies having exclusive rights to some of the games defies belief, and the deals are rightly being investigated by the Gambling Commission. For an organisation that prides itself on fighting gambling problems, this is hugely contradictory.

Semi finals being played at Wembley irks me too. How great was it when Wembley was being built, games played all over the country allowing fans from around the UK easier access to these magical ties?

AF: Unfortunately I think they have. I remember my only visit to the old Wembley on a school trip a year before it was knocked down and being overwhelmed by the sense of occasion even then. It is verging on a scandal that the semi finals are staged at Wembley too, as it sends a very clear message that balancing the books is more important than preserving the prestige of the competition. 

There is a fair amount of hypocrisy in the campaigns with the Duke of Cambridge for mental health linked to gambling being followed by bookmakers being left as the only available broadcast source. Back in 2017 the FA dropped Ladbrokes as an official partner as it “wasn’t appropriate” for them to have a gambling partner. All talk and little walk it seems.

The overall presence of betting companies in football as a whole is an inevitable consequence of the times unfortunately. Perhaps there is a touch of the ‘old man shakes fist at cloud’ about me, but I’d much rather see less gambling sponsorship.

3. What purpose do the League Cup and the Checkatrade Trophy serve in the modern game? Is there too much knockout football in the UK?

ST: I think it’s probably fair to say that there is too much going on. I love football and in some respects, the more the better. However, the amount of competitions have had an effect on clubs’ attitude towards the FA Cup over the years. I wonder if banning Premier League clubs from the League Cup (and maybe even amalgamating it with the FA Trophy) would be an idea.

Without the League Cup, top tier teams may make more of an effort to play stronger teams in the FA Cup as they wouldn’t have to rotate quite so much to avoid injury/fatigue. Plus it would give teams from the Championship downwards a better chance of lifting the League Cup. 

RP: Premier League B teams in the Football League trophy have killed the competition in my opinion. They should not be playing in it and I have on priniciple decided to boycott the tournament until they are removed from it. I do believe one solution though could be booting out the B teams and then merging the EFL Trophy into the League Cup.

With this the League Cup could be just be a competition for Football League clubs only and PL sides would not need to enter it. Before the B team fiasco, the one downside to the EFL trophy was no Championship representation in a Football League competition. The above solution remedies this whilst also easing fixture congestion for League 1 and 2 clubs as there’d be only two cup competitions rather than three.

JF: The League Cup is the poor man’s FA Cup. There, I said it. And the FA Cup isn’t much cop anymore either. The Checkatrade Trophy is slightly different though. Limiting the level of sides that can enter gives those lower league teams a great opportunity for their fairytale to come true. I think if you were to fade the League Cup out of existence, a good chunk of fans wouldn’t notice. That says it all for me.

AF: Personally I just don’t see what purpose the League Cup serves. It does admittedly offer the occasional David vs Goliath moment, but as Burton Albion’s semi final humiliation against Manchester City showed last year, Goliath still dominates nine times out of ten.

I have a personal gripe about it too; Alan Hardaker, the FA chairman who created the competition in 1960, turned his nose up at the idea that Matt Busby might want to represent English football in Europe. His arrogant dismissive attitude – and subsequent lack of empathy after the Munich Air Disaster – was everything wrong with English football.

The EFL Trophy could theoretically serve a purpose for Championship teams and below. I’m not sure how much value there is in giant killings when lineups contain third-choice players for most wealthier sides, but the Premier League under-23 team concept is a ridiculous concept. One or two meaningless games that nobody wants to watch do not provide a competitive environment.

4. Both Wolves and Manchester United fielded weakened teams in their 0-0 third-round tie; would it do more harm than good to impose restrictions on how many changes can be made to starting lineups? Why (not)?

ST: I get the idea behind imposing restrictions on changes but I fear that may lead to busier clubs requesting the postponement of games as their players are too fatigued to play. This could lead to quite a disrupted schedule. May bigger teams even pull out of the cup in protest of the restrictions that they would deem unfair or detrimental to their players health?

RP: I watched Sunday Supplement two weeks ago and Jason Burt came up with a great idea of amending the calendar to potentially avoid future Wolves v Man Utd situations in the future. He proposed making the League Cup semi finals one legged only, using the slot free vacated by disbanded second leg to have a full program of PL and EFL midweek fixtures and only having two games over Christmas/New Year.

I agree wholeheartedly with this idea. Having just the two festive games over Christmas/New Year means by the time FA Cup third round becomes available that clubs only play three games in 9/10 days as opposed to four. It’s no guarantee by the way that clubs would field stronger FA Cup sides due to less fixture congestion and fewer players carrying knocks. I don’t blame clubs for rotation and it’s unfair to force them to field strong sides with such a fixture backlog.

Finally two games only over Christmas/New Year would mean each team plays once at home and once away. This would be a fairer system than at present where some teams have two games at home but others have two away.

JF: Restrictions are already in place in the Premier League, but with cup competitions it’s a little different I suppose. All larger clubs should probably have enough players in their squads to field two decent sides, but with injuries and promotions, relegations, European qualifications, and all that comes with those, you can understand the need to prioritise games and protect the lads that make the difference. Plus, would stories like Wycombe reaching the 2001 semi final happen? It gives some of the smaller sides a fighting chance.

AF: Any artificial limits imposed are always a dangerous line to tread. It will create a false value for certain players, and it doesn’t make a whole load of sense. It is like shouting at a child: “You WILL like broccoli!” – they might do as they’re told and eat it, but will it make them appreciate it more? 

The far more logical and proactive solution would be to scrap replays, then either guarantee all teams drawn against higher-ranked opponents a home draw or a higher percentage of overall gate receipts, and finally to scrap the League Cup. In other words, have one more valued competition than two (or three, if counting the Checkatrade Trophy) watered down versions.



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One response to “Debate – Cups”
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