In today’s world of endless hyperbole and buzzwords it can be hard to remember that football is a simple game of eleven versus eleven kicking a pressurised bag of air around a field.
When matches are subjected to Opta indexes, sabermetrics, video analysis and tomes of punditry review it can be hard to remember that it’s just a game in the first place. It was once said that football occupies the most important part of the least important aspects of our lives. If that statement is true where indeed does that leave the FA Cup?
The FA Cup is the oldest domestic cup competition in the world, it has been around longer than the football league through it’s endless names changes, and will probably be there when sun expands to swallow the earth.
No competition has the heritage and beauty that FA Cup has – go back and read the early winners of that beloved old pot.
Teams such as Wanderers who were, and still are, an amateur side, Royal Engineers, Old Etonians and the inimitable Blackburn Olympic all raised that trophy in the early years. Somehow, I don’t think that they focused and obsessed over game transitions, holding midfielders and false nines.
They just played the game for what is was and ought to be, a simple affair that is there to entertain the fans. I doubt match day revenues, cross sell promotions and in game advertising to “consumers” crossed their minds.
Sure it is fair to say that I’m lost in nostalgia, but just think for a moment. Every single football fan from the older generations has a great FA cup story, some great upset, a great goal, a victory against all odds that you can tell from the recounting that it’s a love of a team and of football in one of its truest forms.
Stories that gain gloss and sheen the more they are discussed and debated by some who were there and those that were not. In contrast to the slog that is a league schedule, every team in England has at least one great FA cup moment.
Be it from the modern era – that iconic Mark Hughes volley against Oldham, Paul Rideout’s reactionary header against Man Utd in the final to sum up their season horribilis where they lost both the league and the cup and that Jonny Macken header for Man City, in a time when they seemed to travel up and down the leagues like a roller coaster.
These are but a few of the great moments from the last three decades and one can only imagine the richness and clarity of those moment that were not televised.
In the modern football landscape the FA Cup seems to have become the annoying aunt that we are all trying to avoid but sometimes have to spend time when our parents go away somewhere. For years you could count on any of the top five or six teams in the league winning it with an odd upset thrown in there to break even the slightest sense of monotony for the fans.
Nowadays, the top teams view the competition as something that gets in the way of the real business of the Premier League and the Champions League. Cast an eye over Man City and the team that their incumbent manager has stated he will field and it could be said he has mistaken the FA Cup for its youth equivalent.
Such disrespect should be seen as folly especially when we compare the pomposity of Man Utd to withdraw from the competition to participate in the World Club Cup some years back, and yet now one senses that their fans would sell Rooney to an obscure league on Mars if it meant their shambolic side could lift that rickety tin pot.
The final itself, once held in the highest of reverence, now must bow to the TV schedules and to programmes filled with soulless singers desperate for their fifteen minutes of shame, faded stars of the small screen and the sports fields dancing and prancing in their frilliest of frocks. The TV build up to the cup used to last for up to six hours and feature novelty competitions between supporters such darts, snooker and it’s a knockout style obstacle courses.
Somehow, I can’t imagine the slicked back smooth talking presenters of today getting involved in that kind of tomfoolery. In the gilded stadiums of glass and steel I suppose the fans just forgot that it was all meant to be fun in the first place.
So please if your team is playing the FA Cup this weekend, don’t bemoan the fact that it’s in your team’s way to league and European glory. Take it for what it is, a football match between two teams of eleven men, kicking a bag of air around a field and being watched by a crowd of people who just love the game.