I love FA Cup 3rd round weekend and am sad that it is almost over. The past couple of days have been nothing short of fascinating. Something has come between me and my one-weekend-a-year-lover this year though – TV punditry. In particular, there is one recurring statement which the analysts have repeatedly come out with which has annoyed me, that being that “the FA Cup has diminished in importance“.
No. The importance of the FA Cup has not diminished. It just seems less special, because of one organisation – BSkyB.
When I was very little I pined for the FA Cup. I wished it could be FA Cup weekend every single Saturday and Sunday. Why? Because I was able to watch live football on the television.
It was a simple time in the 1990s, Sky Sports was still in its infancy and seemed to be subscribed to by the minority only. If one of your mates at primary school had Sky TV you would really know about it. Those kids (gits) knew they were one of a landed few and it would be ‘Sky’ this, ‘Sky’ that; it literally seemed to a nine year old at the time as if every decent programme (except Gladiators) was on Sky. I didn’t know who Martin Tyler was until I was seventeen!
Nowadays it seems like everybody has Sky and we are completely over-saturated with live football on television.
We are used to Sky now. We are used to watching live football. We see so much of it we don’t really take it all in anymore. We semi-watch the TV as if it is a pre-planned talent show with Simon Cowell. We don’t think about the fans making their way to the ground, burger vans slopping the onions on to a dodgy burger, the chants, the passion, the nerves. Football has become a TV programme, not an event. It no longer feels like ‘a treat’ to be watching football on the box and true enough, this has made the weekends when there is FA Cup football on the TV, seem less special.
But in no way is the FA Cup less important than it used to be.
For many lower league football clubs drawn against bigger teams, FA Cup games pack the stands and sends turnstiles a-spinning. Coffers are crucially bolstered by gate receipts that had not been foreseen when the cash flow forecasts were first drawn up at the start of the season. Financially, progress through the FA Cup can be a golden ticket.
Big gate receipts are one thing, but the FA Cup is about more than this. The Cup facilitates the impossible. It is Bob from the office pulling Jessica Alba. It is going for a pint and sitting across the way from Robert de Niro. It is about being in a company charity boxing fight against the boss that hasn’t noticed you and all that you have done for him over the last two years. It is all to do with dreams and nothing to do with reality. The Cup creates a fervent atmosphere full of nervous anticipation. It is about your boys lacing up their boots and running out on to the pitch next to any team, a side in as lofted a position as the Red Devils, Manchester United, or in as lowly a position as the Gingerbread Men, Grantham Town.
For one day only a postman can revel in the limelight of a glancing header which creeps inside the far post, a factory worker can guess right and save a penalty to slay a Giant and a milkman can delicately curl a 90th minute free kick in to the top right hand corner of the net to kill the dreams of a team three leagues higher than his own!
TV pundits need to start thinking about what they are saying. If they were talking about the League Cup, they would be right to say that the competition is less important now than it used to be. But the FA Cup is different. Ask Portsmouth if they enjoyed winning the FA Cup two years ago – they would say Yes. Ask Rafa Benitez if he would like to salvage his and Liverpool’s season by winning the Cup next summer – he definitely would say Yes. The competition still matters very, very much.
When I was a history student at uni I read a fantastic article which told its readers to beware of so-called “experts”, because people believe these “experts” and take their views as read without sufficiently questioning them. I do not want pundits to say that the FA Cup is less important than it used to be because I do not want people to start thinking this is true! The FA Cup needs to be re-marketed. It needs to be marketed as being something special, unique and magical, which it is.
With baited breath I cannot wait to see you again my once-a-year-weekend-lover. There is nothing quite like you. Next year however, let me see you in person. If I watch the television I will be told you are no longer important, that you are an annoying interruption. To me though you are romance, and always will be.
By Ross A. Fox