TOMORROW tens of thousands of football fans will probably miss out on watching the FA Cup final, or at least some of it, because they are busy filing out of matches involving their own teams.
That’s a far cry from the way it used to be and a terribly sad reflection of just how much sheen has been taken off a competition so rich in our history and traditions.
I played in four FA Cup finals and I remember the first one being the biggest day of my life. Television coverage ran from dawn til dusk, creating an incredible atmosphere for the game itself.
It has always been the climax to the season, a match that stands alone without other distractions. This season it is likely to be overshadowed by Manchester United clinching the Premier League title just 30 minutes before the final kicks off. There are also three other top-flight games diverting attention from Wembley, as well as a League One play-off semi-final.
Much is made of the cup’s great reputation abroad and how it’s the most famous competition of its type in the world. We’re probably at the stage now where it is appreciated more by those in far-flung lands than in its heartland.
The problem is that it’s been smothered by the Premier League. Clubs’ priorities have changed because the consequences of top-flight success or failure – a top four place or avoiding relegation – are so much greater than those of winning the cup.
That issue has to be addressed if it is to be restored to former glories. And the only solution I can see is to give the FA Cup winners a place in the Champions League. It would make teams take it more seriously, the competition would be more competitive and as a result you would be more likely to get bigger teams in the final. Whether it will be done is another matter, but we should all be fighting to restore the famous trophy’s damaged aura.
HOPE FOR STOKE? | GREAT FA CUP FINAL UPSETS
1973: Sunderland boss Bob Stokoe streams onto pitch after his Division Two side humble mighty Leeds 1-0
1988: Lawrie Sanchez is the hero as Wimbledon’s Crazy Gang stunned all-conquering Liverpool 1-0
1990: Supersub Ian Wright saves Crystal Palace from defeat and gives Man Utd a scare in a riotous 3-3 draw