Ah the joy of a Cup weekend, where the cliché factor is high and the attendances are low.
The usual flam is trotted out about the romance of the cup followed by the almost perpetual complaints, usually from professional commentators who don’t pay to watch football, about why it wasn’t like this in them olden days.
So what is wrong with the Cup, and is it fixable? The dinosaurs of football commentary aren’t wrong to at least ask when you’ve got Blackpool resting players the minute the Cup comes along. Even the ‘important’ latter stages of the tournament aren’t free from this.
So the Manager’s clearly see the Cup as something other than an important priority. And so too the fans: no opinion poll in the world samples the view of the fans in the same way an empty stadium does. Our constant complaint about ticket prices is still relevant and of course this transmits to the players, who can probably be forgiven for seeing the FA Cup as a distraction from the increasingly punishing Premier League.
This isn’t to say the PL is especially awesome by any means. But there is a trapdoor. It used to be that a handful of clubs were slugging it out for the title, another handful fighting to be relegated, and a morass of mid table mediocrity that like Butlins – as the old joke went – had their season end in October.
This has changed. We have a top five almost set in stone, but then a ‘bottom 15’. It only takes the wrong injury, a dip in confidence or a bad transfer window to slip from an allegedly respectable mid-table position and into a £40m dogfight for safety.
And that top-four haven’t helped matters: by both looking like they don’t especially care about the Cup but at the same time winning the damn thing again and again. Since Wimbledon’s unlikely triumph almost a quarter of a century ago only two teams outside of last season’s top-four+Liverpool have actually won it: Everton (1995) and Portsmouth (2007).
The dominance of the top sides in the Cup means that more often than not we can simply expect the Champions to pick up the FA Cup as a bonus trophy along the way. Winning the ‘Double’ used to be special: achieved only 6 times between 1872 – 1994 but 5 times since then. Even when the non-top-five side starts the final with a goal head start, they still go on to lose.
The Cup will remain a pointless distraction so long as the Premier League is so dominant in importance to its clubs. The Cup is a victim of the success of the Premier League: whether it be because the top sides in the PL now dominate the Cup effortlessly, or because the perils of falling from the top division are such that the FA Cup serves only as a distraction even some big clubs cannot afford.