How The F.A. Cup lost lustre (Part XXIV)
The perceived heresy of the F.A. contemplating having the final of the F.A. Cup on a Wednesday has excited a lot of comment in the media in the last couple of weeks.
The usual old suspects are trotted out for explaining the lack of lustre in the old lady of English football - Manchester United being allowed to opt out to pursue their farcical dreams of being World Club Champions, unlimited replays being axed, the draw not using a velvet bag and only being available by telegraph wire etc etc.
The Daily Mail puts the blame at the F.A.'s door:
HOW THE FA SHATTERED FOOTBALL'S BIG DREAM
1991 - ONLY ONE REPLAY
FA decreed only one replay for ties, ending tradition that no match could be decided by penalty shoot-out. In 1999, FA Cup Final replays were abandoned.
1998 - SPONSORSHIP
FA announced four-year £15m deal with French insurance company AXA, first sponsorship in its history. Deal not renewed in 2002.
2001 - MOVING DATE OF FINAL
FA surrendered Cup Final's slot as last domestic game of season, scheduling it on Saturday before final Premiership matches.
[Personally, I seem to recall that the "one replay" decision was actually driven by the escalating cost of policing football matches, and by the fact that the police were understandably unwilling to have to be on standby for any number of replays which traditionally took place the Tuesday or Wednesday immediately following the initial match. I'm prepared to be corrected on that though.]
The Independent quoted Arsene Wenger joining the fray, saying that:
It would completely be against the tradition...I would feel sorry to play it on a Wednesday night. It's a special weekend. You never forget the colours of a real cup game when you have the two colours on a Saturday afternoon - or a Sunday afternoon, I don't mind. But Wednesday? It would take something out of it. It is a special weekend for people.
The most obvious solution would seem to be for the Premiership campaign to begin and finish a week earlier but leading clubs are understood to be opposed to this, worrying that it could interfere with contractual requirements and may overlap with pre-season tours, while attendances in August tend to suffer because fans are still away on holiday.
Whilst a BBC News article suggested:
THE FINAL STRAW?
Moving the FA Cup Final from its traditional Saturday afternoon slot to a Wednesday evening, even for only one year, will be regarded by many as confirmation that the tournament has lost its old lustre once and for all.
For me though, nobody in this discussion ever mentions what I consider to be the real reason the F.A. Cup has lost its unique appeal.
The simple fact is that it is no longer a unique event.
When I was growing up, the F.A. Cup Final was unique in being the only live domestic football match shown complete on television. The BBC and ITV actively competed in devoting hours of coverage from early on a Saturday morning to grab viewers. I remember not only the matches, but exactly where I watched them - often at a big family get together that centred around watching the match. In terms of making an impression I can probably do a better effort of naming the winning Ipswich Town side from 1978 than I can of any side in this season's Premiership. The Cup demanded attention because it was the televised climax of the season. At the time you only got Match Of The Day and The Big Match showing highlights, and European club football existed on crackly medium wave, seemingly broadcast via telephone from some far-flung corner of the continent. This year I could have watched every Champions League match via interactive TV on Sky, and I'm sure if I'd tried hard enough I could have found live television coverage of even the LDV Vans Trophy.
The Cup Final itself will never regain that kind of status. However, I can't myself see how an evening cup final would be *that* bad. The best goal scored in an F.A. Cup Final? A usual suspect is Ricky Villa's goal for Tottenham against Manchester City. That match took place under weekday floodlights. The best goal ever scored in the F.A. Cup? A contender, as much as it pains me to admit it, would have to be Ryan Giggs semi-final goal against Arsenal. Also a match that took place mid-week under floodlights.
The 2006 F.A. Cup Final is scheduled to be the first at the re-developed Wembley Stadium. Are the media really arguing that the whole event will be de-valued because instead of taking place at 3pm on a Saturday it will take place spectacularly under floodlights and the amazing lit-up structure that is the Wembley arch?
Of course, the even more unmentionable issue in the media is that none of these fixture list problems, driven by the fact that the World Cup is taking place next year, would be a problem if the Premier League would bite the financial bullet of reducing the number of teams in the English top flight, and therefore reduce the demands on the top club players expected to represent England that same summer.