Early Doors

You can’t kill the FA Cup

Early Doors

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If you believed the newspaper headlines, you would think tomorrow's FA Cup final had been called off, and replaced by an orgiastic festival of ritual humiliation, in which Manchester City and Stoke compete to fill the old trophy with human excrement before hurling it, Sergio Ramos-style, under the wheels of a double-decker bus while Mario Balotelli reverses repeatedly over the thing for several hours until it is nothing but a sorry skid mark of silver on Wembley Way.

You may be surprised to hear that is not the case. In fact, the game will be preceded by a quartet of Premier League fixtures, in which Manchester United will probably clinch the title. Bad timing, but hardly the apocalypse widely depicted.

This scheduling schmozzle has been made necessary by the staging of the Champions League final at Wembley - by UEFA decree, the pitch cannot be used in the preceding fortnight while the playing surface is rolled, like a Cuban cigar, on the thighs of virgins.

That said, the same scenario is likely next season because of the need for a four-week break before Euro 2012. And no doubt some extenuating circumstances will intervene the following year.

Actually, there wouldn't have been a problem with fixtures on the same weekend as the Cup final if all nine games had been scheduled for Sunday. As it is, United could become champions less than half an hour before kick-off at Wembley.

And that is enough to send Fleet Street's finest into a frenzy.

'KILLING THE CUP' shrieks the back page of today's Daily Mirror, while a similarly mental piece in the Daily Mail earlier this week concluded: "Can there be anyone out there that genuinely believes the old competition can be saved?"

Er, you what?

Yes, there is a strong argument that the Cup does not carry the prestige it used to, and that the FA has not done enough to protect its status.

But to suggest its very existence is hanging in the balance? People have been committed to asylums for less.

Apparently, the world's oldest and most famous domestic cup competition might get binned off because it is forced to exist on the same day as something else.

And that something else is merely the confirmation of what we already new. United won the title when they beat Chelsea last weekend. Saturday represents little more than a bit of form-filling - in fact it will be a good deal more surprising if they do not get the point they need.

While the critics whinge about a modern football culture driven by money and obsessed with the Premier League, it is actually they who are buying all too easily into the hype and forgetting just what the FA Cup means to both clubs and the wider public.

Manchester City have not won a trophy since 1976 - do you think they will care if their neighbours win their umpteenth league title on the same day? Will they hell, especially if it means the end of that '35 years' banner in the Stretford End.

And as for Stoke? Their sole honour - unless you count their three Isle of Man Trophies, which you definitely shouldn't - is the 1971 League Cup. A victory tomorrow would be the greatest day in the club's history.

You could hardly find two clubs for whom the FA Cup means more, and as for neutrals - are they not going to bother watching because there was another game on earlier? Of course not.

ED is actually quite pleased not to have to watch a pre-match show dominated by the witless personal recollections of Ricky Hatton, Noel Gallagher, Nick Hancock and Julian Clary (a Potters fan, if you believe the internet).

Frustrating and avoidable as the fixture clash is, it would be nice if people put some faith in the Cup and recognised that it does still matter - not least because it is one of the few remaining scraps of sport on terrestrial telly.

ED invites you to compare the viewing figures on Monday for Blackburn-Manchester United with those for Manchester City-Stoke. It won't even be close.

You can't kill the FA Cup final.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "If you are asked who your favourite players are from down the years - your credibility is at stake here - don't say Francis Bell, Colin Summerbee and Yaya Dzeko. Though these names exist, they are combinations. Have a good scan over the club website and check out who the current favourites are and who the club legends are, and take notes!" Manchester City's 'Bluffer's Guide' for new fans, published on their official website. Diehards have reacted furiously, though it is not clear whether that is because the guide acknowledges the existence of glory supporters or because it is toe-curlingly unfunny.

FOREIGN VIEW: Barcelona midfielder Sergio Busquets could face a five-match European ban after UEFA said it would investigate claims that he racially insulted a Real Madrid player during their heated Champions League semi-final.

"UEFA has opened disciplinary proceedings against Barcelona midfielder Sergio Busquets, who is alleged to have violated the UEFA disciplinary regulations by directing racist abuse towards a Real Madrid player," UEFA said in a statement.

Real published a video on their website of what they claimed was Busquets calling Real full-back Marcelo "mono", meaning "monkey".

COMING UP: Don't call it an M4 derby. No, don't. That's a terrible name for it. It's Reading v Cardiff City in their Championship play-off semi-final first leg, and we've got full coverage from 19:45 UK time.

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