Wise men say
Only fools rush in…
There was a lot of love for the FA Cup at Wembley Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
As Elvis's swooning vocal boomed over the PA after Hull’s absorbing 5-3 victory, fans of both teams were on their feet applauding their team’s effort, reluctant to go home.
Shall I stay
Would it be a sin…
The rest of the country however, didn’t really care.
After the absorbing events at Anfield, the second FA Cup semi-final was barely an afterthought, with Chelsea’s dull clash with Swansea seeming to hold Joe Public’s attention more in these Premier League obsessed times.
It seemed unfair that the two plucky underdogs had their big day overwhelmed by key league fixtures. Of course, fans of the Blades and the Tigers didn’t mind too much, so self-absorbed (and rightly so) were they in their own teams’ fortunes, but nonetheless, FA Cup semi-finals used to be a special day for everyone, not just supporters of the participants.
So how do we give some much needed shock treatment to a competition which has felt like it has been on life support for a number of years? It is time to start considering some radical ideas. And here are eight of them.
1. Offer a Champions League spot for the winners
The race for fourth place has become a far greater priority for the Premier League’s big boys than winning the Cup, so there is no greater way to refocus their minds, than by offering a Champions League spot to the FA Cup winners. Some might decree that it would be a “waste” to have a side like Wigan in the Champions League but at least they won something last year, unlike Arsenal who were ultimately rewarded for what was considered a disappointing season. Having a CL spot for the Cup winners would allow everybody to at least dream of being in Europe’s top competition – not just the big spenders. At the very least, how about having a play-off between the Cup winners and fourth place for that final spot? What a way to end the season that would be!
2. Invite Scottish teams to compete
The idea of Celtic and Rangers joining the Premier League has been floating around for years but the logistics make it entirely unfeasible. However, having them in the Cup surely wouldn’t be too hard to arrange and would add a fresh injection into football on both sides of the border. And don’t just stop at the Old Firm, cup ties against the likes of Dundee United, Aberdeen, and the two Edinburgh clubs would add extra excitement to any cup round. Aberdeen brought 40,000 fans to the Scottish League Cup final, so imagine the excitement if they managed to get to Wembley? How about letting Scottish Premiership sides in at the third round stage, Championship sides in at the first round, and other Scottish League sides in at the qualifiers? Of course, there is a danger that it would devalue Scotland’s own cup competition, but clubs north of the border would surely jump at the opportunity to compete with England’s finest and of course the extra revenue would not go amiss either.
3. Move the matches to the midweek
The League Cup seems to have been reinvigorated in recent seasons and in many ways it has become more exciting that its more illustrious big brother. A key reason for this is because the matches are under the lights in midweek and not competing with anything else. Football fans almost seem to resent ‘FA Cup weekends’ that disturb their Premier League action and this would eliminate that problem. Or alternatively you could….
4. Block off three weeks in the football calendar and play the entire FA Cup during it
One way to get the FA Cup back as the lead story in the back pages is to make it the only show in town. A radical way to reinvent the competition would be to block off a period in the calendar – say in January – and play the entire thing during it. Weekday-midweek-weekday, you could have one round following the next and with nothing else going on, everybody would get wrapped up in FA Cup fever. This would free up weekends later in the season too and avoid the type of fixture congestion at the end of the season that can often see teams playing unfair run-ins as punishment for a good FA Cup run. It could be akin to the ‘March Madness’ college basketball tournament in the States that gets our friends across the Atlantic so excited. Traditionalists might be horrified at the idea, but they could be thrown a bone by delaying the final until the end of the season so it keeps its traditional showpiece spot.
5. Offer A LOT more prize money
Sometimes you look at a club and wonder why on earth are they fielding reserve teams in the FA Cup? Southampton and Newcastle were two prime examples of clubs that went out this season with a whimper when it looked like an ideal time for them to focus their attention on the FA Cup with neither at any risk of Premier League relegation. Well their motivation could well have something to do with prize money in the Premier League. Under the latest television deal, each place in the Premier League is set to be worth an extra £1.5 million. With bottom place getting around £1.4m up to around £28m for the champions. To put that into perspective – the WINNERS of the FA Cup will only pocket £1.8m prize money. Okay so you get more cash from TV and ticket sales if you stay in the FA Cup but you are still probably looking at 10th and an FA Cup win as being only as lucrative as finishing eighth in the Premier League. Fans want the glory, but clubs often just want the cash. During the FA Cup’s golden days it was the best cash cow a club could milk; the FA needs to rediscover a way for the winner to be suitably financially compensated.
6. Move the semi-finals back away from Wembley
It was obviously a fantastic day out for both Hull City and Sheffield United, but in reality, one of the prizes they really should have been fighting for was the chance to play on the hallowed Wembley turf. Having the semi-finals at Wembley has cheapened the reward of getting to the home of football.
7. The ‘German model’
In the German Cup, the competition has a unique seeding system in the opening round whereby clubs in the top two tiers play sides from lower down away from home. This ensures a healthy gate for the smaller clubs and some dramatic upsets that stir the soul. Something for the FA to consider.
8. Leave it exactly as it is
The final suggestion is to do nothing at all and it is probably one the better ideas on the list. The FA Cup always has a way of surprising us. Wigan winning it last year, Hull and Sheffield United playing out a classic semi-final this year. Just when we are ready to give up on it, it seduces us again. The money men can dream of a safe mid-table position in the Premier League, but fans will never miss a chance to see their captain lift the famous FA Cup at Wembley, and never forget it if they are lucky enough to see it happen.
For I can’t help
Falling in love with you…
Have you any ideas on how to make the FA Cup more exciting? Should it remain as it is or does it need a reboot? Leave your thoughts below.
Seán Fay (Twitter: @Sean_Fay)
- Sports & Recreation
- Premier League
- Sheffield United
- FA Cup