Our Secret Player reveals exactly why the FA Cup is low in the list of priorities and why clubs field weakened teams.
With the festivities over and everyone back at work, a professional footballer has a couple of days off.
Unlike most of the population, Christmas is not a time for hitting the pub with your mates, but if you are a top level pro then you would not be hitting the pubs with your mates on a regular basis, anyway.
By the beginning of January though, I’m usually gagging for a night out with friends. The problem is, they’re all skint and shattered after going out too much. And all the bars are empty. I’m sure you all feel sorry for us footballers.
I’ve begged my mates to come out with me at the start of January in the past. They’ve reluctantly come along – and after hearing me moaning said they they’d swap their job with mine and the money which goes with it. I can see where they’re coming from.
We were given two days off after the game at the start of the year. I needed them after four matches in ten days. I managed the night out I was so desperate for, hooking up with a few old friends, though most of them went home early, too wiped out in every sense to have any enthusiasm, just as predicted. I had a meal with my wife one night; she was far better company.
The big clubs join the FA Cup at the third round stage this weekend. I still love the FA Cup and it’s my contention that it represents a realistic chance of a trip to Wembley, although I’m in the minority in my current dressing room. Look at the teams who’ve reached the semi-finals in recent years, there are always a few middle ranking teams and even teams from outside the Premier League.
The FA Cup is not the big deal it was. The Premier League is a much, much bigger deal. Why? Money. A club receives a million or two for winning the FA Cup, it gets £60 million from its television contract, which will be a lot more from next season. Not difficult.
Does a club always have to choose between League and Cup? If you’re a middle ranking team Premier League team, then, yes. Say you get to the FA Cup 6th round. That’s four games. Four games in which you’re likely to pick up injuries and suspensions which would directly affect your league campaign.
We lost one of our best players two seasons ago, a key central midfielder, through an injury in an FA Cup match. For one month, our team was 10% weaker for his absence. We were eliminated in the next round.
This is why Premier League teams field weaker sides in the early stages of the FA Cup. It seems wrong to someone who grew up watching the hours of build up before the FA Cup final on the TV, but it’s about money. Our contracts now contain a clause that we earn 40% less should we play outside the Premier League, that’s 40% less basic and appearance money.
Would we prefer full wages or a reasonable cup run? Full wages. Would we prefer good wages or to win the FA Cup? I’d say the latter, but others at a mid-table team would argue there is little chance of winning it. Wigan Athletic were the last of the smaller clubs to win it in 2013. What happened? They also went down.
Lower league clubs see the FA Cup differently. I was at one of those clubs when they drew a top side away. The first thing the chairman said was: ‘That’s half a million quid for us’ – equivalent to a third of the playing budget for the whole season.
It’s an even bigger deal for non-league clubs. The non-league side in the town near to where I live had a brief adventure in the FA Cup which energised the whole place. They usually get crowds of 200, but had over 1,000 by the fourth qualifying round. Their little cup run brought in £50,000, most of it in prize money from the FA. That was enough to run the club for a year.
The prize money increases each round, but it’s small fry to the biggest clubs. The players get 25% of the prize money, so we received £700 each after winning a third round tie last season. A packet when you earn a grand a week in League Two, not so much when you earn £30,000. And not so much when you get to share £3 million in the players’ pool if you stay in the Premier League.
When you’re a club like us, you don’t want a tricky away tie at a lower league club. Play away at an Accrington or Barnet and the tie is set up for you to fail. It will probably be televised and almost everyone watching will want you to lose.
People’s natural inclination is to support the underdog, to hope for a giant killing. I’m exactly the same, but it’s different when you are the giant.
The manager will say to us before the match: ‘There will be some shocks in the cup today, make sure you’re not one of them’. The problem is that if we’re resting half of our team then there’s every chance that there will be a shock. I’ll await several this weekend…