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The FA Cup, And How To Save It

Barring getting elbowed in the head by Stuart Pearce and mugged off by David Ginola, my biggest claim to fame as a footballer was walking my team out as an FA Cup final Captain.

The Matty Lawrence Column: The FA Cup, And How To Save It

matty lawrence banner for FA Cup column

Quite a feat, right? I don’t like to brag, but a hefty pat on the back to myself. There can only be about 200 of us in the world to be able to say that. That’s the same amount of people Charlie Sheen used to leave in bed before heading out to film Two and a Half Men.

That, though, was back when it was all green fields around here. When the FA Cup actually had a semblance of respect granted to it. Last weekend saw the final nail in the coffin of the doddery old, beleaguered FA Cup.

I could name more characters in Othello than I could in Manchester City’s team that got royally demolished by Chelsea. 5-1 was the score AND the number of recognisable faces for both teams respectively.

Numerous pundits and journalists are crying out for an overhaul of the FA Cup. A post  mortem might be more appropriate. And, let’s be honest it is hardly Manchester City’s fault. I used them as an example this weekend, but they are certainly not the first, nor the last, to field a totally inexperienced and weakened team. The FA and BBC can carry the can for this one.

Olivier Giroud
Arsenals Olivier Giroud centre battles for the ball with Hull Citys Curtis Davies

TV Pressure

City had a tough trip to face Dinamo Kiev in the Champions League on Wednesday. The club petitioned the FA to play the game 24hrs earlier, but because of BBC’s choice of game, TV took precedent. What a shock: football bowing to the pressures of television and not giving a single, solitary toss about what’s best for the players, our teams standing in European competition, or the fans.

To add insult to injury the FA openly encouraged City to play a weakened side, promising no consequences. The FA may as well have saved the fans money and just handed the game to Chelsea. To be honest, the FA started this slippery slide at the back end of the last millennium.

Treble Memories

Let’s cast our minds back to the summer of 1999. Easier for some, than others, but try and keep up at the booze-addled back. Manchester United (always the bloody Mancunians) had just won the treble. You heard me: the treble!!

Amazing, intense, insane. 1-0 down against Bayern in the Champions League final with about 3.7 seconds left on the referee’s watch. We all know the rest – Sheringham and Solskjaer somehow snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. (Sadly, this monumental achievement was the birthplace of the FA Cup’s decline.) As a result United were invited to take part in the World Club Championship which was being hosted in mid-season.

Without going into too much detail, England were cultivating their World Cup bid and Manchester United were sceptical about taking part in the tournament. United’s Chief Executive Martin Edwards said, “If we had not entered this tournament, England’s opportunity to host the 2006 World Cup would have been in jeopardy.”

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but even back then very few people thought the FA’s bid would be successful (it obviously wasn’t) and the whole furore unnecessary. David Davies, the interim executive director of the FA, bargained with United and allowed them to withdraw from the FA Cup because of their worries over too many games in a season and the subsequent over-work of the players. Over-work? Do me a bloody favour. But, that’s what happened.

When The FA Cup Holders Pulled Out Of The Tournament

The FA allowed Manchester United, THE HOLDERS, to pull out of the 1999-2000 FA Cup. The oldest, most traditional domestic trophy in the world, disrespected: disregarded some would say.

That, my friends, was just the beginning. More recently we have seen the FA Cup branded. Just seeing those last three words together has left a little bit of sick in my mouth. Not from the wife’s cooking this time. We have seen a beer company tainting this wonderful competition. The FA’s Commercial Director, Stuart Turner, said, “Budweiser has embraced the FA Cup.” A liquid has “embraced” this beautiful entity of ours?

I would pretty much embrace any other liquid in a pint glass, than fookin’ Budweiser, but that’s just personal preference – and, yes, I know my American audience may be considering this high treason, but Donald Trump entitles me to say anything I want and consider your dissenting voices null and void. (There’s every chance my editor will be removing this. I was told no politics, but so it seems was Donald Trump.)

Sweet FA

But, you get the point. The FA has been the main protagonist in this sanctioned demeaning of its own competition, for goodness sake. Surely the name gives it away. Shouldn’t they be protecting their own ‘baby’?

The finger can’t just be jabbed at the clubs in the upper echelons of the EPL. Many other clubs are at it. If you saw the Arsenal vs Hull game you would have seen two reserve sides. Hull Football Club were totally apathetic towards playing in the magnificent surroundings of Emirates Stadium and focused on Tuesday’s Championship game away at Ipswich Town.

Unfortunately, I guess I can’t blame them. Steve Bruce’s (Hull manager) strategy worked: they gained three points and pushed themselves ever closer to the promised land of the EPL.

Money Talks

Look, I get it, money talks. Teams near the top of the EPL focus on getting into the European places. Those near the bottom just keep their eye on the dreaded trap door.

Teams at the top of the Championship have little interest in the FA Cup, because all they see are the “bright lights, big city” and noughts in their bank account. Goodness me, but even teams at the bottom of the Championship, or near the pinnacle of League One are known to only give a passing glance at the FA Cup.

I feel that football is now at a crossroads regarding the FA Cup. We either systematically address all these issues, or we consign it to the Capital One cup scrapheap.

Evolution is a wonderful (hands over your eyes all you creationists) thing most of the time and the FA Cup has to evolve to keep up. Forget all the naysayers desperate to cling onto the last vestiges of the FA Cup’s tradition and leave it well alone. The FA Cup needs saving and I would welcome any changes to this ‘lovely, old grandfather sitting in an armchair’ of a competition.

Here’s How To Fix The FA Cup

First scrap all replays and give all gate receipts (after costs) to the lower league club in the tie. Secondly, all TV money goes to the lower league club playing in televised games. Also, seven of the outfield players in every starting line-up must have played in 50% of the teams league matches. Lastly, award a Champions League place to the FA Cup winner.

To prevent the consignment of the FA Cup to an anonymous grave the FA has to grow a set of balls and stop being the subservient organisation that bends over and gets royally screwed by TV, advertisers, the Premier League and all its members. (Pun very much intended).

Time to evolve, my dear friends, and welcome in an FA Cup for the future. An FA Cup that all clubs want to win again.

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