The FA cup is the world’s oldest club football competition still being played, and is also one of the most famous tournaments in sport as a whole, with every single side in the country’s top ten leagues battling it out for a chance at lifting the trophy at Wembley. This creates some fantastic big-team-takes-on-small-team games, and, as a result, some fantastic upsets. This year’s biggest ‘giant killing’ so far has surely been Boreham Wood (of the conference)’s last minute defeat of Blackpool in the first round proper, but AFC Fylde’s cup run, including taking Wigan Athletic to a replay in the second round, cannot go unnoticed.
The Emirates Football Association Challenge Cup, to give it its full name, has become world renowned for its ‘magic’, tiny minnows, like Lincoln, toppling Premier League giants, like Burnley, and that’s exactly what happened in the last-16 game between then-conference side Lincoln and Premier League side Burnley, with the Red Imps’ Sean Raggett encrypting his name into the history books with a last minute winner at Turfmoor.
However, especially for the bigger teams, the Cup has been more of an annoyance than an opportunity. Many managers have complained about fixture congestion over the Christmas period in recent years, with FA Cup replays becoming a big part of the problem. Steve McLaren, the Derby Manager, said earlier this year that he thinks the FA should “look at the competition and say ‘lets only have one tie’ because nobody wants this”.
The concept of all cup ties going straight to extra time and penalties after a draw would certainly make ties between the lower league clubs and higher league clubs more enjoyable, with sides being forced to go for a game on the night, rather than sitting back and playing for a replay and the tv money.
Of course, in McLaren and Co.’s eyes at least, this has to be an improvement from what has happened before. Before 1990, every tie in the competition before the fifth would go to a replay if drawn, and if the replay was drawn, another replay was played, and so on and so forth. During the 1975 tournament, Fulham played a total of twelve games over six rounds before reaching the final.
Problems like this have meant that Premier League sides, especially, have begun to devalue the cup competitions, using it as more of an opportunity to field younger players and experiment with the squad, taking the league as the priority. And I can understand why. Fixture congestion over Christmas really is awful, and I’m sure neither side ever wants to play a replay if they’ve drawn a game, rather than settling it there and then.
But, a big argument for the existence of replays is penalty shootouts. It’s argued that it is more a matter of luck and mental state, rather than genuinely beating your opponent for skill. A replay involves the all-round quality and skill that a penalty shootout lacks.
The FA cup has, in recent years, been host to some fantastic upsets, as expected. Lincoln and Sutton United’s fantastic cup runs last year cannot go unnoticed, nor can FA Cup upset kings Blyth Spartans’ challenges.
So is the FA Cup the same magic-filled tournament that it was thirty years ago? Leave your opinion in the comments below.
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