The ‘magic of the FA Cup’ is a myth perpetuated by desperate TV companies.
Money is the main, if not sole, motivator in football these days.
Smaller clubs in the FA Cup can celebrate a draw with a top-flight third team as though they’ve achieved football’s equivalent of curing cancer, but while the bigger clubs are only interested in protecting their access to inflated, immoral Premier League paydays, the competition is doomed to become an irrelevance. To the likes of little Norwich City it already is.
We can all marvel at the results of Exeter and Oxford, but their achievements are diluted by the indifference of their opponents. Liverpool were due to play Arsenal five days after being expected to perform on the St James’ Park slagheap, while Swansea had a game against Sunderland on the same night, one which could shape their Premier League future.
They’d happily give Michael Appleton a rare day in the sun as long as they could beat Sunderland 1-0.
The FA Cup has been squeezed into insignificance by an extended Champions League and by the all-powerful Premier League. It’s a shame, but it’s true, no matter what the agenda-setters in the national media try and suggest.
If Exeter had beaten Liverpool it wouldn’t have been one of the ‘greatest shocks of all-time’ as the best sports writer in the country was trying to pretend. Liverpool fielded a team of anonymous kids and first-team no hopers, many of whom would struggle to get into Exeter’s starting line-up for a League Two match. Certainly the goalkeeper wouldn’t.
If the FA want their self-proclaimed ‘best knockout competition in the world’ to thrive they need to persuade the Premier League (some hope!) not to produce a full fixture list in the same week as the third round.
They also need to advise television stations that blanket coverage of Manchester United and Chelsea games (particularly in their current state) and all-top flight matches likely to be contested by reserve teams is not an attractive or glamorous way to promote the competition.
Naturally Derby v Manchester United, Liverpool (providing they rustle up enough rusk-munchers to beat Exeter), v West Ham and Northampton or MK Dons v Chelsea have all been selected for live coverage in the fifth round.
The BBC have lost the plot with their sports coverage. It’s no wonder they hardly have any live events to show.
They can, quite rightly, poke gentle criticism at the likes of Norwich and Bournemouth for putting a 17th-place finish in the Premier League above winning a trophy at the home of football as a priority.
But to let Gaby Logan, herself a mere stand-in, lead the probing shows an alarming lack of self-awareness.
The beeb then compound their ignorance by allowing the fourth round draw to be shown live as part of ‘the One Show’, a dull, sub-standard TV show, rather than a stand-alone programme.
That’s what the FA Cup has become.
It’s a sideshow, it’s a gimmick to be used to bolster the ratings of a flagging show, one regularly smashed by Emmerdale in the ratings.