I really love the F.A Cup, a lot of my boyhood memories derive from the competition whether they be good or bad. A few early ones include the two semifinals at Wembley in the early 90’s, Wrexham in 92, Linighans late goal to win us the cup in 93, Andy Walker smashing the ball past David Seaman to give Bolton a historic win at Highbury, and getting knocked out by Millwall and Sheffield United in consecutive seasons.
As the years ticked on and I started to go to more games, the results have been generally more positive. Winning The Cup in 1998 as part of the double was incredible, although the 1999 semifinal defeat to Manchester United hurt even more than losing the Champions League final if you ask me. Other spine tingling moments include Robert Pires’s winner v Tottenham at Old Trafford in 2001, It’s only Ray Parlour, Lauren sending 6,000 Gooners mad as he scored at Stamford Bridge, Reyes brace at Highbury v Chelsea, and Vieira winning us the cup with the last kick of his Arsenal career.
Under Arsene Wenger we have done fairly well, as all those trips to Cardiff proved, but I feel it is now being regarded almost with the same amount of distain that this country shows to the League Cup. Whilst I was in the latter stages of primary school, the FA Cup Final was still the biggest match to watch each season. From an Arsenal fans point of view the first one I watched wasn’t the best as it was Tottenham v Nottingham Forest in 1991, that said it was full of drama right from Gazza’s knee injury, Lineker missing a penalty and Des Walkers own goal to give Tottenham their only meaningful trophy in the last 25 years.
The TV coverage started on the BBC/ITV before lunchtime and when Sky got involved it became even more detailed. I recall watching the buildup to our win in 1998 from around 7am onwards on Sky Sports, with a dedicated hour long show about the final before a cup final special Soccer AM for 5 hours, which led into the main programme which went on till about 7pm that evening. Of course I then relived it all over again on ITV’s highlights package that night, and every Sunday newspaper had a special pullout of the match the following day.
However in recent years the oldest cup competition in the world has been a side show to the Premier League and the Champions League. Throughout the years the competition has been dominated more and more by the bigger teams and with the exception of Portsmouth’s win in 2008 has been won by a club who is also sitting near the top of the Premier League table. . The competition was drastically devalued when in 2000 defending holders Manchester United, opted out of the cup to play in FIFA’s much maligned World Club Trophy, and then last season, the match was scheduled on the same day as other Premier League matches, something that would have been unthinkable 20 years ago.
This year the FA are trying to make sure that the cup final is the only game on that day, although with Euro 2012 and the Olympics just around the corner it’s proving to be quite a headache. So just how does the FA Cup retain some of its former glory? More money for the winners? Seeded teams? Personally I’d go along with this; Give the FA Cup winners the 4th spot in the Champions League. It would make the competition more competitive and possibly stop bigger teams resting players in the earlier rounds.
How exciting would it be for you to see your team play in a one off match knowing the winner would secure a qualifying place in the Champions League the following season? Either way the competition needs a major shakeup to get it back to its glory days of old, and for god’s sake when the 10 year agreement is up, stop putting the finals on at Wembley, it completely ruins the ‘Road to Wembley’ feeling of the cup. Neutral grounds are much, much better and many stadiums are able to satisfy demand in terms of capacity.