By Bill Thomas
Behaving like sheep appears to be an ever more prevalent human instinct these days, none more so in the realms of football punditry.
Year upon year, what Donald Trump would doubtlessly – and this time accurately – refer to as “so called experts” witter on and on about just how the FA Cup has lost its lustre, that there’s no magic any longer, that the big clubs simply don’t take it seriously and are devaluing the competition. And year after year, they do so by completely ignoring the facts.
So dear reader, let’s tell it like it is. The idea that the magic of the FA Cup is lost is #FAKENEWS.
We can dismantle this theory piece by piece. Some suggest that there is no longer any excitement to be had because the smaller clubs are simply crushed beneath the wheels of the bigger ones, that they don’t stand a chance.
I’m not sure that argument will hold a lot of water in and around Lincoln at present after they’ve seen off Burnley, Brighton, Ipswich and Oldham on their FA Cup odyssey. Nor for Sutton United who beat Leeds United and AFC Wimbledon on their way to hosting Arsenal this week, albeit that the fairytale nature of Sutton’s cup run was tarnished by getting into bed with The Sun and the foolish, perhaps worse, antics of their pie infatuated lumpen oaf of a reserve goalkeeper. By the way, it’s not banter to deflect away from the efforts of your teammates who have worked themselves into the ground to get that one crack at the big time again. It’s just greed and selfishness.
And what about last season? Only a second ever cup final for Crystal Palace, a rare semi-final appearance for Watford. Reading reaching the last four in 2015, beating Bradford City in the sixth round after they had defeated Chelsea and Sunderland. A cup final for Hull in 2014, for Stoke in 2011. The fairytale of Wigan reaching the final in 2013, defeating the might of Manchester City’s million at Wembley.
Ok, perhaps there hasn’t been a Ronnie Radford moment, but that extraordinary goal for Hereford nearly 50 years ago now stands out because it was so rare. Non-league sides don’t do that every season, it happens once in a blue moon, and always has. But the magic isn’t so much that it does happen, but that it might.
Don’t tell me that Arsenal fans, staff and players weren’t petrified before kick-off at Sutton on Monday, all because of the thought that one time in a hundred, that catastrophe could happen to them too.
Given that lower division and non-league sides have done pretty well of late, it must be because the big clubs don’t take it seriously, mustn’t it? This is forever linked with the thought that the Premier League has become simply too important, and the top 20 are therefore willing to toss it off, though inconveniently, five of the Premier League’s top six make up the nine sides still left in the competition.
Well, up to last season, we had seen 24 FA Cup finals in the Premier League era. A list of winners is instructive:
Arsenal 7, Chelsea 6, Manchester United 5, Liverpool 2, Everton, Portsmouth, Wigan Athletic, Manchester City 1 each. All of them from the Premier League.
The previous 24 competitions had seen Sunderland, Southampton and West Ham United all win it from the Second Division, while Fulham, QPR and Sunderland all reached the final from the lower level too. In these more recent 24 runnings of the old trophy, only Millwall and Cardiff City have reached the final from below the top tier, and neither won it. That would suggest that, if anything, the top clubs are taking it more seriously than ever.
Or, perhaps, it underlines the fact that the idea of employing trickle-down economics to help the poor that was used to boost the idea of creating this super league in the first place is every bit as successful as the trickle-down economics that some politicians like to promote. #FAKEECONOMICS