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Don’t Mess With The FA Cup!

A few years ago, the BBC tried to promote their coverage of the FA Cup with a short promo featuring boxing promoter Don King.

The premise was simple. King, with his characteristic delivery and style would deliver a lecture on how to improve the competition to a group of FA executives. The laughs came from King’s ridiculous suggestions. Believe me, I’ve tried hard to find the actual promo on Youtube without success. I did manage to track down a blog, in the fun and games section of the BBC Sports website, from way back in 2003 where King talked about his ideas for the competition.

King suggested renaming the competition The Super FA Mega Bowl, introducing cheerleaders and having celebrity endorsements. He also suggested renaming some of the teams, including ‘The Manchester Cats, The Sheffield Dogs and The Fulham Bears.’ King’s final suggestion was to eliminate the traditional Cup ‘giant-killing.’ He said, and I quote, ‘Champs getting knocked out…no-one wants that! Bring ’em back. I’m talking re-match after re-match until they win!’

At the time, it was all a big laugh! With his wild hair, and crazy gestures King was the perfect clown for what was a ridiculous idea. However, as time has gone by it’s emerged that Don may have been on the money.

Putting to one side, what I now know about Don King (completely amoral and corrupt….but that’s for another article) it appears that someone at the FA has found the old tapes from that promo, and is actually giving serious thought to what was on them!

Over the weekend, plans were leaked regarding changes to the structure of the FA Cup and Football Supporters Federation have expressed their immediate disapproval. It’s felt that the Cup is losing it’s appeal, and the planned changes will see it become more popular with fans used to the razzamatazz (good Don King word there) of Champions League football and Sky Sports HD, 3D Avatar style graphics.

The first change, is to have the final (traditionally a 3 o’clock kick off) moved back to 5:30. By itself this would be a fairly low-key change, but the FA is also considering plans to scrap replays. Replays are an integral part of the FA Cup for many lower league clubs, who after getting a draw at home in turn gain a potential money-spinning day out to a ‘big club.’ For many fans, the second replay is their Cup Final.

A good replay against a potential ‘scalp’ could keep a lower tier club going for years, thanks to money received from ticket sales. But unfortunately, the plight of the lower league club doesn’t really interest the FA or indeed The Premier League, who no doubt see replays as a nuisance designed to stretch terminally thin squads.

Before we turn this into an FA bashing session, there are a few changes afoot that would be beneficial to the competition. Apart from the lowering of ticket prices and regional matches for the first 5 rounds, it’s also been suggested that Premier League clubs could be seeded upon entry, in an attempt to create more chances for lower league teams to gain a potential Premiership ‘scalp.’

In a bid to encourage fielding a full strength squad, it’s been suggested that a Champions League place should go to the winner as well. Quite how this will work is another matter. Of the last 11 winners of the trophy, only 2 have been from outside the Champions League places (Portsmouth and Chelsea way back in 2000)

Malcolm Clarke, Chairman of the Football Supporters Federation, believes that the FA have scored ‘a huge own goal’ with these proposed changes. Though he is in agreement that some of the plans, he claims that the FA had ignored fans whom they were ‘relying on to pay the money to watch the games.’ He’s called for more fan involvement into how the cup is run.

The FA have defended the leaks, saying that any plans are yet to be formalised. However, the planned changes have already been forwarded to the Cup Committee and the Premier League shareholders.

Undoubtedly, the Cup needs a shake up. Some of the glamour has been missing from it in recent seasons, and whilst I’m not suggesting we bring in a Super Bowl style half-time show to liven things up, I fail to see how lower ticket prices and seeding of the bigger clubs could have an adverse effect.

But let’s not go crazy! Remember what the Cup is all about. It appeals to us British, as the oldest knock-out competition in the world. Everyone gets a crack at it, no matter how small they are. That’s what makes it so great! If we take away things like replays, then we’re taking away not just a much needed¬†revenue stream from a lower league side, we’re taking away their decent right to have a shot at the title.

I’m sure Don King could appreciate that analogy! I mean, it wouldn’t be the FA Cup without the upsets (as a Newcastle fan I’m really trying to avoid the ‘S’ word or the ‘H’ word). We love to see the painter and decorator laying into the professional who’s paid more in a week than he earns in a year!

Messing with the FA Cup is like saying the Ashes urn needs replacing for a massive trophy, or that the hedges at Aintree need raising so that more horses get hurt. Or that Twickenham will no longer be called Twickenham, but turned into the Vodaphone Arena or something equally faceless.

This year sees an actual Premier League programme being played on the same day as the Cup Final, which is just plain wrong. The FA Cup is one of the things which makes me proud to be British, and to mess with that is just plain ridiculous.

No matter what Don King says….

Follow Peter Turner on Twitter @petermagpie.com




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