In the same week that we saw for the first time an all-English top flight match kick off with no English players or coaches involved (Portsmouth v Arsenal), the jewel in the crown of the mother of football’s competitions performed its most traditionally exciting day with a whimper.
The Fratton Park clash surely dispels for good any arguments that England has a problem with youth development, while the decline of the FA Cup, alive and kicking since 1872, is equally depressing. The Cup’s 3rd Round, which traditionally takes place soon after New Year, is the stage where the big boys enter, which can make for mouth-watering David v Goliath clashes.
There were no shocks this year, another sign of the financial Data HK chasm between the Premier League and the rest, but the sight of half-empty stadia was glaring enough for the presenters of the competition’s biggest cheerleaders, ITV, to debate it on air just as they launched their station’s coverage with expensive graphics and a slew of advertising. Only 12,474 paid to watch megabucks Man City’s visit to Middlesbrough, while a thousand less attended Premier League Portsmouth’s tie with Coventry City. Premier League Wigan’s clash with Premier League Hull drew barely 5,000 paying spectators. This cup is half-empty.
When I was growing up in the 1970s and ’80s the FA Cup was as prestigious a trophy as the League Championship, a uniquely English prize which set it apart from the rest of UEFA’s member nations’ cup competitions.
Cup Final Day was the most exciting day of the football season, a Superbowl for England accompanied by ubiquitous fascination and a prize as glittering, if not more so, than winning the league itself in the eyes of fans. The minnows who raised the Cup or …