Stanley Matthews, 1953. Ronnie Radford, 1972. Jim Montgomery, 1973. Ricky Villa, 1981. The Crazy Gang, 1988. Steven Gerrard, 2006. If you are unfamiliar with the exploits of the above, then I suggest you have a look on Wikipedia or YouTube.
The oldest competition in world football has churned out hundreds of unforgettable moments like these for almost 150 years. The likes of Matthews and Gerrard are both household names, but the FA Cup has this uncanny knack of creating footballing heroes from relative obscurity, and this is what makes it so unique.Embed from Getty Images
However, every year, the buzzword of this great competition is ‘magic’. “Is the magic of the FA Cup still alive?” Time and time again this question is asked, and just when you think the magic is running out, we have a giant killing. A genuine footballing shock that reverberates around the country. Think non-league Lincoln City making it all the way to the quarter-finals last year. Remember Bradford City coming back from 2 goals down to stun Chelsea 4-2 at Stamford Bridge? On Monday night, Wigan Athletic did it again: knocking out arguably the best football team on the planet in Manchester City. All of these wonderful moments have come in the last few years alone, yet still we question the stature and magic of the FA Cup. But why?
Truthfully, many younger football fans don’t care as much as previous generations perhaps did. The grandeur of the Premier League and Champions League is hard to ignore. Football is a multi-billion-pound industry, where money talks. The way those two tournaments are marketed is completely different to that of the FA Cup. Whilst the FA Cup will appeal to the ‘real’ football fans or the purists of the game, the Champions League and the Premier League are always going to attract a much larger audience because of the high quality of teams and the huge amounts of people around the world the matches are broadcast to. English teams chasing glory will always prioritise these competitions due to the astronomical financial incentives at stake. That is simply a fact that will prevail for as long as the current capitalistic monetary dominance remains.Embed from Getty Images
But is that really that important? Are Wigan fans going to be returning home after Monday night’s game feeling downbeat because they beat a City team that was not quite at full strength? Not a chance. Not only is that Manchester City side still better than nearly all Premier League teams, but it is still Manchester City, the runaway leaders at the top of England’s top flight. Do City fans not want to win the FA Cup? Of course they don’t. It is true they probably value the Premier League and Champions League more, but it is still the 3rd biggest trophy the club can win.
Many ideas have been thrown about with the aim of preserving the magic. From removing replays and not playing the semi-finals at Wembley (both of which I agree with) to giving the winner a Champions League Spot. Whatever the FA decide to do (probably nothing, lets face it), just because Tottenham Hotspur don’t start Harry Kane or Manchester United leave David de Gea on the bench, does not mean the magic has faded. 737 teams entered the competition, with roughly the same amount of players featuring as there were athletes in the 2016 Olympic Games.
For some players, making it to the first-round proper is an unbelievable achievement, and for others, only lifting the trophy will suffice. It will never cease to produce magical moments, creating heroes from zeroes. So what if it can’t compete with the Premier League and the Champions League? When it comes to major shocks, tradition, unlikely heroes and moments of sheer, unadulterated magic, the FA Cup has no parallel. There’s magic in the old cup yet.
Written by Dan Walker.