Since the advent of the Premier League, the FA Cup has had some of its most important aspects stripped down and cast aside.
In 1991/92 the possibility of multiple replays was scrapped in favour of deciding the tie on penalty kicks. Most fans will have memories of epic battles over many games in the FA Cup but as an Arsenal fan, I will never forget having to play yesterday’s opponents, Leeds, 4 times before dispensing them 2-1 in ’91. If that game was a year later, the last two of those games would not have been played.
But the real rot set in in 1999/2000 when Sir Alex Ferguson graciously decided to give all the other teams a chance to win the FA Cup by refusing to let United defend their title, pulling out of the competition in favour of a jolly to Brazil. People began to realise that money had really taken a hold of those at the top of the pyramid and the FA Cup’s rich tradition and history came a sorry second to cold, hard cash.
I don’t remember the date exactly, but at some point between then and now Cup replays were moved back a whole week, apparently on the advice of the police, meaning that by the time some replays came around, some fans had to be reminded what had happened in the initial game. The realisation that there are FA Cup replays on TV that evening when you’d completely forgotten who was playing who is a feeling we’ve all had in recent times. This situation, of course, does not apply in the rounds leading up to the Propers and, in our opinion, the thrill of the Cup is all the more evident in those rounds as a result.
There is, however, one tradition which seems to be clinging on like <insert Premier League manager’s name here> to his job and that is the rule that the hosting club must provide 10% of its tickets to the away side.
For those that wonder why fans bother to go to FA Cup games, I urge every one of you to go to a Cup game against a reasonably well supported lower league team and enjoy the atmosphere. Maybe even get involved yourselves?! Every year, I forget about this (and get ready, for this is a phrase you won’t read very often) superb FA ruling (I did warn you) and every year, it fills me with joy to see the Clock End full to bursting with noisy supporters of the opposition.
One of the main reasons I was drawn into supporting a football team when my Dad first took me to Highbury in 1983 was the sights and sounds of thousands of fans urging their team on but it is a rare sight these days as the clubs at the top struggle to accommodate their growing band of supporters and, inevitably, oust the aliens in favour of a more vocal home support. It does, however, have the opposite effect in my opinion. Football supporters thrive on banter – songs pinging backwards and forwards is what it’s all about and without the enemy singing back at you, there is little to respond to.
Despite my team’s abject performance (particularly in front of goal – Nicklas ‘I Am A Superstar’ Bendtner, please stand up – or sit down – on that bench, actually) yesterday, I enjoyed the game a whole lot more than the pitiful, spirit-crushing draw just three days earlier against the professional borers of Manchester City and that was, in no small part, down to their fans. I’m sure some of them will have returned to Yorkshire with the tired old phrase of ‘Highbury Library’ tripping across their tongues but home crowds always seem quiet when you’re shouting yourself hoarse all afternoon and, whilst we might not have the most vocal of support sometimes, I thought the atmosphere yesterday was excellent.
Yesterday felt like a Proper FA Cup tie and I really enjoyed it (bar the result, of course) and I firmly believe that it is the fact that Leeds brought so many noisy supporters that made the difference. I’m sure that, one day, the FA will relax this one last sensible rule from their so-easily-influenced rulebook and remove one of the enduring traditions of the cup that still remains but for now, we as fans should enjoy it, buy the away tickets, and go to the home games and help keep the atmosphere at Cup games something that the fans will look forward to. I know I do.