the real fa cup

The Cup Tradition That Must Remain

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.

  1. isn’t it 15% the home club has to provide for the visiting team? or is 10% min up to max 15%?

    also… what’s the ruling on where the gate money goes? am pretty sure it’s split but is it 50/50? seem to remember small clubs often um-ing and ahh-ing over whether to host a big club, or play at the larger ground to generate more ticket sales/revenue.

    • Damon Threadgold

      I’m not 100% sure about the first bit off the top of my head … I’ll let Simon answer that, heh.

      The second bit is fully explained on the always brilliant 200% here

    • Ah, it seems you’re right.

      Rule 21a of the Rules of the FA Challenge Cup competition says:-

      In all matches preceding the Semi-Finals, the Visiting Club shall have the right to claim up
      to 15% of all accommodation for which tickets are issued providing these tickets are in a
      fully segregated area.

      You learn something new every day! I was always under the impression that it was 10%.

  2. Simon,
    Much as I agree with your sentiments in your post, and certainly the atmosphere generated at the Emirates yesterday was fantastic, it is difficult to see how the true magic of the cup can now be restored. It is now a very poor third in the priorities of the top teams and even those lower down the league, incredibly both Blackpool and Southampton put weakened sides out yesterday! I am afraid to say that money talks and the only way clubs will take the competition seriously is if there is a massive financial reward or a lucrative place in the Champions League at stake. The other thing is what ever happened to clubs getting fined for playing weakened teams?
    As for Mr Bendtner I assume you think my description of him was near the mark? lol

    • Ah well the weakened team/fine thing was always gonna be unworkable – how do you prove that a team is weakened? Obviously in some cases it’s obvious but there’s a very blurry line there which cannot be legislated against.

      As for teams wanting to have a decent cup run, most of the games we go to for this site are desperate to win the cup games – that’s why we started this website!

      When it comes to Bendtner, I don’t mind him as a player – he works his socks off – it’s just that he thinks he’s a world class striker and he’s just not. He scored tons of goals in the reserves but his finishing at the top level has been nothing short of rubbish.

      • Damon Threadgold

        I was talking about the weakened team issue in the pub on Friday. How does Rooney ever get back in United’s squad if Ferg has to pick his best XI? How do kids break in? Who decides? Personally, I think it should be me who decides.

  3. Thank you very much for the comment over at my place (here:

    As I say in my piece, I love the FA Cup. The moments in my early footballing life that I remember all come (almost all) from FA Cup football.

    I suggested some (minor) tweaks. I’d be equally happy with them not occurring.


  4. Used to love the epic battles. Remember losing in extra time to Watford in the third replay in 1989 – it was the most excitement we had all season.
    As a Newcastle fan I was brought up on the FA Cup. Shame to see it so often played in front of half-empty grounds. For every 60,000 at Highbury there’s a 17,000 at Sunderland or a 13,000 at Bolton.

  5. Just one point to make, but the FA asked Man United to consider dropping out of the FA Cup because they wanted them to participate in the World Club Championship which they believed would aid England’s chances of hosting the World Cup in 2006.

    It wasn’t Man United, but the FA themselves who did so much damage to their flagship competition with that decision. Ludicrous really.

    • Damon Threadgold

      I thought United wanted to do it to improve their brand Worldwide but, initially, said they couldn’t because of FA Cup commmitments. Then the FA then said it was OK for them to pull out. Either way, I guess neither United or the FA covered themselves in glory, so a fair point.

  6. I agree entirely with your comments re FA Cup traditions and I’m glad to hear the atmosphere was so good on Saturday. I think we have always known that the lack of away fans is the main reason for the lack of atmosphere these days. I have no doubt we will take at least 4,000 fans to the replay and will probably outshout the home fans. I’m still glad I missed the game but I will attend the next round if we win the replay.

    Another tradition that ITV have changed is the draw for the next round which now takes place on Sunday instead of Monday lunchtime (at least the good old Beeb kept to that tradition). It was always great for the giant killers to bask in their glory over the weekend and dream of being drawn against a top club but ITV have no idea how much this means. Sunday’s draw took place halfway through the Chelsea game!!!

    Re the teams attitude in the early rounds I wonder what would happen if even non league sides received good payments for finishing high in their leagues and promotion was also worth a lot more money. Don’t you think they would also soon forget the “real” FA Cup like everyone else?

    • I have heard certain managers on the Non League Football Show admitting that they’re focusing on their league status rather than the Cup in the same way that some Premier League managers do.

      The Havant & Waterlooville manager admitted as much in the season following their superb performance at Anfield, I believe.

      Sadly, it happens at every level.

  7. For what it is worth, the United v Arsenal 99 replay had already been designated as the last semi-final replay. And I really thought the point had been taken on board that it was under pressure from the FA and a certain Tony Banks (Minister for Sport) that United finally agreed to withdraw, to assist England’s World Cup bid. United of course have been sold down the river on that one. If anybody has devalued the FA Cup it is the FA themselves.

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