There was no greater sign of how much the FA Cup had been devalued than when the FA, trying to gain votes to host the 2006 World Cup, allowed the holders Manchester United to skip the world’s oldest cup competition to play in the Club World Championship in Brazil in 2000.
However, while fans, media and managers alike may question how relevant the domestic cups are for the super-rich in an era dominated by the Premier League and Champions League. The recent exploits of Bradford City and Macclesfield Town show the romance remains.
Bradford’s run has seen them account for Notts County, Watford, Burton Albion, plus Premier League duo Wigan and Arsenal. On January 8 they beat struggling Aston Villa 3-1 at Valley Parade, although many are still backing Villa to overturn the deficit when they play the second leg at Villa Park.
Bradford have given themselves a fantastic chance to make their first final since winning the FA Cup in 1911 (if you don’t count the Third Division North Challenge cup finals in 1938 and 1939).
Only in front of a packed Valley Parade against Arsenal and Villa have football fans remembered that the Bantams were a Premier League team as recently as 2001. In the 12 years since they have suffered relegations and administrations, but under manager Phil Parkinson, a team which cost just £7,500 have not only competed with but beaten the country’s finest and most historic teams.
Bradford have a chance of promotion from League Two this season but there is no doubt that the victories over Wigan, Arsenal and Aston Villa will be forever remembered by the players and fans, and will mean neutrals will be firmly in their corner as they try to make it all the way to Wembley, and who knows, maybe even Europe?
Macclesfield beat a Cardiff City's second-string to advance to the fourth round of the FA Cup. The Silkmen’s recent history is tinged with tragedy, however. Their manager, Keith Alexander, died at the age of 53 in 2010, while midfielder Richard Butcher died in 2011, aged 29.
Their relegation last season out of the Football League paled into insignificance alongside the two tragedies, but beating the Championship leaders brought back some joy to the club.
A home tie against either Bournemouth or Premier League neighbours Wigan awaits, and as with non-league counterparts Luton Town, the extra revenue and potential TV money will be a welcome boost to the financial fight that the majority of football clubs face.
There also appears to be more determination from teams outside the traditional ‘top four’ to compete for trophies. Swansea manager Michael Laudrup told the BBC: “A replay is not exactly what I am looking for,” after Danny Graham scored a late equaliser against Arsenal. “The last thing I want is to lose." Andre Villas-Boas "wants to win everything", according to Tottenham defender William Gallas.
The likes of Rafa Benitez and Arsene Wenger could all do with winning a trophy to allay the pressure on their shoulders, and to cement their positions at their respective clubs.
The fourth round draw may not include any real glamour ties or potentially massive upsets, but that could mean we are set for a fascinating last 16 and beyond, and as the season reaches its climax so the tension rises, and so the FA Cup can remind everyone just how magical domestic cup competitions can be.
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