Growing up as a Newcastle United fan in the late nineties, few competitions brought with them such emotional ups and downs as the FA Cup.
Too young to truly understand the ascendancy of the side during Kevin Keegan’s first spell in charge, the FA Cup runs in the subsequent years provided me with my first real tastes of the intense highs and crushing lows that come with football support.
From seeing Alan Shearer dispatching Tottenham Hotspurs singlehandedly, to watching Paul Scholes and Teddy Sheringham curtail my dreams with consummate ease, the FA Cup would always have a special place in my heart.
Or so I thought. Perhaps the nostalgic memories of my youth have been embellished in my mind, but the FA Cup seems to have lost it’s fabled ‘magic’. This may seem a strange view to take given Wigan Athletic’s dramatic victory over Manchester City this past weekend, and while I felt touched by the scenes of jubilation at Wembley amongst the underdog’s supporters, I could not help but feel that a slew of poor finals, coupled with an apparent apathy on the part of many of the country’s biggest clubs towards the competition are responsible.
It is not often that you’ll hear British football fans agreeing with Michel Platini, the current President of UEFA, however his proposition that the Champions League be a league of ‘champions’, is one that could reinvigorate, what is in my eyes, an ailing competition. This proposal would look to change the way Champions League places are allocated throughout Europe, with other domestic competitions, the FA Cup in this instance, offering the chance of participation in Europe’s premier competition as a reward for victory.
This idea would potentially increase the desire of the biggest clubs to win the competition, while offering teams such as Everton or Tottenham, so often the bridesmaids and so rarely the brides with regards to the Champions League, an added incentive to win the competition which is so frequently seen as an opportunity to rest first team players in favour of exploits in the league.
The FA Cup has undoubtedly suffered due to the huge rise of the Premier League, and many fans would now much rather see their side stave off relegation, or finish fourth, than lift silverware at Wembley in what should be the Football Association’s showpiece. Only in football is finishing in fourth place so highly regarded, with play off places in other sports, and indeed the football league, only acting as a stepping stone into the high stakes crescendos which ‘winner takes all’ competitions create. Awarding a Champions League place to the winners of the FA Cup could potentially change all of this, with the biggest clubs striving to win it once again, and with giant-killings resembling the much storied upsets of yesteryear, as opposed to glorified pre-season friendlies in which Accrington Stanley play a Tottenham XI.
In the wake of Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement, we have heard everyone from Sir Bobby Charlton to Paul Jewell give their two cents on the fearsome Glaswegian. One thing we have heard from all of them is that Alex Ferguson is a winner. Winning, at the end of the day, is what matters in professional football, or so it should be, and by awarding the winners of the FA Cup an opportunity to test themselves in club football’s biggest competition, and the riches that come with it, the footballing establishment could re-establish the value of victory, and with it, re-establish the importance of the world football’s oldest competition.
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