Where is the magic of the FA Cup?

Aston Villa v Arsenal - FA Cup Final

More people by the day are beginning to criticise the structure of the FA cup and question it's relevance in modern day football.

Top-tier teams are being widely scrutinised for the use of 'weakened' and 'experimental' sides and cynics like to put this down to a lack of importance. Has football really lost all of it's remaining romanticism, or is the FA cup still as exhilarating as ever without the same recognition?

With the first FA cup final being played out in 1872, it is the oldest association football competition in the world. Over the years, the competition has thrown up remarkable excitement for anyone from part-time football playing tradesmen to the best in the world.


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It is not just the semi-professional non-league players who can benefit from the excitement of such an experience, though. According to The Guardian's Sean Ingle, there were 62 occasions between the years 2000 and 2009 that resulted in lower league opposition beating top flight clubs.

These are occasions that footballers truly relish and really should not be undervalued as they so often are by those outside of the game. Clubs have also managed to reap the benefits beyond the realms of the pitch. Many regard the additional finances that the FA Cup produce to be what rescued clubs such as Macclesfield Town and Sheffield Wednesday from financial administration.

Where has the magic gone?

There are a few factors that have drawn criticism from multiple sources about what part the competition plays in the English game. One of those is the withdrawal of the Champions League place that was once on offer for the winners. The runner up would then qualify for the much-maligned Europa League.

Nowadays, winners will receive a Europa League spot, whilst the runners-up will have to settle for nothing. This immediately strips some of the joy gained by teams just reaching such an occasion as an FA cup final.

Perhaps the reinstatement of this would bring back some of that lost glory and passion. It would create the sort of invaluable experiences that Millwall supporters had the pleasure of experiencing when 2004 final defeat to Manchester United saw them qualify for the lesser European competition in 2004/2005.

FA Cup Final: Manchester United v Millwall

The fielding of 'weakened' teams causes much debate each time the FA cup rears its head. This does not necessarily have to be regarded as such a negative, though. Many of these players are frustrated professionals who are itching for their chance in the first team.

The remainder tends to be made up of returning injured first-teamers and exciting youth academy products. If the gruelling nature of the Premier League is not managing to provide a platform for these players to showcase themselves, then domestic cup competitions surely provide the perfect outlet.

Bring back the moments

Broadcasters tend to regularly use Ronnie Radford's wonder strike to help non-league Hereford to overturn top-flight Newcastle United in 1972. It is widely heralded as one of the greatest FA cup moments.

Throw into the mix the 1923 'White Horse Final', Ricky Villa's stunning solo effort in the 1981 final for Tottenham and not forgetting the famous crazy gang of 1988; then one can begin to understand what makes this competition special. It then becomes very easy to pursue the narrative that moments like this no longer happen.

Manchester United v Cambridge United - FA Cup Fourth Round Replay

Cambridge United's fans and players would have something to say about that after earning a fourth-round replay at Old Trafford in 2015. The same round of the same year saw League One's Bradford City overturn would-be Premier League champions, Chelsea.

In an interview with The Mirror, Bradford goal scoring hero Jonathan Stead said: “Football has a habit of throwing out special occasions every once in a while - especially in the FA Cup - and this has got to be one of the best of all time."

The magic of the FA cup is still there, it just perhaps takes a little more to recognise and acknowledge. It has become about more than just the clubs involved to orchestrate that magic, though.

Aston Villa v Arsenal - FA Cup Final

It is just as much down to the true admirers and romantics of the game to generate the passion and input that understanding onto the next generation of fans.

This, surely, is the only real way to successfully counteract the inevitable cynics who will not relent in their imperious scrutiny of this great competition.

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