It is Third Round weekend in the FA Cup, and you can be sure of one thing, over the next few days the mainstream media will be talking non-stop about the romance and magic of the FA Cup while simultaneously making decisions which help to undermine the famous competition.
For example, why choose Manchester United v Reading for television coverage rather than League Two leaders Lincoln City’s visit to the Premier League’s out of form Everton? We all know the answer but it doesn’t make it any less palatable.
The FA themselves, now just the tail to the Premier League dog, will join in the chorus of the celebration of one of English Football’s great traditions. They will do so in the immediate aftermath of deciding to move multiple matches kickoff times from the customary three o’clock Saturday to please overseas television viewers and scrapping fifth-round replays in a double whammy two finger salute to all match-going supporters and lower league clubs.
The FA Cup has been an irritant for the so-called big six clubs in this country for some time. It doesn’t stop them winning it, but you get the feeling that is often despite themselves.
Supporters of mid-table Premier League clubs see an opportunity to get to Wembley, break up the monotony of another mid-table finish and win something. However, their foreign owners and managers can only see the money involved in staying in the Premier League. As a result, they ‘rotate their squads’ and fail to challenge the top six, one of whom will invariably lift the cup come May.
In the Championship, the clubs who want a share of the Premier League millions also field weaker teams, apathetic as to the result, in the hope they will go out early so they can concentrate on chasing the Premier League money. In the 1970s three clubs from outside the top flight achieved glory and won the cup, but no one has triumphed from the second tier since West Ham Beat Arsenal in 1980. Not only that but in the thirty-eight seasons since only five clubs outside the current top six have tasted success at Wembley.
So is the magic dead? Not it would appear if you support a club in the real EFL. A cursory glance at the websites of Grimsby Town and Lincoln City reveals that both have sold over 5,500 tickets for their trips to Crystal Palace and Everton respectively. Tranmere have sold out at Prenton Park for the visit of Spurs and Oldham are closing in on taking 4000 to Fulham. They are quite remarkable figures and show just what a big draw means to such clubs supporters. Its almost like you have been invited to be a guest at a party with someone from another planet, and you can’t miss out. A rare and exciting opportunity to view your team against players whose talent commands salaries the average lower league player or supporter can only dream.
However, it’s not just that. There is a chance one of these teams might get a result and make history. I bet if you ask any Lincoln supporter who was at Turf Moor in 2017 what they felt that day when they famously beat Burnley in the Fifth Round they would say it was one of the best days of their football supporting lives. Magic does still happen, and all the clubs involved from the lower leagues will be hoping to get the names in lights. They will invariably bite their tongue as some smooth young presenter from the BBC or BT Sport asks them patronising question after patronising question about football outside the self-proclaimed greatest league in the world, smile politely, enjoy the limelight and then quietly pocket the money on offer in the competition.
Because this is a significant reason why the magic remains amongst the EFLs bottom two tiers, even with the increase in prize money this year the numbers involved are pin money to the Premier League, but as Lincoln showed when still in the National League, the money generated from a successful cup run can help transform a lower league club. The Imps used the proceeds of their historic journey to the quarter-finals to fund the development of a brand new £1.4 million training ground.
Not only, this but whatever the result, a glamorous FA Cup tie often gives long-suffering supporters a memorable day out and a chance to show the sanitised fans of the Premier League how real support looks and sounds. So if your club is involved this weekend, enjoy the day, keep it loud and proud and help keep the magic and romance of the FA Cup alive.