Robert Osbourn takes a look at the FA Cup from a fans perspective
In these modern times, you might be forgiven for thinking that the romance and magic of the cup has been lost, subsumed into the ubiquitous world of television sport, which offers those with the right box and signup package access to every football game where cameras are allowed in; top ranked rugby; almost every golf tournament in the world, motor sport, cricket, tennis – there is no end to it.
There was the decision of one club, Manchester United, not to take part in the FA Cup one time, a few years back, but it was soon overturned and they rapidly returned to the fold.
The television era with its transformational skewing of funding for football and the seeming inability of the sport’s governing institutions to offset the strength of the Premiership versus the rest of the footballing pyramid makes the competition potentially even more rewarding for the rest of us.
There is no doubt that football clubs at all levels have had to reassess how they can survive, let alone thrive, and what they offer to “customers” has had to improve, since results alone do not attract people through the turnstiles. Those which have been slow to realise that and to implement change have, generally, been the losers, whereas clubs which have understood the necessity of improving the matchday experience for fans are starting to reap the benefits, through sustained attendances. Fully appreciated fans who feel welcome are a key ingredient in successful football businesses.
It is sometimes said that knockout competitions provide an unwanted distraction from the serious stuff of league competition and that they place too much of a burden on the organisation and players. In reality, though, cup competitions can set challenges which strengthen a club. Our own experience of a season in which winning the FA Trophy also set up a second Wembley success in the playoff final and an end to the wilderness years is testament enough to that.
One thing that television does allow us is the chance to experience the potential drama of the FA draw and, whilst many occasions have been a let-down in that respect, with away ties at relatively unattractive opposition, few will forget last year’s 3rd round draw or the two matches which followed it.
For some while, U’s fans were congratulated by their friends and colleagues who, at other times, might have looked uncomprehending at our loyalties. And how many of them wanted tickets for those games, eh? Whilst the likelihood of a return to Old Trafford this year might be relatively miniscule, maybe we might settle for the Emirates, if the opportunity comes around?
However, let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves, as today is the 1st Round and there is the need to focus on achieving progression. For our visitors, today’s encounter will be a welcome distraction from their early season league difficulties, without the pressure of expectation and the prospect of a happy outcome. For home fans, it is a diversion from our own preoccupations, together with the knowledge that a successful cup run can be the catalyst for success more generally.
It is an opportunity to see if the magic can be rekindled.
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