The unfamiliar mild weather of January has at last been replaced with the traditional biting cold winds and sub-zero temperatures the UK knows only too well. This can only mean one thing; we are well and truly immersed in FA Cup season.
It has a feel of the mid-80s. The exhilaration of the oldest association football competition in the world is back. Televised games are anticipated to a level they haven’t been for years. Players even have a retro 80s feel about them; Will Buckley of Brighton with his unkempt locks and effective old fashioned wing play brings is a prime example.
The big boys are in; and in some cases already out, often succumbing to lower league opposition. The thrill of the draw is back too. The nervous shakes as you wait for your teams’ number to be drawn echoes of a time when the late Sir Bert Millichip, former FA Chairman, would proudly announce the home teams, standing over the famous velvet bag.
But sadly, it feels like I’m in a minority. Again, the annual debate about whether the FA Cup holds any significance to Premier League clubs is drawn out amongst high profile commentators and journalists.
If current players, who grew up surrounded by the romance and tradition of the FA Cup, feel its holds no importance, then I think there is something mentally ill about them. Being a professional player now and saying you hold no sentiment towards this historic competition is almost like saying you feel nothing when you visit a place of a memorable childhood or romantic experience. In other words, it means you’re cold, and soulless. Gladly though, I don’t think players feel this way; with squads now so big the power to play in such ties is out of their hands. They do what they’re told. No questions asked.
But there is a problem here; this could be the last generation that feels so ardently towards the FA Cup. Young fans watching our professional game must look at it and wonder what the point is of this competition. Does it get in the way of other priorities to younger fans who are overawed by the glamour of the Champions League and Premier League? Do our young fans even know that the FA Cup started with 763 teams this season, back in August 2011 as non-league teams battle it out in the qualifying rounds? Name another competition with such a vast amount of competitors in any sport and in any country…
Take young Wolves fans as an example. Earlier on in the competition, their team was drawn away to Birmingham – what some would say as a feisty and tasty looking Midlands derby. The BBC and ITV obviously thought so; both showing the first game and the replay live respectively. However, Wolves manager Mick McCarthy made no less than 11 changes for the original tie at St Andrews in what finished a drab 0-0 draw in front of a half empty stadium.
McCarthy is offering his fans no optimism for any cup glory and absolutely no respite from dodgy relegation battles. The younger fans of famous old Wolverhampton Wanderers Football Club must wonder what the necessity of the FA Cup is all about. I wish they were an isolated example, but they’re not.
Soon, this younger generation, brought up without the romance of the FA Cup, will solely rely on money-spinning competitions such as the Champions League to provide their entertainment, ammo for banter on the school field and more importantly, their passion for the game.
In Sussex, thanks to the current cup runs of both Brighton and Crawley, cup fever is sweeping the county once again. We can let the tradition of this old knock-out competition sweep us of our feet amidst the drama, tension, heartbreak and the glory. We are giving our younger generations and fans of football a chance to fall in love with the FA Cup again, breeding and educating new communities who understand its importance and history. The profiles of future football fans hinge on how we accept the FA Cup now, today.
It is the definition of football. It deserves our respect, and it deserves our love.