SO here we are again. Stuffy faceless blokes in suits wanting to rewrite the game we love with moves that seem to benefit the few and ignore the many.
This talk of scrapping FA Cup replays, consigning cup weekends to the bin with rounds played midweek instead and reducing League Cup semi-finals to one leg, who is it good for?
The pitch in the initial media reports was that the English season at the highest level features too much football with the consequence of leaving the national team “tired” for summer tournaments.
So presumably shaving off the odd replay and a leg of a semi-final will be like a wrap of amphetamine delivered to a dancer on a Saturday night?
All of a sudden, a nation that hasn’t troubled the world order of football since 1966 will be miraculously recharged as a superpower, wiggling her way past all before her before going home with crown in tow and leaving the globe gobsmacked.
We’ll raise as one and salute the football authorities. Job done, lads. You were right. No-one cares about the FA Cup and the League Cup now, but the coupe du monde sure makes up for it.
It seems unlikely.
Alternatively then, instead of messing around with formats that have served football for decades why don’t these boardroom geniuses consider the man they put at the top of the game in this country: Roy Hodgson.
It’s not cup replays and two-legged semis that are past their sell-by, it’s that pre-historic, wire-wool headed dinosaur. He symbolises everything that is wrong with the FA and its out-of-touch set up.
Away from the man with Shredded Wheat for hair, these suggestions — conveniently scatter-bombed around the media via “sources” — stink of a plan cooked up by the big clubs; the self-serving cartel that wants the big to get bigger and stuff the small.
The disdain for both FA Cup and League Cup has been all too clear in recent years from the bigger clubs and there is now a perennial debate about how to “fix” competitions that have cheered up towns and cities, put smiles on the faces of supporters and left players with a moment, and a medal, to cherish when their legs pack in.
While once streets where dressed with tin-foil cups, scarves and flags, now the FA Cup means understrength sides, moans about fixtures, excuses that don’t sit right and pieces about fourth place in the Premier League being the trophyless trophy we all really want. Not me.
Fans have tolerated it all because finals are still a big deal. Cups still make heroes. And both competitions can create times to recall with glee when you’re cracking open the Werthers Originals and trying to convince the little people in your family that it’s all worthwhile.
What the “debate” over both cups’ worth really comes down to is money. For the big boys, finishing higher in the league brings in more cash than winning The FA Cup. So forget the sport, forget the drama, forget the fans and forget the history — qualifying for, and playing in, the Champions League is the be all and end all. It’s been manufactured that way.
Perhaps then that’s what needs to be “fixed”.
In 2013-14, Arsenal won the FA Cup, finished fourth in the Premier League and lost to Bayern Munich over two legs in the “Round of 16” (any need?) in the Champions League.
That string of achievement boosted the Gunners’ coffers to the tune of £302million from TV and prize money with the Premier League the most lucrative source (£93m), followed by The Champions League (£23m) and The FA Cup (£4.2m).
Winning the world’s oldest knockout tournament at Wembley was worth less than two per cent of their annual revenue to Arsenal. Cut through the bullshit and that’s the bottom line; that’s what the rich clubs are bothered about and that’s why the blokes with the power are pandering to the kick-our-cups-out-of-football agenda.
We’ve seen it at Liverpool. A swift change in Jürgen Klopp’s thinking that left cynics, like me, wondering if there was a word from upstairs. Could he have played stronger sides in the FA Cup? Could he at least have picked a stronger bench? Of course he could.
But if his paymasters say that ultimately the competition is an irrelevance to them, something suggested by Ian Ayre in the wake of Kenny Dalglish’s sacking, then what is he to do?
So enough now. Further changes to two competitions that have given Liverpool fans plenty of days of joy — and hopefully one more on Sunday — should be avoided.
Perhaps I’m looking at it from a different perspective than many. Not just because of my age (40 soon, shit) and the FA Cup and League Cup wins that brought me so much hapiness, but because I’ve seen close up the impact the FA Cup has lower down the pyramid both as a fan (of the now defunct Knowsley United) and a reporter (covering Marine).
FA Cup replays are a godsend for clubs where £4.2m isn’t something you shrug your shoulders at and send out the stiffs.
Take Warrington Town of the snappily-titled Northern Premier League Division One North for example.
The club’s 2014-5 FA Cup run — which included televised ties against Exeter and Gateshead — earned the club, according to the BBC, £190,000.
Warrington’s total turnover for the season before, 2013-14, was £115,000 in total.
Cambridge United is another example. With the £1.3m the club made on two FA Cup ties with Manchester United, the League Two side was able to improve its facilities, including the changing rooms.
Going back to Knowsley United, the club sold Mike Marsh to Liverpool for about £50,000. It paid for seats for the stand, above, and floodlight bulbs.
Many lower league and non-league clubs live a hand-to-mouth existence — they need every penny they can get. The big FA Cup weekends — and the replays — can mean the difference between black and red on the balance sheet.
Mess about — again — with a competition that has already suffered a string of kicks in the balls (Manchester United jibbing it, scrapping semi-final and final replays, moving it from its traditional Saturday slot and so on) and how much longer will the appetite remain to show the games live? When will fans finally write it off as a pot lacking prestige and stay away en masse?
At some point there will be a step too far. A tipping point. So let’s stop stepping and preserve tradition while there remains a chance to do so.
The FA Cup has a great tradition that has been treaded deep into the dirt by the all-consuming Champions League. The much-talked about proposals being bandied about for the competition sound like another step towards a trophy first lifted in 1872 heading for the scrapheap.
On the radio at the weekend there was talk of the rule that means clubs can’t schedule a replay on the same night that a Champions League or Europa League game is being played.
How about some balls from the English football executives on that particular nonsense? Plenty of football fans in England couldn’t a flying one about a Champions League game that doesn’t involve their own club. So play the games.
The latest round of discussion designed to degrade two classic cups also ignores that the clubs supposedly “suffering” as a result of competing in the competitions tend to have the squads to cope.
With the cash washing around the Premier League, especially next season, every club will surely have 25 pros to choose from. So where’s the fire?
Successful teams have always played a lot of games. Champions League winners Barcelona played 61 last season. Top=flight teams in England played on average 47.
When Liverpool won the European Cup in 1984 the Reds played 67 games.
If there is a concern about too much football, how about binning the pointless internationals? Who really cares about them? What are they for?
Further booting The FA Cup and The League Cup seems the easy way out for football jet-setters with little concern for the overall good of the game.
Ronnie Radford? A replay. The 4-4 with Everton? A replay.
And having The FA Cup as a midweek competition, or at least some rounds of it? Taking the piss. The weekend devoted to it makes it special, makes us watch, makes it an event.
Perhaps the well-paid execs can do something for the good of the English game by actually recognising what has made the English game special.
Wembley’s Twin Towers were demolished to make way for an arch. Semi-finals at Wembley further ruined the romance. Torching more tradition in the name of so-called “progress”? Leave the cups as they are.