Keeping the Cup alive
Football Pubcast listener James Welham looks at how to improve the standing of the FA Cup in the modern game.
FA Cup 3rd round weekend is nearly here; for many fans one of the biggest weekends in the football year.
And, like every other year, the same hand-wringing about the FA Cup no longer being as important as it was, that it is an unwelcome distraction for many Premier League teams. Attendances at the majority of grounds will be lower than average this weekend and reserve goalkeepers will get their first run out of the season. There will be plenty of harking back to the halcyon days of the FA Cup, when it was shared around by a wide variety of clubs, rather than just being won by Chelsea every year. (Although the years have lent a certain amount of false nostalgia to the Cup; West Ham, Coventry and Wimbledon all won it in the 1980s, but those minnows Liverpool, Manchester United and Tottenham each won it twice).
The FA Cup does still matter and the game as a whole should do what it can to strengthen it. The FA Cup’s strongest suits are its history and heritage and as much should be made of these elements as possible. So how do we ensure that the heritage lives on? ESPN have done the FA Cup a great service with their recent advert that features Lawrie Sanchez, Ricky George, Roy Essandoh and other heroes of the competition. You can be sure that Saturday’s papers will run features and pictures of the likes of Dickie Guy, Ronnie Radford and the good old White Horse.
How about something more permanent though? One of the most iconic FA Cup moments was the famous 1953 ‘Matthews Final’ when (later Sir) Stanley Matthews inspired Blackpool to victory. Stan Mortensen of course scored a hat-trick, but that final will always belong to Matthews and he has become synonymous with FA Cup Final brilliance. With that in mind, the FA should inaugurate the ‘Stanley Matthews Medal’ for the man of the match in the final.
To followers of rugby league this will be nothing new. The man of the match in the Challenge Cup Final, as selected by the press, is presented with the Lane Todd Trophy as a nod to the former Kiwi legend. Young followers of the game wonder who this Todd chap was, get a quick history lesson and can instantly make a connection with the game’s past. Presenting the Stanley Matthews Medal would do the same for the FA Cup – add to the narrative of the competition, respect its history and honour the first footballing knight.
Rugby league always gets a bit of a hard time from the world of football and in certain respects it is justified. Only three international sides capable of winning the World Cup. Mostly confined to the M62 corridor. Those daft nicknames (ladies and gentlemen, the Leeds Rhinos!). However, maybe, just maybe, football could learn something from its distant cousin.
Follow James on Twitter @jameswelham