When Did the FA Cup Lose Its Magic?
Ronnie Radford is one of the most famous names in English football history. He never played for England. He never played top flight football. He was not a successful football manager. Ronnie Radford is famous because he scored one of the most famous goals of all time when he scored a 30-yard screamer for non-league Hereford against Division One Newcastle United in the third round of the FA Cup in 1972.
Radford's goal represents the glory years of the FA Cup. This Saturday, Chelsea take on Portsmouth in the final of a competition that has become much maligned in recent years.
At one time the FA Cup, the world's oldest competition, was considered to be on a par or even ahead of the League in terms of importance to a clubs fans. The trophy has since slid down the ranks and is now thought of by some in the same affection they have for the League Cup, another lowly-regarded competition.
The rot may possibly have set in with the advent of the Champions League. The Champions League became the premier competition and in 1997 qualification was changed so winning your domestic league was not necessary to qualify. This contributed to the abandonment of the European Cup Winners Cup and lessened the appeal of the UEFA Cup, the prize for winning the FA cup. The competition would have slipped in importance to many major clubs.
There is little prize money for winning the competition. Many struggling sides field weakened teams, putting greater emphasis on preserving their league status and reaping the financial rewards it brings. This has had a knock on effect of ever dwindling attendances at matches.
The most major blow to the FA Cup though, perhaps came in 2000. Manchester United elected to play in the inaugural World Club Championships in Brazil. Unfortunately, United's decision meant they would be unable to compete in the FA Cup. This was the first time in the competition's history a side of United's size and stature had opted out. This was a cruel blow to the credibility of the competition.
It can perhaps be argued though, the magic and beauty of the FA Cup was never about the big sides. The real stories were made in the early rounds: Hereford United knocking out Newcastle, Sutton United beating Coventry City in 1988, Wrexham, who had finished bottom of the entire football league, defeating First Division champions Arsenal in 1992.
Even the final itself has featured upsets, such as Wimbledon's cup victory in 1988 against Liverpool, and Southampton beating Manchester United in 1976.
For non-league and lower league sides, a good cup run can still be important to securing their financial future for the season and possibly beyond whilst giving the fans their own legendary tales to tell of the club.
The magic is still there, you just need to look in the right places.
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