The dream of every professional footballer...
This weekend was the 5th round of the most prestigious domestic cup competition in the world, The F.A. Cup. Well, 5th round and a bit of the 4th round. Actually, just some of the 5th round, with the rest to be played in a couple of weekends time. In fact, there is just one tie certain to go ahead, with just a further two teams qualified for certain for the quarter-finals.
Bad weather, other cup and league commitments have caused a fixture pile-up, leaving traditional 'Cup' weekends to be downgraded and lost in a sea of football. The prestige & glory of the competition has been superseded by survival in European competition & the Premier League.
It's time to bring the glamour back to the F.A. Cup. I doubt any of these suggestions will happen, due to the amount of money involved (and would subsequently have to be left on the table). However, if the F.A. are serious about making their Cup more relevant, like it was up until a few years ago, then they could do worse than follow these suggestions:
#5: Have a Winter Break, and extend the season
It's a 50-50 tie if you asked most managers whether it would be better to have a winter break during the season. For the past few years, the winter weather has become harsher, snowier and less hospitable. Even though most grounds have under-soil heating, and the necessary facilities to play the games in these conditions, traveling to and from the grounds has become so hazardous as to cause games to be abandoned and called off. Giving two weeks off from all football in January and adding them to the end of the season would make the F.A. Cup the last fixture in the domestic season, and return it to it's showpiece status that it deserves.
4: Fix tickets and ticket prices, especially for Premier League Teams
A shade over 7,000 saw the 4th Round Replay between Bolton and Wigan Athletic. To me, this would have been the perfect time to reach out to the community and give away tickets. Primary schools, secondary schools, raffle prizes for charities, anything to get rid of the tickets and get more people in the seats. The more people, especially children, in the seats, then the more secure the future of the club will be. Sow the seeds of the Beautiful Game in the minds of the young & watch as the next generation of fan base thrives for years to come.
In the same vein, if the clubs don't want to be charitable & give away tickets, then they could set prices for Family tickets or multiple games: 2 Adults & 2 Children for £xx, or "Buy One Ticket for the 4th Round, and Get A 5th Round ticket" as well. Once people are in the stadium, then worry about the product on the pitch, but make sure you get them in the stadium in the first place.
3: Don't Sell-Out. Give TV Rights to the best bidder, not the highest
Only two TV companies are capable of high-quality transmission of football/soccer games: the BBC & Sky. ITV have only proved they are unable to broadcast football adequately, cutting to ad breaks as goals go in, or just cutting transmission completely to put a sponsor on. Hosted by a disinterested Adrian Chiles, tedious discussions by ill-informed, bland ex-footballers, and commentators who spout a litany of cliches. Just let the BBC have the F.A. Cup, and the Nations Cup on the Nations Television Channel. By being at the forefront of the visual and digital revolution, the BBC have proved they are the perfect medium to bring the cup to the mass market again.
2: The F.A. Cup Final should only be played at 3pm on a Saturday Afternoon
This years F.A. Cup Final will start after 5pm, no doubt so it leads nicely into Primetime TV, for increased revenue potential and happy sponsors. But if the F.A. are serious about making the Cup relevant again, they need to go back to their roots. As I said before, give the BBC back coverage and start it at midday. Have them follow the teams as they leave the hotel, track them as they make their to the stadium, and have a stroll on the hallowed Wembley turf. Then, at 2.45pm, cue the anthem of the Cup, Abide with Me, and then at 3pm start the game. Sponsors be damned, stick with the tradition that made the cup regal in the first place and bring it back to it's majesty.
1: Bring back Semi-Finals on a Sunday...and don't have them at Wembley.
The Cup Final has been devalued by having the semi-finals at Wembley as well as the Final. As a consequence of having both semi-finals at Wembley, they have been moved to different days, a Saturday and Sunday. Getting to Wembley used to be a dream and a privilege, not as a reward for being a semi-finalist. There are so many world-class stadiums in the country, why shouldn't they be gifted the honour of hosting a semi-final? St James Park, The Stadium of Light, Hillsborough, Old Trafford, Anfield, Villa Park even the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, are all fit for the purpose. Have the games on one Sunday afternoon, give a boost to the economy of another British area other than Middlesex (not North London, Wembley is in Middlesex), let the FA Cup become part of peoples lives again rather than trying to fashion new glories to live off. Go back to making the Wembley the thing of dreams, the goal of every child, teen and modern-day footballer—not a theoretical cash cow in need of constant milking.