An FA Cup upset used to be one of the most exciting events in football.
A little-known club with a tiny transfer budget and a small stadium, sticking it to a big club and emerging with a genuine scalp.
It’s what made the Cup magical – there was always the opportunity for an upset.
And that hasn’t changed. If we look back on the weekend’s Cup action we see Millwall beating Bournemouth, Wolves beating Stoke City and Derby County beating West Brom.
— Millwall FC (@MillwallFC) January 8, 2017
All boilovers. But no magic. So the question is: where has the magic gone?
For me, the problem is that the big clubs don’t believe or care in the FA Cup anymore, and that’s reflected in the team selections and general approach to the games.
Let’s take Bournemouth, for example. Eddie Howe played a weakened team away at Millwall, and his side were soundly beaten – which results in (at least) three things:
1) Bournemouth fans won’t enjoy a cup run
2) Bournemouth players won’t experience the latter stages of a domestic knockout tournament
3) The shine is taken off the Millwall win because they weren’t playing a ‘proper’ Premier League team.
No one wins. So why do they do it?
Millwall 3-0 Bournemouth FT:
Huge shock as Eddie Howe’s side are knocked out by the League 1 club. pic.twitter.com/1AEnd7dHJA
— Squawka News (@SquawkaNews) January 7, 2017
Well, the only plausible explanation is that Howe wanted to rest his players and prioritise the Premier League. Which on one level, I can understand.
After all, Premier League football means big bucks. Get relegated and you face a massive reduction on TV money.
And with that in mind, it makes sense that clubs at the bottom would be inclined to rest some players to prioritise Premier League survival.
But Bournemouth aren’t in that position. Neither are Stoke, nor West Brom.
All three of those clubs WILL survive this season. I’ll walk naked from Dean Court to Britannia Stadium via The Hawthorns if they don’t.
So if they’re going to survive, then why not play a full strength side and actually try and progress, actually try and win the competition?
For a midtable club, excitement can be hard to come by. You’re not involved in the title race, or the race for Europe, or even the fight for survival.
You just bob along.
But not with the FA Cup. Win the Cup, and your fans will never forget the feeling, never forget the day out at Wembley. I remember going to Wembley to watch my team win the cup, and it was the most indescribable feeling. I’ll always cherish it.
But many modern-day fans won’t experience it, because their clubs simply aren’t prepared to prioritise it. And that’s why the magic has gone.