Another reason to blame Europe: the demise of the FA Cup

by Will ODoherty

Friday, February 18th, 2011

If ever you needed proof that the FA Cup has lost its lustre then this week should do the trick.

While people’s attentions have been firmly on the drama of the Champions League, the fifth round of the historic competition has arrived with almost no fanfare.

The biggest team in the country – sorry Liverpool fans – faces non-league Crawley while Leyton Orient (fresh from their screwing-over at the hands of Newham Council, West Ham United and the Olympic Park Legacy Company) play Arsenal, but there’s a distinct lack of romance in the air.

Crawley are no Sutton or Hereford United – bankrolled by mysterious foreign investors as they are and able to take their players to Portugal to prepare for the weekend – and while there would be a real sense of justice if the Os could progress, their opponents have already this week provided an underdog story big enough for most.

The neutrals will, of course, be getting behind the smaller teams as they always do but the sense of anticipation has gone out of the competition as with the notion that giant killing acts will enter English football’s folklore.

As with curvy bananas and good old-fashioned light bulbs, the demise of the FA Cup is Europe’s fault.

Back in the day, European competition was reserved for the very elite, the champions and cup winners, and while they played their knockout games, the rest of the country only had domestic cup competitions to break up relentless, rigorous league campaigns.

Seizing on the success of the mass-televising of the game, European competition was opened up to the country’s top six or seven sides in an effort to make as much money as possible, and the football public’s gaze was increasingly cast out to the continent, rather than its own inimitable cup.

The glamour of Europe has superseded the romance of the Cup and is it any wonder why? A competition pitching the best against the best with national pride thrown in has more to offer than a competition that nine times out of ten will be a cakewalk for the Big Four (as it was).

And that’s another way that Europe has tainted the competition, by allowing the routine qualifiers for the Champions League to further the quality gap between themselves and the rest, especially the sides from the Football League and below.

Arsene Wenger has never lost to a lower-league opponent while single wins for Spurs, Everton and Pompey are the only blemishes on Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and United’s 22-year monopoly on the trophy.

Barnsley showed us that giant-killing stories are still possible but their achievements never quite made it into the game’s legend like Ronnie Radford or Wrexham in 1992.

And if Crawley or the Orient to conquer their Goliaths there will be no lack of buzz but, with nights at the Nou Camp and San Siro ready to distract, those heroic acts will slip from the memory quicker than they used to, or perhaps should.

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