Once considered the most prestigious of cup competitions, the Football Association Challenge Cup, better known as the FA Cup may be starting to lose its appeal. As the oldest national football competition in the world, it has build itself a very high reputation globally. That said, there are those who are questioning whether this competition is still as important as it has been historically or whether the magic and significance of this competition been lost over time?
The beauty of the FA Cup is that it gives an opportunity to teams of all levels to compete for a major trophy with over 700 teams entering annually. Generally teams based in the highest tiers of English football don’t enter the competition until the 3rd round, months after it began with the preliminary rounds featuring the non league sides and lower divisional teams. Reaching the FA Cup final and indeed winning it was once considered a must for most of the top tier sides, especially those that feature in the Premier League. But it’s now often viewed as a hinderance to their league ambitions whether that be competing for European places or simply surviving against the drop.
Whilst it could be argued that the FA cup is has lost some of its significance for the larger clubs, for the smaller clubs it remains a massive competition and in a lot of cases helps many of them to protect the future of their club. This is due to the prize money per round and the revenue potential from attendance gates (obviously not right now due to COVID-19 and fan restrictions) which can be significant enough to help keep a struggling club running, especially if they come up against a high reputation side e.g. a Premier League team. This was the situation with Marine FC this year. Having pocketed only £1,444 in prize money after beating North West Counties League side Barnoldswick Town in the qualifying rounds, Marine reach round 3 of the competition and were drawn against Premier League side Tottenham Hotspur at home. Despite losing the game 5-0, Marine netted over £75,000 which to the club was a ‘godsend’ allowing them to fund the club for a significant period of time beyond that game. As well as due to the money side and TV payment it can allow smaller teams to get their name out on a national scale and acquire/attract more fans for the club especially locals who may not have supported local previously.
It is a certainty that the FA Cup is still a very important competition within the English Football system, especially for lower league teams. That said, the reputation of the cup has definitely stunted to some extent with the decreased interest of the nations top sides. Thats not to say that the Premier League clubs have written off the tournament completely. To most, they still focus on this competition despite its drawbacks but adopt a different approach using it as a way to rotate their squad as seen by José Mourinho’s Tottenham side versus Marine FC which was a combination of first team/reserve players as well as some youth.
“The cup run has been a lifesaver for us financially for where we are in non-league.”
Marine FC Manager Neil Young about their FA Cup run, Jan 2021.
They do this to ensure the key players within their squad are rested for other competitions such as the league or in Europe but also to give a run out to those fringe players in the squad or blood youngsters into the first team. This helps to keep the entire squad happy as well as allowing the manager to test or try out new tactics. In certain cases, the cup can be used as a distraction from a poor league campaign and to boost morale and confidence. Wigan in 2013 are a great example of this. Struggling badly in the Premier League, Wigan focused on the FA Cup as a way of keeping the players together and morale high. They surprised many with their unlikely run to the final which they won with a late goal against favourites Manchester City. The FA Cup win came only three days before their final game of the season in the League which despite an uptake in form resulted in Wigan being relegated.