I love the FA Cup.
For me it will always be the greatest cup competition on earth.
I grew up in the 90s (was born mid-80s) in a working class family in North-East London. We did not have the money for Sky TV. That meant the only football I got to watch was the FA Cup.
It was actually the FA Cup that made me fall in love with The Arsenal.
Watching the FA Cup semi-final between Arsenal and Tottenham in 1991 as a 6-year-old, I had decided to support whoever loses (I grew up in a family with little interest in football). 6-year-old me’s favourite colour was also red, so I was hoping Arsenal would lose so that I could support them.
I do not remember the game but Arsenal lost, and from that moment I became an Arsenal fan.
My next real memory of Arsenal was the 1993 FA Cup Final.
Back in those days the FA Cup Final was an all day event. The BBC would start off in the teams hotel for breakfast, live broadcast the coaches going into the stadium players on the pitch and so on.
I remember being in my kit, going out to the garden to kick a balloon pretending I played for Arsenal – no player in particular. At this point in my life the only connection I had with Arsenal was the kits I was bought. From memory I had never watched another game on TV since 1991, and did not know the players.
It finished 1-1. I do not remember watching the replay. It was past my bedtime.
The 1994 European Cup Winners Cup followed and that was it, I was hooked. But it all came from the FA Cup.
My love affair with the competition leads me to being extremely offended with the way managers, the media and the FA themselves treat the competition.
For as long as I can remember, people have questioned “the magic of the cup” and talked about its decline. But clubs, TV companies and the authorities are killing it themselves.
In recent years we have seen more FA Cup games than ever be played on a Friday night, Saturday lunch time and Saturday afternoon.
3rd round FA Cup day used to be a day out. Sit in the pub with a huge accumulator watching the 3o’clock kick offs come in. With them now spread out over 4 days, it just is not the same.
The FA have removed the European place for the runners-up (if the winners had already qualified through the league). No longer will you get Millwall having a favourable run and going on a European tour.
A place in Europe was a well deserved prize for a lesser club if they had made it through to the final only to face and lose to one of the big boys.
The change happened from 2016, which denied Crystal Palace fans a European tour. Likewise Watford a couple of years ago; thrashed in the final, no European football to help drown their sorrows.
For clubs like Palace and Watford, a cup run was their best chance of European football. Hull City, Stoke City, Cardiff City & Southampton have all qualified for Europe in recent years having finished runners-up in the cup. By removing the chance of getting into Europe as losing finalists, the FA enforce the view that survival in the Premier League is more important.
We then have the clubs themselves.
I have no issues with managers putting out changed XIs in the cup. They have a squad of 25 players. It is there job to shuffle the pack and use them how they see fit. And with the top 6 especially, they have a wage bill of hundreds of millions and a squad filled with internationals.
What I can not stand is the managers moaning about the cup.
Over the years we have had many managers from all different clubs moaning about cup competition, moaning about replays. About how England should scrap either the League Cup or FA Cup.
These managers are usually those at the top end of the game, with a squad of internationals.
Instead of deflecting and moaning about replays, these managers should wonder why they were unable to beat a Shrewsbury Town or other lower league side at the first try.
The FA Cup is why I fell in love with football. It builds greater bonds for the children of Shrewsbury, Oxford and Exeter to their local club. Taking them out of the grasp of those super clubs that are hundreds of miles away.
The FA Cup is the fans competition. From non-league to Premier League. If you do not understand its importance in English football, then you do not understand English football.
I love the FA Cup