Saving the FA Cup

The FA Cup is dying. How can it be restored to its former glory?

There’s no doubt that the FA Cup is struggling. It’s been in decline for a number of years with big clubs and their fans looking on it very much as a lower priority after the Premier League and UEFA Champions League. I’d even go as far as saying that it’s not third after those 2 tournaments. Finishing in the top 4 and qualifying for next season’s Champions League is valued above it. There’s currently talk of getting rid of FA Cup replays due to fixture congestion, which shows that it’s clearly seen as an inconvenience rather than an opportunity to some clubs.

Sadly, it all comes down to money. The FA Cup games don’t have the same international interest and generate the same sort of money from TV rights. The prize money isn’t at a level where it makes top clubs stop and take notice. It’s a drop in the ocean compared with TV money. So, the answer to reviving the big clubs’ interest in the competition lies in creating an incentive for them.

One idea that I’ve heard discussed is giving the winner entry into the Champions League – reducing the top 4 league positions to a top 3 and giving the fourth place to the cup winners. This would certainly create the incentive but a cup competition by its very nature has an element of luck and it would result in weaker teams getting lucky and finding their way into the Champions League, only to find themselves completely out of their depth and knocked out in the first round. Surely, we should have our strongest teams representing us in Europe?

Could the Premier League TV money, instead of being split into 20 shares, be split into 21 with the last one going to the FA Cup winner? In theory this could be done but would require the agreement of all of the clubs and some may prefer to bank the extra 20th rather than gamble on winning the cup or risk one of their rivals gaining a double share.

Could the FA cup be worth 3 league points so would give the winner an advantage going into the following season? Teams can be punished for going into administration or fielding ineligible players by having points deducted so why not award points for a positive achievement like best fair play record or winning the cup – carrot instead of stick? I’m sure all clubs would consider this a prize worth fighting for.

Looking at it another way, is the lack of interest by the bigger clubs, who regularly put out second string teams, a good thing? Does this give smaller clubs the chance of progressing further in the tournament and ever-so-slightly redressing the balance of financial power in the game? Does it give young squad players who spend their lives in the reserves or on the bench a chance to shine?

My feeling is that in the end these things have a natural way of sorting themselves out. The closing of one door opens another. If the big clubs and their fans aren’t as interested as they once were, it’s their loss. Someone else will enjoy their day at Wembley.