Jon Dunham - Tradition counts for nothing as FA Cup loses its soul

Northamptonshire Telegraph's sports writers Jon Dunham, Jim Lyon and Alec Swann.
Northamptonshire Telegraph's sports writers Jon Dunham, Jim Lyon and Alec Swann.

It is a story every football fan will have told before. But let’s do it again..

If you are a big follower of the sport then there is every chance the FA Cup, and in particular, the FA Cup final would have played a big part in it. That is certainly the case for me.

I remember, at the age of nine, one of my first vivid memories of football being the semi-final between Crystal Palace and Liverpool in 1990.

That game was what the competition was all about. A lovely sunny day at Villa Park, the full focus being on that one match, an underdog against a giant and a seven-goal thriller won by Palace against all the odds. It was just brilliant, if that sort of game doesn’t get you hooked on football then nothing will.

But somewhere along the way, the tradition and magic of the FA Cup has been lost. In fact, it has had its soul ripped away.

Semi-finals being played at Wembley is one of the factors. The FA clearly have to justify the price paid for rebuilding the national stadium (which is a fantastic place to watch football by the way) and sticking the last-four matches there is all part of it.

A real shame in my eyes. Villa Park, for whatever reason, was always a brilliant venue for semi-finals, as was Old Trafford, the old Highbury and any other club ground that hosted one for that matter.

Clearly the priorities of the top clubs has changed the dynamic of the competition as well.

No longer is the FA Cup the second most important tournament on their calendar. The riches of the Champions League and the desire to finish fourth (yes fourth) in the Premier League is a whole lot more important than winning silverware.

It isn’t just the top clubs though. The financial benefits of staying in the Premier League and getting into it for that matter, are so huge that the sole focus of clubs in the lower reaches of the top flight and upper reaches of the Championship is on retaining or gaining a place amongst the elite.

But the FA don’t help themselves sometimes.

Just when you didn’t think it would be possible for them to annoy football fans any more, they make the kick-off time for this season’s final 5.15pm at Wembley – for a game that involves Manchester City and Wigan Athletic.

Fans of both clubs do, of course, have a choice. Their main one (and easiest one) would be to travel by train, unfortunately they might not be able to get home on the same day if they do that!

They could travel by coach or indeed, they could stay at home and watch it from the comfort of their own sofa. Any which way you look at it, a 5.15pm kick-off presents a problem for those fans who want to travel from the north-west to watch the game.

But the main issue I have with this is about tradition.

There was a time when the FA Cup final rounded off the season. It was the final day, it was a Saturday, it was a 3pm kick-off and there were no other games planned on the same day.

We surely all have memories of waking up early to watch the build-up from early in the morning right up until the game started. It was, and should always be, one of the most important days of the footballing year.

But tradition counts for little these days. What the fans want counts for virtually nothing. No, it’s all about what is right for big cheeses and making sure they make the right amount of bucks.

It is no wonder fans continue to lose faith with the sport that plays such a big part in their lives. Unfortunately, those who think they make the game tick couldn’t care less.