Belfast Telegraph

Friday 22 August 2014

The FA Cup

It's the FA Cup Final on Saturday - not so long ago, the most important day in the football calendar.

Now it's a mere afterthought on planet football, light years behind the Champions League and Premier League in terms of prestige, marginally more important than the Carling Cup.

The FA Cup's demise runs roughly parallel to the Premier League's rise, from its inception in 1992.

It has already been mooted that next season's final will lose its once sacred 3pm slot, with television - that force which seemingly must always be obeyed - demanding a 5.30pm kick-off.

This season's final has been shunted forward to before the end of the Premier League programme to facilitate UEFA's required two-week break before the Champions League final at Wembley.

Ironically, Saturday's final brings together two sides absolutely desperate to win the famous old trophy.

Manchester City knocked out fierce rivals Manchester United in the semi-finals and the FA Cup represents a chance of a first trophy success since 1976.

Next season nouveau riche City will be expected to challenge for the Premier League title and Champions League, but for Saturday's opponents Stoke, the FA Cup is the most prestigious prize they can ever realistically hope to win.

For football fans, Cup final day used to be truly special.

Back in the 1970s and '80s the cup final was one of the few matches shown live on television.

What a contrast to today's wall-to-wall live football coverage.

Four decades ago, the build-up to the final started before 11am with both BBC and ITV showing the action.

Like many, I'd be glued to the television for all four hours, which reached a fever pitch of excitement as kick-off approached.

Legends were created in that one match, far more than in league games, then restricted to highlights only.

Will the FA Cup ever be returned to its former glory?

One possible saviour would have been the award of a Champions League place to the winners.

But that won't happen with the richest and most powerful clubs safeguarding their places at Europe's top table with qualification restricted to Premier League placings.

They want to retain the status quo - and crucially, have the power to do so.

So the FA Cup ain't what it used to be. But come Saturday evening, whoever wins it won't give a jot.

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