Did anyone win FA Cup bingo at the weekend?

Ben Mountain

The glory days of the FA Cup sound like a truly marvelous time. Old Wembley packed to the rafters as over 100,000 fans gave up watching the entire day’s televised dedication to the final for watching their team, live in the flesh, furiously fighting for something they truly cared for. But times have changed. And apart from your grandad, does anyone really care for the FA Cup anymore?

In short we suppose that, yes, they must. Some disinterested member of the Royal Family gets to grace the scummy commoners as ‘Abide With Me’ is droned out whilst a genuinely talented singer does their best to beat the tuneless crowd in possibly the biggest performance of their life. So, there’s definitely one person who cares; we’re not sure if Lizzy’s family can actually count, however. The rest are the likes of John Motson, who tearily gets to recall moments of nostalgia and trot out his favourite cup-themed facts and stats, made important simply because they’re cup-themed facts and stats. Then there’s the producer at the BBC who gets to make a weird advert, usually involving some perverse puppet or radio DJ pretending to give two about a football team they’ve been assigned to for the day. But other than them – oh, and of course your aforementioned grandad – we can’t imagine anyone really caring anymore.

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Least of all the big clubs who compete.

Back in the day, the FA Cup was the cup to win. No importance to the League Cup or whatever it’s called now.. Just that glorious competition for all teams, running beautifully from December to May. You had the minnows pitted against the country’s titans, your mate, Steve, across the road got to say that he’d played in the FA Cup as even his lowly semi-pro team had a run out in the preliminaries and everyone in the country loved it; clubs and players included. It was the epitome of passion and desire on a football pitch.

Sadly, nowadays, ‘the magic of the FA Cup’ seems to have faded somewhat. This so called ‘magic’ simply refers to Bradford doing better than expected each season, and maybe old Steve getting a second run-out. Nothing special then. It would appear that this magic has been dampened. Less Houdini, more Hou-gives-a-crap.

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Friday saw the first proper round of the cup commence; that infamous third round. The big boys from the Premier League had begrudgingly waded their way in. The tension in the air was far from tangible. But, anyway, it is the cup, let’s all trot out some old nostalgic adages – Motty style – and settle down for historic giant-killings and for men to be made mortals. The velvet bag had been folded away and people across the country held their breath in anticipation of glory, tragedy and elation.

It didn’t disappoint…

Said giant-killings were aplenty. Tremendous titans of the game were felled – oh, hang on. Wait. This wasn’t in the script. Erm, Sutton United drew with AFC Wimbeldon, guys? A Liverpool squad who couldn’t care less grinded out a tiresome bore-draw with Plymouth… Ah, wait, we’ve got one: Millwall beat Bournemouth. No, sorry, we couldn’t do any better than that. This is very awkward indeed. Where were all the surprises that we totally weren’t expecting?

The FA Cup has been killed stone-dead. Premier League teams, each year, carry out a routine win over clubs far smaller than them. Chelsea over Peterborough, Manchester United over Reading, Manchester City over insignificant minnows, West Ham. Little lads, excuse the patronising, like Eastleigh, Barrow and Stourbridge get their day out and get to say to the cameras how great it is for ‘clubs like us to have days like these’ yada, yada, yada. FA Cup idiom bingo: cross off your first box of the year.

The cup has become a weary, tiring spectacle that glorifies what can only be expected when big clubs, who often aren’t too interested, are pitted against that durable devil again, Steve and Co. from down the road, who are well up for it. Naturally, these bigger clubs will lose a game or two. A random estimation of how many? Perhaps about the number of giant-killings per cup that we see anyway. It’s just inevitable, an they don’t really care. Although, whilst it’s fun to watch the overpaid primadonnas get their haircuts ruined as they’re toppled by a dodgy National League pitch, it’s not magical. The hopes of the nation’s new favourite minnows are almost always dashed in the next round when they either lose or draw another bunch of amateurs, equally expecting to have been trotting out under the lights of Old Trafford.

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Yet, each year we get subjected to harking on about how the X FC full-back is actually a gardener and how the lads had to chip in for a Megabus home and how the gaffer runs a crappy pub and how so-and-so had trials at Arsenal and how what’s-his-face’s Mum is their biggest fan and how they’ve got a local dog as their mascot and now Steve’s back doing cartwheels on TV and Christ your bingo is doing well by now, surely. It’s tired, it’s old, its the bloody FA Cup again.

Realistically, we love all the hype and buzz around the spectacle, but it’s ruined now by the effort of the media not being mirrored by the managers and players alike who simply don’t care. Giant-killings become expected. They’re never spectacular, anyway. It’s just big clubs not turning up on the day. Who were the last minnows to lift the trophy, anyway? ‘Wigan then Portsmouth’! I hear you clever-clogs cry out. But both were Premier League at the time. ‘Well, Wimbeldon had only been in the football league for 11 years when they beat Liverpool to win it, so have that’ I hear the even cleverer-clogs of you bawl in a fact recollection frenzy. Correct, though they too were in the top flight and that was almost 30 years ago. That’s genuine ‘magic of the cup’ territory, that.

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So, yes we like the velvet bag, ‘Abide With Me’, nostalgia-frantic Motty, Stevie boy and also the great arch of Wembley – wait, bingo! – just as much as the rest. But for how much longer will these little trivialities support this ancient cup? History and tradition can only do so much when the fans are growing tired. And they are growing tired. How many of you watched the cup highlights show, hmm? We’re fearful, too. Football does have a great place for history and tradition, the FA Cup is truly needed for the sport. But as it is right now? It’s going down the drain and something needs to change.

So, here’s an idea. Along with us, the big clubs need to start caring again. They need reminding of who they play the game for, the people that every single game means something to; be it Champions League or the cup’s third round. They need to fear the embarrassment of a giant-killing, like we do, and be unavoidably drawn to the glory of winning the cup as their fans once were. As a side note, we need to drop the League Cup, too, but that’s for another day. Anyway. once the lost passion comes back into the player’s hearts and the teams stop looking like they were randomly picked from the reserves: the cup will return to its former glory, its golden era. Then, who knows; perhaps we, the grandchildren, will one day become the grandparents who tell the stories about a packed Wembley and players fighting for something they truly cared for. Perhaps then we can sing ‘Abide With Me’ with pride and idioms can fly around with honour again. Come on, for Motty, for over-referenced Steve, let’s start caring about the FA Cup again.

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