By Jack Peat, Editor of The London Economic
This weekend Britain’s football elite will embark on their FA cup journey after a typically jam-packed Festive schedule. While clubs across Europe manage to get some much-needed rest, the powers that be (BT Sport, BskyB) ensure professional footballers in Britain ply their trade (getting people to watch the telly) to the detriment of long-standing institutions such as the FA Cup, which is left to deal with a Premier League hangover following an excessive and unduly fixture list.
A full Premier League fixture list on Friday 26th, Sunday 28th and Thursday 1st means that come January 3rd the reserve team stands at the ready for most top-flight clubs, fatigue the more apt adjective for our ‘magical’ cup. The weather seems to be doing its utmost to postpone some of the fixtures with heavy rain foretasted for the remainder of the day, but regardless, we should be questioning whether the first weekend following a jam-packed Christmas period is a fit and proper date for what was once a prestigious event.
In my eyes, the magic of the FA Cup exists up until the third round. The preliminary qualifiers that begin before most Premier League stars have even thought about kicking a ball offer the ultimate prize to lowly clubs looking for a lucrative run, a sniff of the cameras in the first round or a sniff of the big dogs in the third. Today the newspaper headlines are centred around the North East coast where Blyth Spartans and Gateshead take on their respective ‘giants’, with Wrexham and Stoke City also causing a stir and the machine that is Adabayo Akinfenwa taking on press duties for AFC Wimbledon who face Liverpool at home.
But for the Premier League teams, a subdued sense of tamed anticipation seems to be all they can rouse ahead of the FA Cup third round proper. Steven Gerrard’s recent announcement that he is to leave Liverpool dominates headlines at the top, with only Louis van Gaal really driving any hype ahead of today’s fixture list under the misguided assumption that the trophy holds any semblance of superiority akin to the Dutch Cup or Copa del Rey. Truth is van, unless your considering a spell up at Croft Park, Premier League fans aren’t all that arsed until Wembley is in sight.
The giants of football (BT and BskyB) have ensured that today’s fixtures are just another blow to a cup that doesn’t hold the prestige of the Premier League. It’s the same reason we struggle internationally. So long as our national squad and our cup institutions remain the less lucrative by-product of the Premier League they will be forever trampled upon. First team players are for the cameras and not for an away fixture at AFC Wimbledon. Gerrard’s departure has made the headlines today, but the real tragedy is that his team’s trip to South London in the FA Cup has already become forgotten news.