November 04, 2011

Is It Just Me?

BILL THE BIRO on a football institution


When I first started taking an interest in watching football (before I got into Pools), that meant watching it on telly. In those days football on television meant one of two things: either international matches, or the FA Cup Final. There weren’t even any footy highlight shows - Shoot! and George Taylor were still a few years in the future. Then, as now, international matches came along fairly regularly, but the highlight of each season was always the FA Cup Final. I’ve always been hopeless at remembering sporting facts, but the Cup Finals of the 1950’s and 1960’s became etched in my memory, even the ones I never saw.

It’s only comparatively recently that I learned that the FA Cup was not only the very first cup competition in the world, but also the very first football competition of any kind. But back in the late ‘50s, the Cup Final excitement lay in its exclusivity - it was the only live club match that appeared on television, and you could watch it once every 365 days (most years).

So it was special. We looked forward to it, and it was usually a great disappointment, but a mere 12 months later we’d have forgotten that, as the excitement built up again."We looked forward to it, and it was usually a great disappointment, but a mere 12 months later we’d have forgotten that, as the excitement built up again"

Now we move forward a few decades, when live matches are available on television all the time, the Champions League lasts most of the season, and the FA Cup seems to be unable to compete.

Pools are still in “the lower leagues” that they were in all those years ago, but I, as a Poolie, now no longer view the FA Cup as a great sporting event, just an irritation that spoils the November fixtures. Perhaps there’s an element of disdain for the Premiership, from whose ranks the winners usually come. Perhaps there are too many memories of first-round exits to non-league opposition. Perhaps the Johnstone’s Paints Trophy, being less prestigious but more winnable (not that, as a Poolie you’d notice), seems more worthwhile. For whatever reason, I’ve fallen out of love with the FA Cup.

These days it’s sad that what was a great tradition is now just used for what the participants can get out of it. It’s a nuisance to the top two divisions, but it’s a way into Europe. It’s a nuisance to everybody else, but it’s a way to a lot of money.

After its first 140 years, I can’t predict what the future holds for the FA Cup, but I think it needs to find some magic if it is to make 150 years.