The Football Association Cup is often described as ‘magical’, but is it true that anything can really happen?
If you look at a list of the FA Cup winners, sorted by year, you’ll have to look all the way back to the 1979/80 season before you find a club who won – and wasn’t in the top division of English football. On that day, in 1980, 100,000 spectators saw West Ham United defeat Arsenal 1-0 at the original Wembley Stadium.
Since then, only four Football League sides have even reached the final, but all bar Queens Park Rangers in 1981 failed to score.
The last seven FA Cup finals have seen an all-Premier League affair, including Chelsea’s agonising victory over Portsmouth in 2010, which saw them complete the double.
All this tells me that either Football League clubs just simply cannot compete with Premier League clubs, or that they don’t try, and rather prioritise the League campaign.
When Championship clubs enter in the Third Round, they start with a 1 in 64 chance of winning. Of course, there are many other factors which alter the odds, but there are 64 teams at this stage in the tournament, and like the FA tell us, “anything can happen.”
The odds are even worse for League One and League Two clubs: they enter in Round One, and 48 clubs join the 32 winners from the previous round. Even if a Football League side progresses from the first and second round, they could still be knocked out by a club that hasn’t even entered the competition yet.
As the FA Cup whittles down, it seems to me that the cream rises to the top, and we’re left with just the most powerful clubs in England, and possibly a handful from Wales.
Of course, it is possible for a Football League club to go on an amazing cup run, but very rarely do these lead to lifting the trophy. In fact, none have, for 35 years. 35 years is an incredibly long time: Alton Towers theme park hadn’t been built yet, and Thatcher was British Prime Minister.
Cardiff City had a good cup run in the 2007/08 season, but unfortunately for them, they didn’t win in the final.
The FA Cup has a long tradition of lower-ranked teams becoming “giant-killers” by defeating opponents of a higher calibre. English football fans are renowned for often siding with the underdog, and to be honest, who doesn’t smile and laugh when a Football League side knocks out a Premier League heavyweight? Chasing the “giant-killer” status is capable of spurring on lower league sides in matches which appear to be perilous. Remember Bradford vs Chelsea recently?
As we can see with the Exeter City vs Liverpool game on Friday evening, bigger teams opt to field a weakened team – whether this is by choice or not – which can surely only increase the lower-ranked club’s chances of winning. Exeter City played without fear, full of confidence, as they earned themselves a day out in Merseyside by forcing a replay.
Furthermore, as the wealth gap increases between the richest and poorest clubs, the chances of winning the cup become slimmer and slimmer each year for the Football League clubs.
Nevertheless, Football League clubs can use their status to their advantage. Premier League clubs, and their players, are used to playing and training on state-of-the-art pitches in some of the biggest stadiums in the world. Sure, Chelsea, Manchester City and United, etc can all win the Cup, but could they do it if their stadium and pitch was of League Two standard? I guess that’s similar to the popular saying, “Barcelona may be the greatest team, but how could they get on at the Britannia on a cold, raining Tuesday evening?”
In the history of the FA Cup, only eight teams who were playing outside the top level of English football have gone on to win the competition. The Cup final has never been contested by two teams from outside the top division. Uniquely, in 2007/08, three of the four semi-finalists (Barnsley, Cardiff City and West Bromwich Albion), were from outside the top division, although the single Premier League team remaining, Portsmouth, went on to win the competition that year!
Undoubtedly, any club in England has a chance of winning the FA Cup, however some have more of a chance than others.
You have to be able to beat the best teams if you want to lift the silverware. If a Football League club can get lucky in the draws, and avoid big clubs, or inform teams, then they could reach the Quarter- or Semi-Final quite easily. Additionally, their players will have to have “the big-game mentality” and be able to provide a small upset in order to reach the final. Ultimately, the final will have to not be too difficult, and the manager’s tactics will have to be spot-on. All this, combined with the players remaining injury- and illness-free, may just be the winning formula for a Football League side. The players’ fitness levels must also be incredibly high, and the more prominent the club, the more chance they have. Just look at the Championship table, 2nd place Derby have reached the Fourth Round, but 2nd from the bottom Charlton, haven’t.
I know that in the 2012/13 season, Wigan were in the Premier League, and in the 2013/14 season, so were Hull City, however they were pitched up against Manchester City and Arsenal in the FA Cup finals of those years respectively. Wigan managed an upset, and Hull were so close. It is possible.
So to conclude, in my opinion, I would love to see a Football League club win the FA Cup within the next few years. It would be amazing for the neutrals, and would raise the profile of the Football League even more.
Furthermore, I believe that some of the Championship clubs stand a decent chance of going far in the FA Cup competition, however, the club’s owners often feel that promotion to the Premier League is more important than trying to win the FA Cup – often due to the fact that they are drawn to where the money is. It would be interesting to see how clubs would treat the FA Cup if the financial incentives were increased.
Alternatively, the same is true for clubs in the bottom third of the Premier League, they would rather ensure their Premier League status stays intact, than to risk a cup run. If a big, Premier League club set out to win the FA Cup, like Arsenal last season, then that will only make the situation more difficult for a Football League side. On the contrary, if no top-half Premier League clubs decide they want to focus on the FA Cup, then the likelihood of a Football League side going all the way increases. A lot of factors would need to nicely fall in to place, perfectly. Don’t forget that teams will already have participated in the League Cup, earlier in the season.
However, unfortunately, I don’t ever see a football club from League One or League Two winning the FA Cup. Sorry to the fans of those 48 clubs, but I feel that because they enter the competition so early, their financial status, the calibre of the players and other priorities that individual clubs may have, they will just be unable to win the Cup. Albeit, just because your club may be in League One or Two now, it doesn’t mean that they will never win the FA Cup. If they can rise through the leagues, then who knows what may happen in the future. Nevertheless, the FA Cup can provide some exciting days out for the fans, often seeing their club host an internationally-renowned club, or even a trip to their stadium.
Do you agree or disagree, or maybe have other views? Do you feel the FA Cup has lost its magic in recent years? I’d love to know, let me know in the comments section below.