Talking Sport: Why popularity of football in the future hangs on the FA Cup

Fans queue for tickets for Crawley's Cup tie with Stoke, but do the younger generation 'get' the Cup? Picture by Jon Rigby
Fans queue for tickets for Crawley's Cup tie with Stoke, but do the younger generation 'get' the Cup? Picture by Jon Rigby

The unfamiliar mild weather of January has at last been replaced with the traditional biting cold winds and sub-zero temperatures the UK knows only too well, writes Craig Peters. This can only mean one thing; we are well and truly immersed in FA Cup season.

It has a feel of the mid-80s. The exhilaration of the oldest association football competition in the world is back.

Televised games are anticipated more keenly than ever. Players even have a retro 80s feel about them - Will Buckley of Brighton with his unkempt locks and effective old-fashioned wing play is a prime example.

The big boys are in and, in some cases, already out, often succumbing to lower-league opposition. The thrill of the draw is back, too. The nervous shakes as you wait for your team’s number to be drawn echoes of a time when the late Sir Bert Millichip, former FA chairman, would proudly announce the home teams, standing over the famous velvet bag.

But sadly, it feels like I’m in a minority here. Again, the annual debate about whether the FA Cup holds any significance to Premier League clubs is drawn out among high-profile commentators and journalists.

If current players, who grew up surrounded by the romance and tradition of the FA Cup, feel it holds no importance, then I think there must be something wrong with them. Being a professional player now and saying you hold no allegiance towards this historic competition is almost like saying you feel nothing when you visit a place of a memorable childhood or romantic experience. You must be cold, soulless.

Gladly, though, I don’t think players feel this way. With squads now so big, the option of playing in such ties is out of their hands. They do what they’re told. No questions asked.

But there is a problem here: this could be the last generation who feel so ardently about the FA Cup. Young fans watching our professional game must look at it and wonder what the point is of this competition.

Does it get in the way of other priorities of younger fans who are over-awed by the glamour of the Champions League and Premier League? Do our young fans even know that the FA Cup started with 763 teams this season, back in August 2011, as non-league teams battle it out in the qualifying rounds? Name another competition with such a vast number and wide range of competitors in any sport, in any country.

Take young Wolves fans as an example. Earlier on in the competition, their team was drawn away to Birmingham – it’s what some would see as a potentially-feisty and tasty-looking Midlands derby.

TV bosses thought so, showing the first game and the replay live respectively. However, Wolves manager Mick McCarthy made no less than 11 changes for the original tie at St Andrews in what finished a drab 0-0 draw in front of a half-empty stadium.

McCarthy is offering his fans no grounds for any cup glory and absolutely no respite from tough relegation battles. The younger fans of famous old Wolverhampton Wanderers Football Club must wonder what the FA Cup is all about. I wish they were an isolated example, but they’re not.

Soon, this younger generation, brought up without the romance of the FA Cup, will solely rely on money-spinning competitions such as the Champions League to provide their entertainment, ammo for banter on the school field and more importantly, for their passion for the game.

In Sussex, thanks to the current cup runs of both Brighton and Crawley, cup fever is sweeping the county once again. We can let the tradition of this old knockout competition sweep us off our feet amid the drama, tension, heartbreak and glory.

We are giving our younger generations and fans of football a chance to fall in love with the FA Cup again, breeding and educating new communities who understand its importance and history. The profiles of the future football fan hinges on how we view the FA Cup today.

It is the definition of football. It deserves our respect; it deserves our love.

Agree with Craig or is he talking rubbish? Is the FA Cup here to stay, or will it eventually be deemed worthless next to competitions that offer more money along with their prize? Email sport@chiobserver.co.uk or find Craig on Twitter - @OspreyPR