Issue The modern day FA Cup

As told by Jason Mckeown

The FA Cup is back for another season. Cue up that increasingly-grainy footage of shocks from 30 years ago, let us revel once more at Rocket Ronnie’s goal and don’t forget to keep reminding us that the FA Cup is “the greatest competition in the world”. Again and again.

In recent years – and largely due to the permanently sunny outlook ITV Sport always seems to take – we’ve had to get used to a modern day FA Cup cliche. It’s deployed every time something remotely exciting happens as a moment of mini-triumph for the commentator: “Who said the magic of the FA Cup is dead?”, or for a variant “The magic of the FA Cup is well and truly alive.” Either way this competition has magical powers. So don’t question it. Okay?

Of course the magic of the FA Cup has waned in modern times, and anyone who wants to argue it is still the greatest competition on the basis of showing old footage and over-hyping modern day David v Goliath clashes is either foolish or has advertising space to sell. But even if you face up to that reality, it doesn’t mean the FA Cup is dead. More than it needs to stop living in the past.

There are many theories as to why the FA Cup has lost its prestige – the poor attitude of big clubs and too much football on TV the most quoted. But my personal view is that it is the victim of the successful evolving of league football during the past 20 years. In the Premier League the increase to Champions League spots has pushed down the qualification places for the Europa League (formerly UEFA Cup). This suddenly makes achieving a European spot a realistic objective for more clubs, with hopes able to stay in tact for most of the season.

And in the Football League, the introduction of the play offs in the mid-80s has also devalued the FA Cup. Every team can tangibly dream of reaching a play off spot, and even if you’re stuck in mid-table come Christmas the possibility of a late surge remains alive. Before the play offs, many teams’ seasons would be over before January and, as long as they weren’t in relegation trouble, there’d be nothing to play for with over a half a season left. So the FA Cup meant much more.

In short, the death of midtable meaningless across English football’s four divisions has killed the prestige of the FA Cup. And it’s time traditionalists stopped ignoring the facts and gave up banging on about the so-called magic, so the FA Cup can also evolve for the modern day. The resurgence in popularity of the League Cup in recent years should act as inspiration.

All of this ignores the fact that, for Bradford City at least, this should be considered a special year for the FA Cup. This club doesn’t have an especially successful history to be proud of, but a century ago this season came the Bantams’ finest hour as they defeated Newcastle United 1-0 to lift the FA Cup. Numerous special events are planned to commemorate the landmark, including a new City book to look forward to. It is right to celebrate such an achievement which, in the modern day, looks so absurdly unlikely the club will ever repeat, but how big an appetite there is for a worthy FA Cup run this season to honour that past is debatable.

Tomorrow City begin their FA Cup campaign at Colchester, and with league form suddenly taking off this tie is in truth an unwelcome distraction. Ask pretty much every City fan if they’d rather win tomorrow or at Wycombe in the league next Saturday and yet another early exit would be gladly sacrificed for the chance to close the gap on the play offs. Sure, we’d love to get to the third round and the chance to play David to a Premier League club, but not at the expense of it distracting the players from the all important bread and butter stuff.

Manager Peter Taylor is likely to make some changes given a busy week and important league matches to come, but with momentum so important in football it’s hoped his selection won’t differ too greatly from the side which is building understandings and has won four out of five games. Lenny Pidgley will continue in goal and, with injuries to Shane Duff, Simon Ramsden and Lewis Hunt, expect the same back four which has kept City consecutive clean sheets for the first time since May. Robbie Threlfall could, however, be afforded a first start since getting injured against Gillingham in September.

In midfield Lee Hendrie may not be risked as a minor knock has kept him out of the games at Burton and Bury. Expect Tommy Doherty – still struggling with an injury – to join him in sitting this one out. Doherty’s influence is growing with each game, but the minor complaints from some fans are also being maintained.

After Saturday’s accomplished display he was criticised for lack of pace, on Tuesday the fact he failed to acknowledge us visiting supporters as we chanted his name when he was subbed has caused a bizarrely-angry reaction from a minority. If memory serves me correct, Doherty is yet to speak publicly since signing during the summer and appears to be a shy, retiring sort of fella rather than an arrogant prat who believes he is above thanking his supporters.

Tom Adeyemi and Leon Osborne will likely continue on the flanks, with David Syers possibly joined by the forgotten Lee Bullock in the centre. Almost unnoticed and way ahead of predictions, Gareth Evans returned to the bench on Tuesday after getting injured last month. With the success of the strikers, it appears Evans’ most likely route to a regular starting place is a wide midfield spot, probably for Osborne.

Up front on-loan Jason Price and Louis Moult have been cleared to play and Taylor may favour this partnership to give Omar Daley a breather and to allow James Hanson to continue his recovery from injury. Chibuzor Chilaka will also be pressing for a first start, but after Moult’s first goal last week it would be cruel not to give him a go.

League One Colchester are going great guns and in superb form – so an early exit from the FA Cup seems likely for City. That is hardly the way to honour the heroes of 1911; but the modern day view to take is that the best way to recognise this centenary would not be a cup run but to achieve success in the league.