Soapbox: how did Man City v Stoke become just another Saturday fixture?

Well, we’ve seen commodities we never quite expected today, sensitivity and wit from Millwall supporters horrified at the notion, accurately reported, that some of their number might want to cause trouble at Upton Park come Sunday. But let us not forget our real enemies, those upstanding folk in authority whose determination to kill off the FA Cup knows no bounds. This year’s final, when some of us would have enjoyed devoting a whole day to rooting for underdog versus moneybags, was reduced to a mere morsel of an ordinary Saturday programme. Pete Sixsmith certainly didn’t forget …


I’m paraphrasing
the title of a fondly remembered Jack Rosenthal play from the 70s here, but it just about sums up the negative attitude that many fans have about the great and the good who run our national game.

For the first time in my memory, they scheduled the FA Cup Final on the same weekend as Premier League fixtures. Not the odd left over fixture, but a whole programme. They needed to play the Final early so that UEFA could take possession of Wembley for the Champions League Final which takes place on the May 28.

Fair enough, you might say. So, switch any Saturday games to the Sunday and leave Cup Final day free for those who want to watch it and for those who escape to Scotland for the day.

Enter Sky TV and the Premier League who don’t want a full programme on the Sunday because it will cut across their broadcasting plans. Who wins that argument? Is it the moral correctness of the FA or the financial clout of BSkyB. Answers on a postcard please …

That’s acceptable (just) if it only happens once, but, believe it or not, it will happen again next year because of the need to prepare for the European Championships. And it gets worse; the FA Cup Final, the one time pinnacle of the English game, will kick off at 5.15pm, just like a Championship game on Sky 10 or wherever they broadcast Doncaster Rovers v West Ham nowadays.

5.15!! It’s bad enough if the final were to involve two London clubs or Manchester United, but at least their fans will be able to get home on a Saturday night. What if it were Sunderland v Blackburn or Newcastle v Wigan Athletic? What time would they get home?

Fans will no longer be able to spend an evening cavorting in the Trafalgar Square fountains or popping into the Sherlock Holmes and asking for “a pint of Elementary, my good man” as we did in those wild and wacky days of 73.

Instead, they will be forced to spend an uncomfortable journey on a coach or an even more uncomfortable night in a Premier Inn or an Ibis or a Travelodge, which has specially upped its rates for the weekend.

Blooming ridiculous. There they are, trying to boost the image of the FA Cup and there they are making the final game in the competition inaccessible to half the football-watching population.

I have no desire to go back to “It’s An FA Cup Final Knockout” or to watching Jackie ”Mr TV” Pallo take on Mick McManus, but I do think the competition should be treated with a little more respect and restored to its rightful place as the final meaningful game of the season.

Not that we at Sunderland have played any part in helping the FA. In fact, it is clubs like us that have contributed to its demise by turning out sub-standard XIs in the early rounds. Anyone who had the misfortune to watch the games against Notts County and Portsmouth over the last couple of years will have seen where the FA Cup comes on Steve Bruce’s radar.

There are rumours circulating that the FA is preparing to stop playing the finals of the two subsidiary competitions, the Trophy and the Vase at “The home of football” because of costs and low crowds.

Don’t they realise that the attraction of these two competitions is that the final is at Wembley? Fans and players don’t want to finals at Villa Park or the Britannia Stadium – Wembley is the magnet. But the FA doesn’t want to use it because it’s too expensive. Piffle.

Maybe they should look at the prices charged inside the FA owned stadium: pie and a pint £8.50. I could get a decent meal for that in County Durham. And they fleece fans: for the recent Vase Final, there were no concessions for Over 60s, something I am now extremely sensitive about.

The FA has spent the last few years looking at whether it should reform itself. It has lost chief executives and chairmen as easily as we have lost leads under Steve Bruce and the whole structure of the guardians of the national game is about as secure as the Irish banking system.

Where do the FA go from here? They have lost the trust and confidence of those who watch the game in this country and their crawling to the likes of Jack Warner and various other FIFA delegates as they failed to achieve their holy grail of hosting the World Cup. Seems to me (and many others) that they have lost sight of what they are supposed to do.

Were I in charge, I would ensure that the FA Cup Final was ALWAYS the final game played in the domestic season; that all FA finals would be played at the ludicrously overpriced Wembley and that the grossly over inflated tail would no longer wag the far too subservient dog. Or is it just me that is barking mad?

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8 thoughts on “Soapbox: how did Man City v Stoke become just another Saturday fixture?”

  1. It’s a shame I’ve been brought up surrounded by a culture where the FA Cup is seen as a distraction or a detriment to the team. An annoying fixture that breeds another fixture and so on and so forth, and it isn’t until the Quarter Finals or so where you think, “Heck, we could do this. Let’s start trying,” but unfortunately we’ve been knocked out long before then.

    The ‘magic’ of the FA Cup seems to come in the third rounds or so when the lower-league teams surprise the higher-league teams, but even then it’s tarnished. Well done to Notts County for beating us this season, but it’s less emphatic when the final whistle blows and Bruce wipes his forehead and thinks, “Phew, no more distractions.”

    It’s also impacted a bit by the Carling Cup I find. It’s a lesser tournament but just as rewarding with a chance to play in Europe – where no doubt teams then turn round and complain that they have more fixtures to play. To be honest I don’t see why we need two domestic cups like this, most leagues operate with only one and I wouldn’t be disappointed to see us do the same.

    Mind you, I heard a Spurs fan remark the other day how he didn’t want to finish 5th because it would congest their fixture list and mean they have to start qualifying in June. Whether that’s a newfound elitism that they are too good for the Europa League and are purely a Champions League team now or not I don’t know, however should they finish 5th and don’t want it we should be allowed to buy it off them. As a Sunderland fan a wet Thursday in Macedonia sounds lovely to me! Some teams don’t know how good they have it if you ask me.

    Unfortunately, and back to the FA Cup here, the disinterest generated in the tournament means those images ingrained in our mind, the picture of Stokoe and Montgomery in ’73 will never seemingly be recreated. That win was the underdog beating the bully boys, a whole nation won with the team that day. An FA Cup win today would be met with an apathetic shrug and fans of others teams thinking, “Well at least we don’t have a congested fixture list next season.”

  2. There was a simple solution to this which has already been mentioned which was to switch the league games to the Sunday.

    Rupert must have been put out by such a suggestion.

  3. All points taken – I was fortunate enough to get a ticket for the Cup Final – unfortunately just inside the half of the Man City supporters , when I would have preferred to be a bit more vocal on my support for Stoke , However surrounded by thousands of fans decked in Blue I thought it prudent to keep my support to the odd “FFS Kenwyne” and the occassional round of applause .
    I’m sure the fans at the game had a brilliant time , and the timing of the fixture did not spoil their enjoyment – my first time at the new stadium and I was well impressed – certainly compared to my previous visits to the old stadium .
    Arriving at Euston at 9.30 then travelling to Kings Cross to meet my mates from Newcastle the stations and tubes were already bristling with fans from both teams – it’s an incredible feeling – then onto the Metropolitan line heading to Wembley Park – the tube full of both sets of supporters – great banter – and a few drunk Man City fans providing great comic relief.
    We managed to find a pub not far from the ground – full to brimming with Stoke supporters , and once they discovered I was a mackem the conversation flowed as well as the ale .
    £9.60 for 3 pints I thought was not a bad price for London – although the plastic glasses spoilt it a little .
    Unfortunately Stoke never turned up for the match – until the last few minutes , when they put a bit pressure in the penalty box – however IMO Man city were worthy winners .
    Only annoying niggles were the Poznan – its really difficult to watch the match with thousands of fans facing you jumping up and down – I was nearly tempted to join in ; and some fan behind with an X Factor reject voice droning on ” Come on seeeteee , come on seeeeeeteeeeee ; the best team in the land “

  4. Well it wasn’t purely due to Sky but more UEFA and the ridiculous requirement that the pitch used for the Champions League isn’t played on for two weeks prior to the game.

    However what I can’t understand is why wasn’t it Scheduled the week AFTER the Champions League game? Sure it pushes the play-offs and things back but hell it is supposed to be the PREMIER English game of the season!

    Also from a neutral viewer perspective it would of made far more of an entertaining spectacle since both teams would of been virtually fully fit and refreshed from a two week break from games and ready to go at it hammer and tongs.

    Instead coming of the back of numerous tough games both teams were suffering injury issues (obviously it effected us more given we haven’t got billions to ensemble a 25 man squad of first team players!).

    Also as things land after playing Man C twice in the space of 4 days it has had a major ramifications on both the Champion League qualifiers and it will have ramifications on the relegation also since we face Wigan on the final day.

    Either way the FA and the spineless decision making and the utter waste of money that is the pink elephant of the ‘New Wembley’ is the root cause for the relegation of the FA Cup to just another Saturday game.

  5. Sometimes there were games played after the final, Bill. We played Cardiff and QPR in 1973 and I remember beating West Ham in 1980 just after they had won it. We got promotion that night.
    Point is, the FA are too bloody weak to stand up to the PL and Sky, both of who are selfish, greedy and don’t care about anything else. But the actions of clubs like us, Villa and Blackburn devalues the competition. We have turned our backs on the FA Cup every year since the Millwall semi final debacle and that attitude passes through to the fans. Crowds are dismal for some clubs and there is a couldn’t care less approach. Just when the competition needed a decent final, we get a stinker like the one on Saturday.
    Mind you, for me the competition lost all credibility when Middlesbrough got to the final in 97. I went to watch Hibs play Airdrieonians (as they were then) and have spent nearly every subsequent final North of the Border – until this year.
    Wish I had gone to watch Fauldhouse play Whitburn rather than the dross I sat through!!

  6. I couldn’t believe it. The game literally disappeared from view. No, not everything should be sacred but this… As Pete says, the Cup Final was almost the last game of the season. It was a genuine occasion, something to be watched no matter who was playing. We all lose by what’s been done.

  7. Its an act of supreme arrogance and contempt for what was the greatest club knock out competition in the world. More galling because it was unnecessary. The FA have little (if any influence) over the PL and this is compelling evidence.

    It’s so sad to see this wonderful competition devalued in this way. It doesn’t belong to the FA or the Premier League. It belongs to the fans of every club that has competed in its wonderful history. Other nations would seek to preserve their heritage and tradition. Unfortunately ours has been pissed away in return for Murdoch’s money. Not even sold so much in this case as just given away.

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