Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Has the FA Cup Runneth Dry?

The FA Cup 3rd round begins this weekend and it's a competition that evokes good memories for Manchester United fans even though they haven't won it since 2004 it has always held a special place in the club's illustrious history.

On a personal note, the cup brings up a feeling of warmth from my younger days in a time when if United wasn't involved in the final then you rooted for the underdog and sometimes they prevailed against all odds.

In 1973, as a youngster I watched Sunderland defeat the mighty Leeds United, and yes, they were a big side then. There I was eating a meat pie stood outside Granada Rentals in Manchester watching the match through the shop window after I had been dragged out shopping by my mum and elated that the cup holders Leeds had lost in what was then a huge shock.

The romance of the cup has never left me since that day and even though it doesn't hold the same appeal as days gone by, it is still the FA Cup, the oldest club competition in the world of football and should be taken seriously by all clubs and fans as it is a chance for the 'David's' to take on and defeat the 'Goliath's' of football and become giant killers.

It is true that the coverage of the final by the TV networks doesn't exactly mirror the past and it did kind of lose its appeal when the finals were moved to Cardiff when Wembley was undergoing its transformation, but none of that can detract from the sense of anticipation when the draw for the rounds is being made. I still remember the excitement that it brought when myself and my school friends huddled around a smuggled in radio at school waiting for United's number to be drawn with hopefully a home tie.

I distinctly recall on FA Cup final day in 1983 United played Brighton at Wembley and the coverage started on TV early in the morning and ran right through to the kickoff, which was the cup final tradition in those days.

The BBC and ITV had cameras in the team's hotels, not to show staged interviews, but to follow the players around and get a sense of what they were feeling in the build-up to the final. I can still see the United captain Bryan Robson being interviewed as he was shaving in his hotel room.

This all day coverage brought the fans unique access to their heroes and gave us a glimpse into the world of a footballer and you know what it made us realise that apart from the money and fame the players were also fans like us.

We travelled with them on the team bus and could feel their anxiety as they approached the famous twin towers of Wembley Stadium as their loyal fans waved them on from outside the bus windows along the famous Wembley Way.

Nowadays, with the players protected from media intrusion you will be lucky to see inside the bus through the blackened out windows. When they say that the spirit of the cup has disappeared, then the clubs, the FA and the TV companies only have themselves to blame because they are the ones who have sullied its reputation by not taking it seriously. For exmaple, playing both semi-finals at Wembley was a bad move by the FA and one that was made for money and nothing else.

For a player to play at Wembley in a final used to be their dream now it's possible for them to realise their dream twice! It also has a knock-on effect for the fans who find it too expensive to travel to the capital. The sooner they revert to playing the semis at a neutral ground the better. Don't hold your breath as just maybe they will start to play the quarter-finals at Wembley as well.

For some teams to win the famous trophy is their only chance of glory in an otherwise barren season. As a United fan growing up at a time when our bitter rivals from Liverpool dominated the 1st division on a regular basis, it was the FA Cup that was our only solace. A good run in the cup ending in a final was something that lifted our spirits, especially if we beat Liverpool along the way or even better defeated them in the final itself.

There are many personal memories from the cup that make me smile Robins' winner that, and I don't care what anybody says, literally saved Fergie's job. Lee Martin smashing in the winner against Palace. The deflected goal in the final by Greenhoff against Liverpool that stopped them doing the treble. The last five minutes of the final of 1979. Whiteside's curler that won ten men United the cup. Scholes and Sheringham completing the second leg of the treble and the countless semi-finals, especially the ones at Villa Park, that United won on their way to glory and of course that Giggs goal.

One can only hope that the magic of the cup will return, but I very much doubt it as football has moved on to more lucrative competitions. Having said that, I for one will be eating a meat pie watching the final and cheering on the underdog, unless of course they are up against United, this time in the comfort of my own living room.

Enjoy the cup run and thanks for reading.

Miles Dunton.

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