One shock result and all is well once again with the FA Cup, according to Sam Wallace in the Independent, who says “Here’s a radical theory: the FA Cup is actually in relatively decent shape.” Wallace’s argument is mainly that it’s a myth that the FA Cup used to be less predictable in the first place:
Despite all their other priorities, attitudes towards the FA Cup among clubs and fans are healthy particularly in light of the fact that winning it has always been the preserve of the big teams, give or take the occasional anomaly. These days it is ever more restricted to the big four – who have won 16 FA Cups out of the last 18 – but it was not that much more egalitarian in football’s golden age.
In the 1960s, when football was much less divided by wealth, the FA Cup was won by teams finishing in the top eight for six out of the 10 years between 1960 and 1969. The lowest ranked club to win it in that decade were Manchester United, who finished 19th when they won the Cup in 1963. They won the league title two years later with much the same team.
This is an incomplete argument. Since the advent of the Premier League in 1992, only six different teams have won the trophy. In the two decades prior to that, 13 different teams won the trophy. Even in the decade that Wallace cherrypicks as his example, the 1960s, eight different teams were victorious.
What Wallace’s numbers show is that the FA Cup is a reflection of English football as a whole, and English football as a whole has become much more predictable because of the dominance of the same big clubs — ie, the variety of the clubs finishing in the top eight Wallace mentions has been reduced substantially. In the post-war period up until the start of the Premier League, many, many different teams finished at or within touching distance of the top of the league. “Big” teams did not dominate for as long (exceptions such as Liverpool aside, but for some reason their dominance elsewhere was not reflected in the FA Cup), so different teams more often won trophies, especially the FA Cup for those just outside the title race itself.
What has changed is not that the the top eight or so best clubs are winning the trophy more often (the best clubs usually will), it’s that the top of English football itself has become much more predictable, and the top few within that elite ever more dominant over the past two decades. This is reflected in the big four’s dominance of the FA Cup, and the reaction to the Leeds result yesterday only shows how much many would want that to change.
- Fans of Cardiff City are dismayed that a season ticket drive for next season they believed was planned to fund investment in the team during the January transfer window will instead go to pay an outstanding tax bill, as the Sunday newspapers revealed. The Cardiff City Supporters’ Trust released a statement today expressing their concern that this is the latest in an ongoing series of episodes of financial mismanagement and the truth being hidden from fans. The club have responded by saying that “Cardiff City Football Club are concerned at an article in one of today’s national newspapers. Some of the information contained within this article can only have come from documents which have been stolen from officials at the Club and are currently the subject of a police investigation.”
- Meanwhile, the Manchester United Supporters’ Trust (MUST) has also released a statement about a Sunday newspaper report that the Glazers are unsuccessfully trying to refinance their debt. MUST asks: “The Glazers have taken us from being a club that were the richest in the sporting world to now the most indebted. In the four years before the Glazers’ takeover the Manchester United invested over £80 million in the form of players like Rooney and Ronaldo. In the four years since the Glazer takeover the turnover has doubled but, despite protestations to the contrary, independently published figures suggest the net transfer spend is now negative. We have to be thankful for the magnificent job the manager and his squad have done. Where would we be now without the success Sir Alex has managed to maintain on the pitch?”
- There is a curious piece in the Guardian on South Africa and the World Cup, as low key New Year’s celebrations are suggested as a warning the World Cup itself could be lacklustre. The correlation between the two seems pretty shaky to me.
The Sweeper appears every weekday, and once at the weekend. For more rambling and links throughout the day every day, follow your editor Tom Dunmore @pitchinvasion on Twitter.