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The 'magic of the Cup' is a phrase often used to describe the oldest football competition in the world, which started in the 1871-1872 season. The Cup is open to all clubs in the top ten levels of English football league, although the club’s stadium must meet certain requirements prior to entering. 

The competition comes to an end with the infamous FA Cup Final usually in May, which has been regarded as the showpiece finale of the English football season. 

Most of the finals have taken place at Wembley in London, although from 2001-2006, the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff took centre stage as host while the new Wembley stadium was under construction. 

Right now, in 2018, Arsenal has won the Cup more than any other team with 13 trophies. The current champions Chelsea who defeated Manchester United in the 2018 final. 

At this time of the year, we're into the serious end of the FA Cup competition, and the quarter-finals are unsurprisingly dominated by Premier League clubs with only Millwall and Swansea representing the Championship. The quarter-final match-ups on 16 March (17 March in Australia) are:

  • Watford v Crystal Palace
  • Wolves v Manchester United
  • Swansea City v Manchester City
  • Millwall v Brighton and Hove Albion.

Because of the dominance of the Premier League, some pundits and fans argue that the magic of the Cup is well and truly fading.

Has the magic of the Cup vanished? 

The FA Cup used to be dominated by stories of pure drama, with lower league clubs going above and beyond their perceived ability to cause giant upsets. These narratives still happen from time to time, but their frequency is decreasing. 

Money, as always is a topic of controversy too. The FA Cup is now known as the Emirates FA Cup with Emirates reportedly paying £8 million for the naming rights. 

Do the big clubs care? 

The motivation of teams in the FA Cup is questionably not as high as it has been with Premier League clubs often opting to play weakened teams for Cup ties. However, in defence of clubs, they often have the very real issue of fixture congestion to balance; meaning Cup games are often used as an opportunity to give fringe players a run and/or allow the coach to test different tactics and formations. Some perceive this as good, others argue it makes the FA Cup look like a dumping ground for spare talent. 

As a Brighton and Hove Albion fan, I’ve been asked countless times in the last couple of weeks whether I would prefer FA Cup final success or Premier League survival. (ICYMI, Brighton are still in the Cup and will face Millwall away in their quarter final).

Without much thought, I consistently responded with the latter. Don’t get me wrong, to win the FA Cup would be a huge achievement, but if it came at the expense of staying in the Premier League, no thank you. Yes, you read that right: I would prefer Premier League survival and no FA Cup Final trophy, mainly because I want to watch Brighton play the best teams in England for another season. There’s no denying the FA Cup final trophy would represent a huge achievement, but for one match and one trophy and then Championship football for a season or more - it's a 'no contest' as far as I'm concerned. I'm also not the only one who thinks that way.

Believe it or not, Brighton came very close to winning the FA Cup in 1983 when they faced Manchester United. With the game in the balance at 2-2, Brighton had a chance to win the match in the final minutes with the commentary from Peter Jones “and Smith must score” still replayed today in many Cup Final previews. However, Smith didn’t find the back of the net and instead of Brighton winning their first major trophy, Brighton were thrashed 4-0 in the replay!  

What about the smaller clubs? 

For me, this is where the magic still exists. 

Fans of clubs that draw a home or away fixture against a big club are in dreamland. Even when the chances are stacked against them, they start to believe, they dare to dream, they start to think that maybe just maybe their club could be the one stealing the headlines after they defeat a club ranked sometimes 100 places higher than them.

I’m sure Wrexham fans will agree with this! In 1992, Wrexham defeated First Division giants, Arsenal 2-1. On paper, it should never have been a contest; Arsenal were second in the First Division and Wrexham were bottom of the entire football league. 

So, just like beauty, I think magic is in the eye of the beholder. For some, the FA Cup magic will always live on and for others it will fade rapidly.


P.S. My fairy-tale ending for Brighton this season is Premier League survival and FA Cup Final success. Now that would be magical!    

Categories: Opinion | Premier League

fa cup, brighton, fa cup quarter-finals

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