In days gone by the FA Cup Final was the curtain closing showcase end to the English football season. As a boy I’d wait excited all day by the television. Watching the teams arrive at the stadium in their special FA Cup suits. Later doing their special pitch walk. All of them looking relaxed but bubbling with the sense of the big occasion just like the fans watching. Winning the FA Cup may not have given a team bragging rights about being the best in the land but the desire on that day matched the league campaign. If a team managed the league and cup double it was a mark of excellence.
Nowadays the cup clubs want in their double, sometimes before the domestic league itself, is the Champions League. The prestige of the world’s greatest and oldest domestic cup now sits above the League Cup as a consolation prize or a good addition to the Premier League/Champions League double. It doesn’t take priority. Which is a shame. It doesn’t even get to be the closing game of the season due to Wembley staging the Champions League final this year. Over the years its value had been left to erode to the point the cause take its slot as the season closer.
There is a paradox in this, and I love a paradox. The chase of the Champions League dream and most recent English success came by way of Chelsea. They failed to finish in the top four that year but were crowned Kings of Europe. Back in the old European Cup format at least when teams like Liverpool had their successes they deserved that mantle without question. And the FA Cup still had its importance. Clubs chase the Champions League dream when on paper it should be the one devalued. Unless they’re chasing the cash flow of competitions regardless of other factors. I’d love to see the FA Cup winners be awarded a spot in the Champions League in place of the fourth placed Premier League side. Of course UEFA will never allow that but it’s one way to make the Cup illustrious again.
Despite the current state of the Cup compared to its former glory days, come final day it is the biggest game on Earth for the two teams. This year we’ll see Manchester City face Wigan Athletic. Both sets of fans appreciating the trip to compete like it was ten Champions League finals rolled into one. It wasn’t so long ago Manchester City dreamed of the current success they’re currently experiencing and Wigan probably started this season with the aim to avoid relegation. Neither will have enjoyed the league this year so the Cup provides a welcome distraction.
It’s more than just a distraction, though, they’ll both desire a win immensely. For Manchester City a season without something in their trophy cabinet will be seen as a massive failure. Whereas Wigan may well be thinking this could be their only chance for a long time to take some silverware. Even the managers’ futures could hang on the result. City’s Mancini could be given more time, as he deserves, should he take the FA Cup back to Manchester like he did a few years ago. Wigan’s Martinez on the other hand could be lured away if he wins a trophy with a small club.
The ramifications of success and defeat won’t be felt on the day. For that special time at Wembley the fans and players alike can be lured into the spell of the FA Cup and will willingly partake in the belief it’s the only game that’s mattered all season. If there’s any doubt whether or not this cup is craved look at the faces of the winners after the final whistle. The magic of the cup will be etched on every one of them.