Who amongst us isn’t overcome with excitement over the likes of Barnsley, West Brom, Portsmouth and Cardiff City having reached the semi-finals of the world’s eldest knockout competition? As it turns out, the Independent’s Nick Townsend is pretty certain “outside certain areas of South Yorkshire and the Midlands, nobody will really give a damn.”
Sorry, but whether Brian Howard can do it for Barnsley will not have been the stuff of fag-break chatter. For the FA Cup final to be taken seriously, it requires, at its business end, some seriously charismatic performers.
Now I’m an old FA Cup romantic. Used to love it. In a previous incarnation, I set out on the ultimate tour, starting off not even with minnows but with tadpoles, and ending up with Manchester United v Everton as it transpired. Indifferent final destination, fascinating journey.But that was then.
That was before Manchester United ducked out, having been inveigled into participating in a world club tournament, and the financial imperatives of the Champions’ League and Premier League lanced the old Cup’s soul to the core. It is no good pretending that what remains truly engages us as it once did. Significantly, I write this in the same week that it is confirmed that the Big Four comprise 50 per cent of the Champions’ League quarter-finalists. Could it be any coincidence that they have all taken premature leave of this year’s competition, with the date of 21 May and Moscow yielding rather more fascination than that of Wembley fourdays earlier?
In contrast, Portsmouth have only the opportunity of a Uefa Cup place. Cardiff and Barnsley don’t have anything to play for in the League except counter the outside threat of relegation “ and they are only in that position because they have been sidetracked. And then there is West Bromwich Albion, who around the turn of the year appeared destined for promotion. Now there is only one certainty: if the Baggies fail to reach the Premier League, Tony Mowbray won’t be thanked for allowing his team to take this tangential journey.
Some contend that this year’s FA Cup has restored the romance of the tournament For others of us, it’s a love affair that has been over for years.