Today Manchester City or Stoke City will win their first major trophy in almost a lifetime for some of us. But how many people will actually watch the game? At 3pm today around 150,000 Premier League fans will only just be leaving various grounds around the country. And with Manchester United just one win away from the title playing away at Blackburn Rovers at 12.45pm I cannot really see many of the red half of Manchester rushing home to watch the Cup Final can you?
Thirty years ago FA Cup Final day was potentially the biggest day in the footballing calendar for most fans. Today it is almost an irrelevance. So what has happened? Well, I can pinpoint five things that could and should be changed by the powers that be.
1. Ensure that the FA Cup final day is never compromised again. Yes, we know that Wembley is hosting the Champions League final, and yes we know they need to prepare the stadium for such a world event, but why could a round of Premier League games have been played earlier in the season? Why do we have the farce of blank weekends prior to meaningless friendlies such as the game versus Denmark? In rugby union, the Premiership continues to be played despite England playing matches sometimes on the same day. That is surely the whole concept of having a squad of players? Outside of the Premier League there are two League One Play off games today. How many of those fans will see the Cup Final? Virtually none.
So bring back tradition and play the Cup Final on a day with no other matches in England.
2. Start the coverage at 8am on TV. As a kid Cup Final day was the one day I was allowed to miss the “weekly big shop”. Coverage on TV started early and included special editions of Question of Sport, The Krypton Factor and SuperStars featuring stars past and present of both teams. Just think of the opportunities today – Rory Delap and James Milner on Britain’s FA Cup Footballers Have Talent (would be quite a short programme I know), Carlos Tevez and Kenwyne Jones on Wipeout, Matthew Etherington on You Bet. The list is endless.
And bring back the “Road to Wembley”. Obviously with so many games today being shown on TV right from Round 1 there isn’t anything really special as when the FA Cup Final was the ONLY live English game shown on TV, but TV producers are clever these days so I am sure they can add some Coldplay or the like and slow down the pictures to make it all arty.
3. Make it a requirement that both teams have to record a FA Cup Final song. Music and football are the hub of “pop culture” these days, with players and artists these days “best friends” and hanging out together. So why not return to the good old days of the traditional FA Cup song. Who can forget the 1980 Cockney Rebels “I’m forever blowing bubbles” or Everton/The Farm’s rewrite of the classic All Together Now with such lines as ”Remember boys back in ’66, We won the cup with Catterick, Kendall’s boys in ’84, Now Big Joe Royle is coming back for more”. There is even the opportunity to do some kind of X-Factor type show to choose the winner for each team as well.
4. Bring back replays in the Final. There has never been a dull FA Cup final replay. FACT. The last final that went to a replay was in 1993 when Arsenal scored a last minute of extra time winner against Sheffield Wednesday. The game would need to be arranged in four days, including distribution of tickets. And here is the reason why they should be re-introduced. It would allow more real fans to see the game rather than the first game. There would be no time for corporate give aways, no time to arrange ridiculous competitions, just the vast majority of fans being able to see the game.
5. Make it obligatory that every fan attending the game has to take a flag, banner or wear a silly hat. There isn’t enough hats at football these days. Simple as that. What finer sight is there than people throwing their hats in the air in celebration, or the TV cameras panning in on a banner like “Premium Bonds” (1980 FA Cup Final in honour of Billy Bonds). We do not want to see face painting or foam hands. We want huge tin foil models of the FA Cup, although Health & Safety/officious Stewards probably deem such things as weapons these days.
So there we have it. I could go on about ticket prices and allocations and all of that gubbins, but this is about engaging with the fan on the sofa. After all in the good old days the final would get a domestic audience of nearly 15million. Today it is likely to be less than 5million. But do the FA actually care? I doubt it. They proved that the day they sold the sponsorship rights to the cup after all.