DOMESTIC SHAKE UP: GIVE THE WINNER OF THE FA CUP A CHAMPIONS LEAGUE SPOT
The FA Cup has been in decline for years. In years previous it was the highlight of the football season, it was the cup that everyone wanted. The big match broadcast live on TV that gave the winners eternal glory. Now it's a minor note on a winner’s resumé, to the point Arsenal fans didn’t see it as enough to keep Wenger in years past. But there is one simple way that we can bring it back to the forefront of the nation's mind and it’s simple, give the winners a Champion’s League spot.
Historically the English FA Cup brought high attendances, sometimes higher than average league attendances. This was in stark contrast to the rest of the world. Our European neighbours were jealous of how popular the cup was, but the British interest in singular moments of glory and the BBC coverage made it the most prestigious of domestic competitions.
This has been lessened in the last couple of decades due to the establishment of the Premier League, football on the telly has become less of a novelty and the money on offer meant little to a top tier club. The FA Cup slowly fizzled out of national consciousness and I am not the only one who thinks this is a shame.
I, personally, am much fonder of domestic competitions and lower league football than European fixtures, and I am not ashamed of it. But I am firmly in the minority and I am not blind to see why. Before every club in the country could benefit from a cup run, now it can be seen as a distraction from more important games. The only benefactors are those lower league clubs that get Premier League oppositions, just for them to reluctantly play their reserves and U23s.
The simple fix I suggest is not a new one; give the winners of the FA Cup a Champions League spot.
It Gives the FA Cup a Worthwhile Prize
The FA cup needs to be free to watch for the British public, as it allows every team that competes a chance for their fans to see them broadcasted without paying a subscription. However, this isn’t exactly cost effective and so the prize pool on offer is notoriously flimsy. This leads to clubs in the top tier often not worrying about the cup, sending their youth and reserves to play out their matches. This doesn’t happen if the prize is much more lucrative. Simply put, there needs to be an incentive to win these games.
A team that is aiming for top European football will see this competition as cost-effective, as by winning they secure football in the most lucrative competition in the world. With the top teams once again taking the cup seriously, it means that the lower league teams could get a game against some serious opposition. This has a knock-on effect as they are likely to gain more ticket receipts for themselves. It’s the cheapest way to make the cup of interest to everyone, without shipping it out to Sky.
It Suits the Nature of the Champions League
It is the Champions League, not the top four leagues. The Champions League should be filled with every country's winning teams, if that happens to throw up a surprise every once in a while, then I think the competition would be all the better for it. As a fan of a League One team, it feels slightly odd that fourth place is rewarded so heavily when for us it means the start of the dreaded playoffs. Fourth place is a wooden spoon, not European glory.
This also solves one of the Premier League’s biggest problems, the end of a season can become stale. Last season we knew the champions for a long while, Liverpool had run away with it. However, the other top teams were fighting it out for the Champions League spots. But once Leicester had fallen away it became obvious that Manchester United and Chelsea had secured the remaining 3rd and 4th spot. These teams that are somewhat secure in their top four spots can go into hibernation, preparing more for next season than the current one. This is less likely to happen with only the three spots available.
The Big Objection
The biggest objection to this idea is that it will mean that small, unprepared teams will get into the Champions League.
First of all, this objection comes across as a bit elitist. There used to be much more movement in the football pyramid prior to this century and the argument that a team doesn’t deserve a place in a European competition, despite winning a top domestic cup, comes across as a bit bigoted. However, I accept that the argument can be a pragmatic one and the worry isn’t with teams not deserving the chance but with the fact that European football could destabilise teams that are not equipped to play in Europe, or you are worried it will ruin British success abroad.
Yet I don’t think this would be a problem. Yes, in football anything can happen, but with teams taking the cup significantly more seriously, you are less likely to see an upset. Sure, they’re used to big upsets in years past, even when the cup was taken seriously, but the disparity in club resources has grown and made this unlikely. Furthermore, these upsets would have to happen several times for a so-called ‘small’ team to win.
Even if we have a repeat of the crazy gang, the Wimbledon FA cup winning team, then arguably they are more likely to have success abroad, because they could find that unique way of winning against established sides that helped them to win the competition in the first place.