The Lost Soul of the FA Cup

08 January 2017 01:14

Saturday’s third round FA Cup tie between Burnley and Sunderland produced a match which is unlikely to linger long in the memory of the seventeen thousand or so people who witnessed it. 

A drab, goalless draw between two teams whose collective minds were elsewhere and who, courtesy of the now required replay, will have got to know each other very well by the time January is over.

The small attendance (even at give-away ticket prices), the lacklustre atmosphere and the weakened team selections, all combine to form the impression that both clubs regarded this fixture and by extension the FA Cup in general as a chore, a drudge, something to get out of the way and move on from.

Contrast this with a previous cup encounter between the two clubs; a fourth round tie back in 1979, when both Burnley and Sunderland were in the second tier of the league, the Second Division as it was then known.

A prolonged and severe cold snap had caused the tie (Burnley were drawn to play at home) to be postponed so many times that one lost count, but this only served to increase a sense of anticipation amongst the supporters. 

When the match eventually took place, a crowd of twenty thousand (only the visit of Blackburn Rovers attracted more fans to Turf Moor that season) witnessed a one-all draw on a pitch more suited to Torvill and Dean than to the balletic skills of Steve Kindon and Leighton James.

The rival fans watched from terraces which would now cause high-viz and hardhat wearing Health and Safety officials paroxysms of anguish in these days of political correctness and do-gooders insanity.

Burnley produced one of their best displays of that season in the replay, winning 3-0 in front of almost thirty eight thousand fans at Roker Park. 

The Clarets' “reward” was an away tie at Anfield, against the best team in the country at the time, a mere forty eight hours later.

On reflection, contemporary managers now display the temerity to complain about fixture congestion and lack of player recovery time!

Indeed Arsenal, the season’s eventual FA Cup winners, needed no fewer than five attempts to get through their third round tie against Sheffield Wednesday.

In those days of non invented penalty shoot-outs, participants simply kept on playing until a team actually won.

What those echoes of cup campaigns of yesteryear illustrate to me is what a vibrant, high-priority, attention-grabbing competition the FA Cup was back then.

Supporters eagerly anticipated the matches and flocked to see them, the competition’s glorious uncertainties, its quirks and foibles were embraced as a source of pride and held inviolate.

Regrettably, those quirks, foibles and unscripted uncertainties have now passed into footballing historical cliché.

 “The Magic of the Cup”, was held in the same regard as a conjuring trick a beloved aging uncle would perform at every one of his periodic visits, one which we had all seen many times before.

In these hard headed days of commercial expediency and income-stream maximisation, a proposition such as the FA Cup, with all of its variables and factors which cannot be budgeted for or entered on a spreadsheet, is anathema to the money men at so many clubs.

Sadly, when sport and commerce collide, competitions like the FA Cup inevitably become collateral damage.

It is unlikely that clubs like Burnley and Sunderland will ever again get behind the Cup like they once did, at least not unless they reach its latter stages, the weight of competing priorities are just too pressing. 

This is a pity, because it diminishes our experience as fans and robs us of something rare and different.

I for one will be at Turf Moor for the replay in a few days, in part to cheer my team on, in part to hopefully see Burnley advance in the competition, but also to pay my respects to a grand old institution.

My earnest hope is that a large number of my fellow supporters will do likewise.

Written by Clarets Mad contributor and Burnley fan David Thornley. 

Source: DSG