‘THE magic of the cup’, they used to call it.
Giant-killings, non-league clubs going toe-to-toe with top-flight heavyweights and, of course, that all-important trip to Wembley on the horizon.
For years, the FA Cup was the pinnacle of domestic football.
Sure, fans desperately wanted that First Division or Premier League crown above all else.
But there was a time when the FA Cup was the one we all looked forward to.
These days, its importance seems to have been diluted.
The best of the best will often rotate their squads and give some talented youngsters a run, at least in the earlier rounds.
Wasn’t that the thinking of bosses in the League Cup? Not the FA Cup, surely?
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Unfortunately, with money all-important in our beautiful game, a number of clubs are focusing on the Prem, the Champions League or simply just securing a top-four spot.
The FA Cup is something of an afterthought for them, especially with the prize pot sorely diminished due to the ongoing effects of the Covid pandemic.
This year’s winners will pocket just £3.4million – barely half of what Arsenal bagged for lifting the trophy in 2020.
For context, teams earn roughly that amount per GROUP-STAGE victory in the Champions League.
So, the ‘magic’ of the cup may be fading for some, but it’s certainly not dead.
Just ask fans of Chesterfield, Kidderminster Harriers, Yeovil and Boreham Wood. All non-league sides, all in the final 64 of the FA Cup.
For them it’s the chance to gain some national recognition, a much-needed wedge of money and, of course, the possibility of a televised giant-killing.
That’s the joy of the FA Cup. We’ve witnessed some spectacular results in this competition – the oldest in English football.
And while the Premier League’s muscle might field the kids, scarcely caring if they reach the next round, for those gutsy non-league teams, this is the game they’ve been waiting for.
This is the match some of those players have been dreaming of their entire careers.
Imagine, for example, going to bed on Friday night as a Chesterfield player.
The Spireites are currently top of the National League – and on Saturday evening they’ll be playing European champions, Chelsea.
The plucky fifth-tier side will make the long trip to West London to play in front of over 40,000 fans with a spot in the fourth round of the greatest domestic cup competition in the land.
Isn’t it incredible to think one of Boreham Wood and AFC Wimbledon will be in the last 32 of the Cup, too?
Won’t it be fun to watch embattled Newcastle host League One strugglers Cambridge United? That’s got potential giant-killing written all over it.
What about Morecambe’s trip to the 62,850-seater Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Sunday? They’ll be up for that one.. and so will the fans.
And then there’s Yeovil. As recently as 2013-14, they were in the Championship. Now in their THIRD season in the National League after an horrendous dive down the divisions, a big cup game could be just the ticket.
The Somerset side face Championship high-flyers Bournemouth in a home, televised clash.
For them, this is no ordinary game, this is a massive opportunity to boost morale and their finances in front of millions watching from home.
There are other intriguing games too for clubs starved of silverware. What about West Ham vs Leeds?
Arsenal too are still alive in TWO cup competitions, with a trip to Nottingham Forest on Sunday evening, as well as their Carabao Cup semi-final against Liverpool.
Then there’s the Reds themselves, currently in the midst of a decimating Covid outbreak, without manager Jurgen Klopp, No2 Pepijn Linders AND a huge chunk of their squad.
They face third-tier Shrewsbury who will fancy their chances of a giant-killing should Liverpool be forced to field a makeshift XI of youth stars.
Sure, there’s the odd game like Manchester United vs Aston Villa that could almost be just another league match for casual supporters.
But it’s not. For Villa especially – showing so much ambition under new boss Steven Gerrard, including the loan signing of Philippe Coutinho – the prospect of beating the Red Devils and going on a cup run is as exciting as it is realistic.
They’ve got no League Cup to consider, no European football to cram into their schedule either. For them, it’s avoid relegation and attempt to launch a cup run.
And that’s the real beauty of the FA Cup, that so-called ‘magic’.
If nothing else it’s some light relief from the grind of league football.
A one-off, winner-takes-all spectacular where nothing but a result on the day matters – especially now that there will be no replays.
No dropped points or goal difference to consider.
Just win. Just make it through to the next round. Just get to Wembley.
So you can write it off as just another distraction, but the FA Cup is still absolutely magic.
Full fixtures and TV channels
Friday, January 7
- Swindon Town v Manchester City – 8pm (ITV1, ITV Hub)
Saturday, January 8
- Millwall v Crystal Palace – 12.45pm (ITV, ITV Hub)
- Bristol City v Fulham – 12.30pm
- Burnley v Huddersfield Town – 12.30pm
- Coventry City v Derby County – 12.30pm
- Hartlepool United v Blackpool – 12.30pm
- Mansfield Town v Middlesbrough – 12.30pm
- Barnsley v Barrow – 3pm
- Birmingham City v Plymouth Argyle – 3pm
- Boreham Wood v AFC Wimbledon – 3pm
- Kidderminster Harriers v Reading – 3pm
- Leicester City v Watford – 3pm
- Newcastle United v Cambridge United – 3pm
- Peterborough United v Bristol Rovers – 3pm
- Port Vale v Brentford – 3pm
- Queens Park Rangers v Rotherham United – 3pm
- West Brom v Brightonn – 3pm
- Wigan v Blackburn Rovers – 3pm
- Hull City v Everton – 5.30pm (BBC ONE, BBC iPlayer)
- Swansea City v Southampton – 5.30pm (BBC ONE Wales, BBC iPlayer)
- Chelsea v Chesterfield – 5.30pm (BBC Red Button, BBC iPlayer)
- Yeovil Town v Bournemouth – 5.30pm (BBC Red Button, BBC iPlayer)
Sunday, January 9
- Luton Town v Harrogate Town – 12.30pm
- Cardiff City v Preston – 2pm (S4C, BBC iPlayer)
- Charlton v Norwich City – 2pm
- Liverpool v Shrewsbury Town – 2pm
- Stoke City v Leyton Orient – 2pm
- Tottenham v Morceambe – 2pm
- Wolves v Sheffield United – 2pm
- West Ham v Leeds United 2.15pm (ITV1, ITV Hub)
- Nottingham Forest v Arsenal 5.15pm (ITV1, ITV Hub)
Monday, January 10
- Man Utd vs Aston Villa – 7.55pm (BBC One, BBC iPlayer)
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