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Features, articles and opinions on football’s biggest stories

Down in the Box is a one-man football powerhouse. Alarming amounts of energy and insight. Barney Ronay The Guardian



For all the talk of romance, most clubs can only flirt with FA Cup success Every New Year, English football tends to begin in introspective fashion. Amidst the backdrop of FA Cup third round weekend, when the big boys join the party, the now perennial debate rages on; has the FA Cup lost its once great lustre, for good? If it is a party, recent years suggest its being increasingly overlooked by trendy types for the constantly face-lifted League Cup; a midweek, early season get-together that now thrives in a football schedule where priories are consumed with convenience and consumerism. A once ridiculed tournament, it and the Europa League, have now emerged from the underground football scene, satisfying the many who crave football in the middle of a working week, filling the long gap between league matchdays. The FA Cup interrupts the league season, and for many it’s hardly worth their while. Much is spoken of the romance of the cup and true, it facilitates the potential for clashes that otherwise would never come to pass, showing scant regard for the football pyramid. There’s much to love. But realistically, the clubs who become romantically entangled with the FA Cup, court only a brief flirtation with the oldest cup competition in the world. It’s the shortest of love stories. The lure of a Wembley date appears an attractive proposition for all, if virtually unattainable for those outside the elite bracket. All they have to do is dream, but dream is all most can do.

So, with this considered, he focus on Aston Villa’s Paul Lambert and Sam Allardyce this week has been of interest. Lambert’s comments that Premier League clubs could “do without” the cup competition caused consternation in some circles while West Ham eight teenagers featured in West Ham’s drubbing at the hands of Nottingham Forest. The former cited a small squad, punctured somewhat by injuries, as a reason why he couldn’t treat the visit of Sheffield United with the urgency of a side with genuine cup aspirations. Allardyce has a huge injury list to contend with, a relegation fight to win and a League Cup semi-final to manoeuvre. The reasons behind Allardyce’s selection fuelled by logic and total legitimacy, while Villa’s faltering may be owed in greater part to their general struggles this season. They’re quite bad. An interesting contrast of sorts from last weekend, was the pragmatism showed by both West Ham and Conference side Macclesfield in their respective sides.

Neither side had any real intention of triumph, with Town making defensive changes into to preserve a draw, a reply and lastly, the potential for a fourth round tie. West Ham had little interest in this game, let alone further fixtures to fulfil. A damning indictment for the Cup it would seem, but an inanimate object can’t devalue itself. That is the result of those who deem it so irrelevant. Football managers have several stakeholders to appease but what of the decision to air more FA Cup matches on satellite than terrestrial television, late time slots of highlights programmes and the latest draw being made before four (seven if you include postponed games) have even taken place? Decision makers, be it commercial or fiscal, are draining the life out of England’s premier cup competition. The failure of clubs to include cup matches in season ticket packages too, means often the matches are too much of a stretch for supporters, whatever the round.


Gillingham 2013/14