How to save the FA Cup? Make it 7-a-side, 30 mins each way

Date published: Monday 7th January 2019 2:47

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Nowt wrong with the good old FA Cup
Each to their own but I love the FA Cup – though supporting the competition’s most successful club does help.

Granted, some clubs don’t bother with it, the winner’s pot is minimal, it’s sponsored these days, and seemingly only big clubs win it these days.

But in the competition’s defence – it threw up some major upsets with a number of Premier League teams biting the dust in the 3rd round, anyone can draw anyone right from the start – unlike the Champions League, meaning two massive clubs may draw each other early on clearing the path from some smaller clubs, the competition is open to non league clubs and can offer them a vital funding pipeline if they can put a cup run together and can mean these semi pros can reminisce about the day they played against Premier League superstars, it’s on terrestrial TV, and finally it’s just a really lovely looking and is an actual cup unlike that charlatan the World Cup.

Hate the FA Cup if you want but don’t call for its extinction – some of us still love it.
Graham Simons, Gooner, Norf London


Johnny must be confusing the FA and League (or, whatever it’s called) cups.

The FA Cup is the world’s oldest club cup competition and has huge gravitas around the world.

It’s been a thread in my life. I’ve watched every one since 1977 and could recite the scores of most of them.

Yet, I’d struggle to name the First Division/EPL title winners of every year since 1977.

Growing up, here in New Zealand, it was the only English football match you could watch live all year. It was the day even rugby players became football fans.

It’s the ultimate indictment of our throwaway society to even propose binning the history and mana of the FA Cup.

The League (or, whatever it’s called) Cup, on the other hand, has long been an irrelevance and is now merely a stepping stone for youth players.

Johnny is just being a romantic old curmudgeon.

But, I get it, because I’m one myself.
– Nige. Footy fan. NZ


John Nicholson hasn’t half got his balls in a blender over the FA Cup. There’s so much sh*t to wade through, I’ll have to try and organise it somehow.

John’s gripe: The FA Cup is sh*t because the big teams don’t play their strongest 11.

John’s hypocrisy: FA Cup is sh*t because Man Utd, Man City, Liverpool, Arsenal & Chelsea have won the FA Cup have won 21 of the last 23.

You can’t have it both ways, John. You have to realise that if all the big teams tried as hard as you’re saying they should then there is little-to-no chance of any seeing variety in the winners. So which is it: half-strength-giant killings, or full strength giants never getting killed?

John’s gripe: The FA Cup is sh*t because the prize isn’t worth winning for the big teams and it’s sh*t that it’s called The Emirates FA Cup now.

John’s hypocrisy: The FA Cup is sh*t because only 10 of the 32 games were played at 3pm on Saturday and it’s sh*t that the top 20 teams in the country already have money.

Again, you can’t have it both ways. The prize money is generated mostly through TV deals and sponsorship. If all the games were played at 3pm on the Saturday (on terrestrial TV only, remember) then there’d only be one televised game. Where does John think that extra revenue is going to come from, if they’re only showing one game per round on a non-commercial channel? And which sponsors are going to pay good money to advertise their brands at games if only the captive audience physically at the remaining games are the only ones that see it? Highlights are all well and good, but most games are only going to get 1-2 minutes of coverage, so the sponsors aren’t exactly going to get their money’s worth there.

John’s gripe: The FA Cup is sh*t because the media build up giant killings too much.

John’s hypocrisy: The FA Cup is sh*t because the big teams are so much better than the little teams now that they don’t need to play a full strength team.

I mean, what? He’s whinging about the gap being wider between the top flight and the other leagues, but then moaning that they aren’t really giant killings because the big teams rested some players? How does that even make sense? Most Premier League reserve teams could beat any team that would class as being a potential giant killer, so why should that matter when the underdogs win? I’d bet my bottom dollar that Newport County’s players and fans don’t think any less of their win because Kasper Schmeichel and Jamie Vardy didn’t play.

John’s gripe: The FA Cup is sh*t because it’s not what it used to be and VAR is sh*t.

John’s hypocrisy: The FA Cup is just sh*t and should be gotten rid of for something new and change should be embraced.

So, John wants a cup that the fans like, and the TV audiences just have to suck it up? Right, obviously. Who do you think those TV audiences are comprised of, John? It’s also interesting that John goes so far out of his way to suggest that we need a new competition but offers precisely zero insight to what this new competition would be like. This, bear in mind, is from the author of articles titled: “The truth: We have gained nothing from the Premier League” and “A manifesto for rescuing the Champions League…” so I am intrigued to see what this revolutionary new competition of his would look like, seeing as he doesn’t like any existing ones.

The FA Cup is fine; it’s not what it once was but that’s ok. It’s alright for bigger teams to rest some of their players, particularly after a very busy festive period, as long as the players who take to the pitch put in the effort. It’s alright that a team a few leagues lower then goes on to beat them and it gets called a giant killing; if anything, it’s an even bigger deal now precisely because of how far ahead the bigger teams are. It’s alright for games to start at different times because that means more people get to watch more games. It’s alright that the sponsors name comes first: who, other than those paid to do so, even mentions the word “Emirates” when talking about it anyway? It makes precisely no difference to anyone.

Actually, now it’s pretty damn clear where the issue lies. John: you’re the problem. You want it to be the same as it was back when you were a lad and this was all fields. And you want this while bemoaning all the ways that it has changed, yet concurrently insist that change must be embraced. Which is it: do you want it to change or not?

No, I suspect what you actually want is to turn back time. You want a full strength big team to get beat by a team of plumbers and postmen from North Shields, at 3pm on a Saturday, while only a handful of people get to watch it from some dingy, muddy, shed of a ground in the north east. You want a big team to fully commit to a game in which they’ll get absolutely clattered by a bunch of lumbering idiots whose biggest claim to fame will be “I proper stuck on one Ozil in the FA Cup”. You want big teams to fully commit to games for which there’s very little to gain other than some old fashioned notion of romance or glamour, just so luddites like you can get a lovely warm feeling inside.

John: you’re the problem. Not the FA Cup, not the teams, not the players, not the fans, not the broadcasters. You. The FA Cup doesn’t need you, and if you don’t like it any more then feel free to sod right off.
Ted, Manchester


Good to see the annual moan about moaning about the FA Cup is alive and well this year again, notably Johnny Nic’s opine that it was better in his day when all of this was trees. I personally love the FA cup, although I am old enough to remember it when it was apparently totally amazing and every game played out like an episode of Eastenders on Xmas day.

There is some truth that the cup has been devalued, no doubt my team (United) has contributed by playing weakened teams in the early rounds or not entering at all in 2000 even though we had won it the previous year. Priorities have shifted, with the league and CL weighted a lot heavier than the domestic cups due to the financial rewards linked to each. Nostalgia also plays a part, everyone can look back fondly to the past with misty eyes and ignore the fact that some of the matches (and football) were awful back then too.

Nevertheless, to simply take the approach that it isn’t working so rip it up and start again would completely devalue the second most important domestic trophy; we may as well just get rid of it altogether then. It is a stance which reflects the wasteful times we live in – don’t bother repairing, it’s just as cheap to buy a new one. Some things are worth holding onto, the history of the FA Cup and its link to the present time is one of them. It pre-dates the Premier League, has survived through wars and tragedies, has given us all memories (good and bad) and will continue to do so if handled correctly. The starting point should be to stop devaluing the final and play the semi-finals somewhere other than Wembley.

Give the younger supporters the chance to have their own FA Cup memories and add it to the list of memorable moments that we can all share and look back on in years to come. Kill off the FA Cup now? Pah, sure it was only a couple of years ago we got one of the greatest FA Cup final moments – Chunky Pardew’s cringe-inducing dad dance. Got the moves like Jagger.
Garey Vance, MUFC    


Dear Mr Nicholson

In 2017 I was lucky enough to attend the FA Cup final thanks to my brother getting me a ticket. I saw my beloved Arsenal triumph over Chelsea and now have priceless memories to look back on. Each year when the Cup rolls around again I dream of another day out at Wembley.

There are millions of people up and down the country who share this dream. I’m sorry you have become so bitter and jaded and seem to have no optimism for the competition. Perhaps you should look for another sport to spend your time writing about as you seem to do nothing but moan about football.
Mark (FA Cup loving Gooner) 


How to fix it
I know it would never work in a thousand years but how about excluding Premier league teams from the competition and giving the eventual FA Cup winners automatic promotion to the Premier league and all it’s finances?
Andy (AFC)


The FA Cup may be in demise but I’m not sure it is as drastic as John Nicholson suggests. Everyone still wants to win it, they’re just trying to do it with the path of least resistance.

Unfortunately, tradition is the enemy of change and so the FA Cup will likely die agonisingly slowly alongside Test Cricket, Compact Discs and manual gearboxes (I’d rather keep the first of those 2 for the record – no pun intended).

Those teams such as Leicester who lost to underdogs didn’t just lose because they “rotated their squad” – they took a calculated risk which backfired. They didn’t set out to lose and on paper still should have won. Man Utd also took a calculated risk and on another day Reading could easily have beaten them with the positions they got themselves into. With the top 2 divisions resting players it just makes it easier for the top 6 as their reserve teams will generally put away whatever is put up against them for the first few rounds before they strengthen as they need to depending on their other realistic trophy aspirations towards the end of the season – expect City & Liverpool to crash out to another top 6 or mid table premier league team as and when they meet them while they focus more on Premier league and Champions league – thus making it even easier for one of the other top 6 teams to lift the Cup.

The problem IS about money (isn’t it always?) but created by the sheer number of European and League games that mean there is no time to take anything else seriously. If the premier league (and other divisions) were cut to 18 or 16 teams then there would be time.

Money will not allow that to happen and keeping up the proud traditions will prevent a complete overhaul but the FA need to do something differently. You could start by scrapping replays and extra time and go straight to penalties? Limit top 2 divisions to players under the age of 23? Maybe a bigger overhaul as shown by the Uefa Nations league is the only way? Make it 7-a-side football on a full field 30 mins each way (sounds really stupid but look at T20 cricket and 7’s rugby)  Any other bright/stupid ideas mailboxers?

The FA Cup isn’t dead, but for supporters of clubs in the top divisions it just isn’t interesting until the Quarter Finals assuming your team is still there.
Jon, Cape Town (but you still can’t beat the atmosphere at an FA cup game)


Wolves at the door
Managers picking weakened teams in the FA Cup, in attempt to finish 8th instead of 10th in the premier league is The Biggest Threat Facing Football Today™

Don’t let me down Nuno.
John Collins, WWFC, London


Winter’s coming
I’m not being flippant when I ask this, but why do clubs go for warm weather winter training if they have a chance during the winter period (such as United in Dubai)?

Is it just a team bonding exercise or is there a physiological reason for this? Do the players benefit from resting up in a way that couldn’t be done at home (while also flying long distance and potentially suffering from jet lag)?

Honestly confused by it – it isn’t like it will be warm (or even f*cking dry) anytime soon in Manchester, so it is hardly like the players need to acclimatise. I assume there must be a valid reason, just no idea what it is.
Jack (January is an awful month and should be considerably shorter) Manchester


Shallow Puel
After the dust had settled on a grim afternoon for Leicester City and I had shared some possibly (probably) hysterical views on Claude Puel my thoughts inevitably went to the deep space of why do we do this? Specifically, what is the point of being a football fan? (I did say deep…).

I think the answer will vary for the top 4/5 but I landed on excitement, experience and hope. An exciting style of football (not necessarily attractive, but fast paced, aggressive and something you can get behind), the experience that following your team brings whether that be on TV or at the stadium and the hope that the team improves and thus heightens the excitement and experience.

This is where my problem with Claude Puel lies, he is doing very little to deliver on excitement, experience and hope. The style of football is poor. Very passive possession, an abundance of holding midfielders and an isolated Vardy leads to slow and turgid football. Being at Stamford Bridge and the King Power to beat Man City were fantastic but really have been the exception to the rule – see Cardiff 3 days later and many more. Playing a reserve side in the Carabao Cup (against a very beatable Man City second XI) and then almost a third team against Newport effectively removed the hope of any experience in cup competitions. Make no bones about it a cup semi final would be the highlight of our season and something to be remembered – those team selections were absolutely brutal for Leicester fans. Our season is effectively over, we have Southampton next Saturday and I couldn’t care less. All we have to look forward to now is 1 or 2 league games against the big boys which mean little. I don’t have any great hope this will change.

Puel is a pleasant man and I suspect he’s pretty smart with it, but as a football fan he is incredibly hard to back. The best this appears to get is finishing 7th-9th in the league every year (Swansea 3/4yrs ago, Southampton 2/3yrs ago) and that is something I find very hard to get excited about.
Dan, Herts


The usual long time reader, first time writing in. My reason? Not too sure. But it revolves around the FA Cup weekend. My first since moving to London and I was excited. Until it began. One of my friends is doing a ‘March to the Arch’, attempting to watch a game from every round – which led me to joining in at the London Stadium to watch West Ham play Birmingham.

The Irons went 1-0 up, took off the threat that was linking all play in the final third, and then sat on the lead for the next 70 minutes. Andy Carroll was only ever met with sarcastic cheers and “useless donkey/w*nker” every time he touched the ball. Which oddly was the loudest chant of the home crowd, apart from the occasional performance via the Bubble blowing choir. But it was the Birmingham fans that really hammered home the way I was feeling as I squinted at Andy Carroll flinging himself at everything and anything in sight. After the ever predictable “is this a library?”, the away end followed up with a chorus of “you’re not West Ham anymore”.

As I reflected over the FA Cup weekend, I came to the conclusion that the chant was probably the saddest thing I witnessed all weekend. A weekend where I sat in and watched Silver Linings Playbook by myself, was twice denied tickets from Loftus Road on Sunday because my flatmate and I ‘were not on the database’, and then continued to fail in getting last minute tickets to Craven Cottage. On the plus side, Pompey absolutely stuffed Norwich so looking forward to the next FA Cup weekend in the capital.
Max, Plastic Iron, Useless QPR fan (?)


Teams of the season
Interesting that Damo has eschewed the two top scorers in the league for his early team of the season in favour of three wingers (I’d go with Auba).

As you’ll probably receive tonnes of variations on a theme though, I present to you my alternative team of the season:

GK – Etheridge

RB – Wan Bissaka
CB – Doherty
CB – Kabasele
LB – Digne

RW – Pereyra
CM – Doucoure
CM – Felipe Anderson
LW – Ryan Fraser

FW – Mitrovic
FW – Wilson
David (Gooner in Sheffield)


Dear MC

If we’re doing Teams of the First-Half-Of-The-Season I thought I’d have a go at a version for League Two.  In an effort to encourage fans of The Greatest League In The World™ to have a closer look at our humble league, I’ve opted to restrict myself to one player from each team – here you go.

For the formation, I’ll accede to the stereotype of lower league teams and take a Mike Bassett style four-four-f***ing-two (nb – an awful lot of sides actually play a 3-4-3 or 4-2-3-1)

GK – James McKeown, Grimsby Town – perhaps an unexpected choice but he was excellent against my lot twice this season, and heroic against Palace in the Cup last weekend

RB – Perry Ng, Crewe Alexandra – because as well as being a very good full back, he’ll be in a pub quiz near you as the “shortest professional footballers surname without vowels”
CB – Krystian Pearce, Mansfield Town – consistently excellent at the centre of a back four that has only conceded 19 goals so far.
CB – Jordan Moore-Taylor, MK Dons – loyally followed his manager to the Franchise; surprisingly good in the air, reads the game well, left footed, and takes an excellent free kick.
LB – Danny Grainger, Carlisle United – a modern full back in every sense, bags of experience, and already 5 goals in 17 appearances this season from left back.

RW – Danny Mayor, Bury – Mayor has impressed me every time I have seen him and for me is the beating heart of Bury’s exciting front line – the Shakers lead the league in goals.
CM – Michael Bostwick, Lincoln City – all good lower league teams need an enforcer and Bostwick combines an imposing physique with the clichéd “good feet for a big man”.
CM – Sammie Szmodics, Colchester United – usually plays just behind the forwards so Szmodics is given a free role to roam as the central playmaker of this side
LW – Keshi Anderson, Swindon Town – consistently dangerous and always able to find space, we should enjoy this Palace youth product before he moves back up the leagues.

CF – James Norwood, Tranmere Rovers – the league top-scorer has pace to burn and will enjoy running on to the flickons won by the target man, who is of course…
CF – Jayden Stockley, (only just left) Exeter City – the overall top scorer for the calendar year 2018 in the English professional leagues.  We’ll miss you Jayden.

Manager – Mark Cooper, Forest Green Rovers – had big shoes to fill at FGR and the transition has been seamless, the return of Doidge up front makes them my dark horse top tip for promotion to League One.
Terry Hall, Switzerland (avoided the temptation to completely fill this list with former Grecians, but the 4 that are there are in on merit I reckon)


As a Leicester fan (only team other than City, Liverpool and Chelsea to get a mention in the questionably early ‘team of the season’ so far), I felt compelled to write in on Ricardo Pereira.

While he’s been very good recently, there are a few reasons he deserves to be nowhere near the RB spot in team of the season:

1. His best performances have come largely when he has been playing as a winger, rather than a right-back

2. Early on in the season when he was playing at RB, he was at best inconsistent, but more accurately quite suspect. He lost his place (justifiably) to Daniel Amartey before Amartey got injured.

3. Aaron Wan-Bissaka – This man has been a rock. Saw some statistics on him (can’t recall if it was on this website or somewhere else) this season, which showed just how effective he’s been. Anecdotally I’m pretty sure he has done a great job at containing any left sided attacking player (see Sane, Hazard) this season as well. I can’t think of anyone more deserving than the spot than him. Perhaps someone with more time on their hands could dig some stats out to make a better case than I have.

In the interests of a bit more variety, some honourable mentions to some other players from the so-called ‘lesser teams’ that deserve to be in the conversation; Callum Wilson (9 goals, 8 assists in the PL so far, and a feel-good comeback from injury story complete with the England call up – surely better than going with the false 9!), Ryan Fraser, Matt Doherty, Felipe Anderson, Richarlison, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Lucas Torreira
Ben(I kind of feel bad for indulging this nonsense) LCFC 


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