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    5. English football traditions have been defeated and for what?


    English football traditions have been defeated and for what?

    Arsenal captain Tony Adams lifts the trophy as Arsenal win the 1998 Premier League. Photo: Getty Images/Ben Radford

    A total of 732 clubs competed in the FA Cup this season, from Glossop North End to Great Wakering Rovers, from Saltash United to Shepshed Dynamo. But in the end, only 20 people decide the fate of everyone. Or, to be more precise, four: four Premier League titans poised to qualify for next season's busy Champions League group stage and now considered the world's oldest cup competition. as such trivial entertainment that even the finale from the next season will lose its status as the last game in the internal calendar.

    It is at this point that you wonder if football understands the value of everything and the value of nothing. The poor, neglected FA Cup has suffered so many indignities over the past 25 years, from Manchester United's decision to abandon it entirely at the 2000 FIFA Club World Cup to the callous decision to stage both semi-finals at Wembley just to recoup costs. about the reconstruction of the stadium. Now that the latest renovation requires a complete abandonment of repetition, it resembles a ruined shell more than ever.

    With his legacy already marred by plans to move him behind a paywall to TNT Sports from the 2025-26 campaign, the death knell of replay feels like the final insult. Top clubs may view replays as a terrible inconvenience, but they are a fundamental component of the FA Cup structure. Take them away and you're left without Ryan Giggs' iconic wonder strike in 1999 against Arsenal and Manchester City's stunningly incredible comeback five years later to beat Tottenham 4-3. There is no more room for Ronnie Radford's superb 35-yard strike that led Hereford to triumph over Newcastle in 1972. There may not even be room for the career of John Motson, who first made his name with his comments on Radford's goal.

    There are also some vital financial considerations here. The history of the FA Cup is replete with tales of clubs whose very survival depended on achieving a repeat, whether in a ramshackle outpost or in one of the game's glittering strongholds. Football has tried to allay those concerns by promising an extra £33 million to the public, but you have to wonder how that figure was calculated. What exact monetary value can be attributed to, for example, Exeter's achievement against Manchester United in 2005? Having achieved a goalless draw at Old Trafford, they were able not only to bring Wayne Rooney and others back to St James' Park, but also to muster such a windfall that they broke out of administration.

    Photo: Getty Images/George Wood

    The harsh interpretation is that football only loses four games due to a massively bloated schedule. Who at the summit will bemoan the mothballing of the first round replays? Well, the Cray Valley Paper Mill certainly will. Last November, the Eltham side secured the south-east London derby for good against League One side Charlton Athletic. And by forcing a replay, which was broadcast live on the BBC, they ensured that the funding would last them for years to come.

    What's really worrying is that football is robbing precious memories from the little people while providing empty pre-season friendlies for the big boys. What will excite you about Manchester City vs. Chelsea in Columbus, Ohio this summer? Or Arsenal vs Liverpool in Philadelphia? Why are these glorified shirt selling exercises held sacrosanct while the essence of the FA Cup is removed piece by piece?

    And as for claims by Mark Bullingham, chief executive of the Football Association, that the magic of the Cup will be “protected and enhanced” by the changes? This is a ridiculous statement. On the contrary, they sabotaged the very spectacles that many fans have dreamed of all their lives. The argument is that the FA's hands were tied by UEFA's relentless commitment to expanding the Champions League. But what a sad indictment it is of where the sport's priorities really lie.

    Under the revised structure, the FA Cup final will lose its luster as a traditional English curtain call. Instead, it will be rebranded as entertainment for the final round of Premier League matches next May. There is a feeling that the entire architecture of the English game is being distorted and the needs of the many are being ignored in an attempt to satisfy the interests of the few. At times like these, it is tempting to wonder whether the outbreak of idealistic resentment towards the European Super League has achieved anything. When you look at how football cowardly will tarnish its jewels to make way for a huge Champions League, you realize that a version of this terrible reality is already here.

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