The FA Cup (Second Half)
The credibility of the competition was undermined in 2000 by the Football Association’s decision to encourage holders Manchester United to withdraw from the FA Cup – they opted to take part in the inaugural World Club Championship in Brazil which, it was believed, would help England’s ill-fated 2006 World Cup bid. Then-United manager Alex Ferguson later admitted the move was “without question a catastrophe.”
Recent years have seen a host of Premier League managers openly admitting that the FA Cup is not a footballing or financial priority – demonstrated by their fielding weakened teams as standard practice – with either reaching the riches of the Champions League or simply retaining Premier League status their main aim. This has lessened the prestige of a competition which reached its peak viewing figures of 28.5 million for the 1970 Chelsea-Leeds replay; the second-largest UK television audience for a sporting event, behind only the 1966 World Cup Final. The FA Cup remained a major draw at home and abroad over decades, with hours of coverage filling the television schedules on Cup Final day. It still commands a global audience but its domestic appeal has diminished, with the traditional 3 p.m. kick-off now subject to broadcasting demands, and Premier League fixtures taking place on the same day on several occasions; even the light-hearted Cup Final record has fallen by the wayside.
The outcome is also more predictable, with the wealth of the top Premier League teams, already dominating league competition, having a similar impact on the Cup. With the exception of Portsmouth in 2008 and Wigan Athletic in 2013, the winners in the Premier League era have been top-four clubs: Arsenal (8), Chelsea (7), Manchester United (5), Liverpool (2), Everton and Manchester City (1 each). By contrast, the 1970s alone saw nine different teams lift the Cup, including Second Division sides Sunderland and Southampton; West Ham became the last winners from outside the top division when they triumphed in 1980. Later that decade both Coventry and Wimbledon achieved historic Cup victories, but Wigan remain (to date) the only first-time winners in the 26 seasons since the Premier League began. The competition seems unlikely to regain its former position, with the FA itself contributing to, and unable to reverse, the decline of the Cup.