In my younger days, The FA Cup was a competition every football fan looked forward to with a dream that this could be the year for their club.

The third-round draw was always on (the now) Radio 5 live on a Monday lunchtime and as a fan you dreamed of drawing a big team at home. Wembley….Wembley …was the song that rang out from the terraces if your team was winning in a cup tie.

Football history is littered with iconic moments down the years. Every fan of every club will have their own story to tell. It was a competition that made legends and defined clubs. It is still the only major competition my team Charlton has won even though that was back in 1947. Chris Duffy scored the winning goal in extra time and the ball burst as it did in the 1946 final which Charlton lost. This was said to be due to the poor level of leather quality available after the Second World War.

How times have changed. Matches are now played on days and times to suit the TV scheduling. Cup draws are at different times and not always at a time that young fans can watch. And now we have the new phenomenon of the double round draw. Team selection can now heavily affect the outcome of a tie. It is now customary that Premier League clubs rest key players, and that practice is spreading to the Championship and League One clubs.

At Chorley, Derby County fielded a very young team and duly exited the competition as did Leeds United at Crawley. Of course, if it is Covid related that is understandable but it wasn’t in those two examples. It is always great to see young players getting first team opportunities, but I would be interested to know from those players if the experience for them was a positive or a negative one and what it did for their confidence and belief which is so important to a young player’s development.

For me young players benefit when one or two of them are blooded into a team, so they play with and learn from the established first team players. Leicester City did this at the weekend in their FA Cup tie at Brentford by blooding 19-year-old Luke Thomas and he had an excellent game, and the experience would have done him and his confidence the world of good and he is now on the pathway to becoming fully integrated into Leicester’s first team squad. If the competition is used in this way and respected, then young players get enormous benefit and so do their clubs.

Without fans at matches it is difficult to assess what they think of the modern-day attitude of clubs towards The FA Cup. Fans are not stupid. They know that the Champions League, the Europa League, the Premier League and promotion and relegation from the Championship are regarded as much more important by managers in particular than The FA Cup. As a result, in the years to come fans will respond by attending FA Cup matches in ever lower numbers, unless of course it is the latter stages of the competition. One of the other turn offs is that some clubs tend to shut areas of the ground where fans would sit on a normal match day in order to save on stewarding costs.

Clubs like West Ham and Southampton are enjoying excellent seasons and have both progressed to the fifth round of this year’s competition stoking memories of their FA Cup wins in 1975 and 1980 and 1976 and of match winners such as Alan Taylor, Trevor Brooking and Bobby Stokes.

As new generations of football fans grow older The FA Cup will more and more be accepted to be way down the pecking order of club’s priorities and reflecting on great days of yesteryear will be left to the older generation and people like me and that is sad.

Peter Varney – Chairman Integral Sports Management

Image – Getty Images

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