In the early part of the last decade, many feared domestic cups were in decline, and were becoming merely an afterthought as the top English clubs sought progression on the continent and beyond. In 2000, Manchester United decided against defending their 1999 FA cup triumph to compete in the inaugural Club World Cup, causing massive controversy, with many believing the tradition and prestige of the competition had been damaged. This, combined with the seven-year closure Wembley Stadium seeing the cup final relocated to Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium, saw the reputation of the competition compromised, with many clubs deciding to field weakened sides, with three points taking priority over progression into the next round of the tournament.
However, in more recent years, the increase in investment across Premier League clubs has seen a more intense competition for honours, particular in the race for the Champions League, with Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City providing competition to the dominance of Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal. This increasing number of sides challenging for a place among England and Europe’s elite has led to clubs looking to alternative stepping stones to satisfying the fans’ and owners’ hunger for success. With coaches under increasing pressure to lead clubs to success, domestic cups now allow them to keep the pressures of the board room at bay by delivering silverware at the expense of the clubs around them.
The romance of the FA Cup has always remained strong, with the giant-killing exploits of clubs such as Havant and Waterlooville and Crawley Town in recent years showing the passion throughout the country towards the history of the competition. However, as the bigger clubs begin to renew their interest in the cup, such shock results hold even more value, which can only be good for a competition; the leading clubs are motivated to avoid humiliation, mirrored with the passion of the smaller clubs to create their own history.
While it can be said that clubs want to win the FA Cup for their own reasons – besides the prestige and honour of winning the oldest cup competition in the game – the demand for investment to come to fruition, the pressure on coaches to bolster the trophy cabinets and the players’ desire to add to their own medal collections, England’s elite continue to look to the FA Cup as a method to satisfy such desires. As the scenes at the end of the Manchester derby semi-final showed, the passion for the FA Cup is still very much alive.