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Tradition Means Nothing Any More: FA Cup Match To Be Played On Friday Night

I'm not a hidebound traditionalist, but this is dumb.

Couldn't really find a context-appropriate picture so here's a stern Wenger
Couldn't really find a context-appropriate picture so here's a stern Wenger
Clive Rose

Traditions and nostalgia are not normally things I care about all that much.  At work, if you say "Because it's always been done this way" to me when I ask you a question about why something is done the way it's done, well, let's just say I have my own lesser, more corporately appropriate version of the Alex Ferguson hairdryer treatment for answers like that.

I'm the same way in life in general - traditions have their place, but things become traditions because people make them their own.  Look at the holidays - how many things does your family/group of friends do at Christmas that started somewhere else, as a similar thing, but that you've put your own stamp on and made your own?  That's how traditions are made.

The FA Cup, at this point, trades on its tradition, because it's faded in significance compared to the Olympic-sized swimming pool full of cash that is the Champions League, or even the Premier League.  The FA Cup has long been my favorite soccer competition - I love a single knockout tournament, I love the fact that a Wrexham can beat an Arsenal, I love the fact that a non-league side can be drawn against a Manchester United at Old Trafford and that their fans and players can be treated to an away day the likes of which they've never seen before and may never see again.  It's all amazing, and it's all fun to watch.

The traditions of the FA Cup are many - the first round featuring First Division/Premier League sides is always the third round of the competition, and that round always takes place the first week of January; early rounds that end in draws go to replays and not extra time/penalties; the final's at Wembley, etc.  It used to be that the semi-finals were at other neutral grounds (Villa Park and Old Trafford, unless Villa or MUFC were involved), but they moved to Wembley when Wembley was rebuilt so Wembley could pay its bills.

Over the years, even as the money flooded into the game, the FA Cup stayed basically the same - its structure, its timing, and its competition have not changed in any significant way at all.  But lat night came news that kinda blew my mind a little bit - Arsenal's FA Cup tie against Coventry will be played on Friday night, January 24th.

Friday night.

Think back to when you started watching top-level soccer.  In all that time, when was the last Friday night game you watched?  In Arsenal's case, it's been 10 years - they played twice on Fridays during the Invincibles season.

There are very good reasons why Premier League (and Cup) games aren't played on Friday nights, primarily relating to England's geography and transportation infrastructure.  It's just not realistic for a Newcastle supporter to get from Newcastle to London for a Friday night game without taking the whole day off work.  It's a little more realistic (but still impractical) for Liverpool supporters to get to London, or London supporters to get to Manchester, but all those trips would still require fans to take time off work, on top of incurring the costs of travel.

Coventry's a closer trip (about 90 min), but that would still require leaving work early to get to the Emirates on time.

But as TV and its dump trucks full of cash becomes the lifeblood of the game (and more cynically the only reason it exists at this point), the desires and needs of fans who go to games are rapidly becoming either a lesser concern or an irrelevance.  TV has long dictated scheduling of sporting events, and this Friday night fixture is just another step along the road that may in fact end with TV calling all the shots as far as scheduling matches goes.

I am not one of those people who thinks that nothing should ever change and everything should be as it was in my grandpappy's day.  I am, however, one who thinks that changes to a product being consumed should be made with the consumer in mind.  The essential problem is that the TV consumer and the in-person consumer are not the same person, at least on game day - TV companies, understandably, want the most eyeballs on screens that they can get, and teams, also understandably, want stadia full of fans who are going to spend money while there.

With every successive TV deal, teams and the league have ceded more and more control over their product to the TV companies; at what point will the teams push back and say "hey you know what maybe don't schedule games on Friday nights?"