The third round of the FA Cup is upon us again, and with it another chance for me to talk about how much I love this competition. I’ve written about it rather extensively in the past, so this time, instead of rehashing the same reasons why I love the Cup more than pretty much any other competition, I’ll highlight an article that talks a bit about the Cup from a player perspective.
In the Guardian today, Liam Rosenior, a journeyman player currently at Brighton & Hove Albion, talks about his experience with the FA Cup. Rosenior brings up a lot of points that us jaded fans never think about, especially in regards to what the competition means.
A lot of us fans - and a non-zero number of Big Six teams and players, probably - see the FA Cup as a distraction, as a lesser competition to the bottomless money pit that is the Champions League, the Premier League, and maybe even the Europa League. But as Rosenior points out, it’s anything but that for the players that play at the non-elite clubs.
The further down the pyramid you go, the more meaningful that players, fans, and clubs find the FA Cup to be. It’s a chance for those players to swim in the deep end, run with the big dogs, or whatever metaphor you choose to use:
a “proper cup run” cannot only sustain them financially for years but also give the opportunity to their supporters to live the dream of competing with the big boys and tell stories to grandchildren about the day they were there.
That’s the forgotten element in all this - soccer shouldn’t always be about chasing the money. If you’re a player at a small club, it truly is about a David and Goliath story, about 20 years from now telling your friends about that time your “little” club went to the Etihad and played the best team in the Premier League to a standstill for 45 minutes, or about how amazing the facilities are at any top-rank club. It’s a way to create memories, and in doing so create another set of memories for your club’s fans.
And as far as the big teams rotating players go, Rosenior says that it doesn’t matter:
In fact, the players who come in to play are hungry and determined to show their worth and see the Cup as a fantastic opportunity to make their names and achieve something special by winning a trophy that we’ve all seen held aloft when we were young.
He also says the FA Cup “is a reminder that we were all kids or underdogs once”, and that’s an excellent point - we’ve been so conditioned to think that only the big teams matter, and further that the only games that matter are Big Team 1 v. Big Team 2, that we tend to think the FA Cup, like the league itself (and the CL to an extent) is comprised of only eight teams. Guess what? It’s not! There’s still 64 teams left in the competition, 44 of which you don’t care about 99% of the time (and probably 59 of which you don’t care about 75% of the time).
While it’s an oversimplification to say that the FA Cup is everything for those teams in an otherwise anonymous season, it’s not too much to say that the Cup does in fact mean a lot - for the fans, it’s a great day out, and for the players, it’s a chance to see what they can do against a stronger side, and if things go just right, against more than one.
From my perspective, I view this weekend like I do the first weekend of the NCAA basketball tournament - it’s a firehose of teams I rarely pay attention to, all trying to do something that will make them legendary, even if only for a couple weeks. I love the energy of it, I love the randomness of it, I just love everything about it.
In short, it’s fun. And sports are supposed to be fun. Have fun watching the FA Cup, regardless of who wins (in all but Arsenal’s case of course).