By Jonathan Lewis | 20th SEP 2021
The FA Cup qualifying rounds began in August as more than 700 teams enter the national competition in a bid to win England’s oldest football competition.
There is an opportunity for some upsets in FA Cup Betting as the depth of competition covers amateur, semi-professional and all professional teams across the country battle for this prestigious, historic trophy.
However, in 2021, with many facets of national, continental and world football now available for viewers, fans, and clubs, does the famous FA Cup still hold the same relevance as it once did in England?
Upsets, Revenue and Nostalgia: FA Cup Relevance
For many smaller teams across England, the FA Cup still holds plenty of relevance. The cup competition provides a chance for English Football League sides and non-league clubs to battle against some of the top teams in the country if they progress beyond the initial qualifying an early round.
The potential to cause an upset appeal hugely to lower league clubs. If they can eliminate a top team early on, they stand a chance of progressing to the final stages. This still happens year in, year out in the FA Cup. Last season, League Two Crawley Town stunned Premier League Leeds in the third round as the EFL club beat Marcelo Bielsa’s side 3-0 at home. Non-league side Chorley also produced a shocking result as they beat Derby County 2-0, a team placed four divisions above them.
These results still appeal to club fans and to neutral supporters of football too. It is this potential for inconsistency and spontaneity that gives the FA Cup a unique appeal compared to bigger competitions in world football.
But the FA Cup ties also have relevance in terms of financial gain for clubs. When clubs the size of Crawley or Chorley come up against established top-tier clubs, it is an opportunity to gather much-needed income from ticket sales and TV revenue. In the 2021/22 season, teams will receive £82,000 for winning a third-round tie. While it may not seem like life-changing amounts for a Premier League side, it is a huge boost for a non-league side like Chorley.
There is also relevance for the FA Cup in response to recent actions of the ‘Big Six’ in English football. In April 2021, six Premier League clubs tried to negotiate a move away from the traditional structure of English football in a bid to gain more power and say in how the sport is run. This European Super League highlighted the intentions of bigger clubs to try and control English football.
Although the proposal was quickly shut down, amid widespread condemnation from the football community, it highlighted the disparity between the top and bottom clubs in English football. Competitions like the FA Cup shine a light on all teams in English football, from all communities.
For recent FA Cup winners like Leicester and Wigan, there is still nostalgia to be found in winning the FA Cup. Also, for teams who reached the final in recent seasons, like Crystal Palace, Watford, Hull, Stoke and Portsmouth, there is definitely relevance to be found in competing in the FA Cup each season.
More Focus on European Competition
However, while there are still relevant factors of the FA Cup, some aspects may not be linked with the modern values of football. In recent decades, there has been a shift away from national competitions. More viewership, investment and competition has increased in European and world football competitions.
As a result, there is less meaning for fans in the FA Cup, especially for fans supporting teams who compete in European competitions. The FA Cup used to be seen in a similar vein to the Champions League. It had prestige and was an elite competition. FA Cup final day was almost considered a national holiday, where viewers from England, and around the world tuned in to watch some of the biggest teams in England compete at Wembley.
But now, bigger teams are willing to sacrifice their progression in the FA Cup. Instead, there is a focus on achieving well in European competitions. Liverpool, in particular, have taken this approach in recent years. Due to the fixture pile-ups that naturally comes with competing on multiple fronts during the football season, Liverpool have fielded second-string teams in the FA Cup.
In the 2019/20 season, Liverpool fielded their under 23 sides in a fourth-round tie against Shrewsbury. The under 23s were led by the development team manager, Neil Critchley, as Jurgen Klopp insisted on giving his side a winter break due to continuous fixtures throughout December and January.
Acts like this show an increasing disregard by some top teams towards the FA Cup. The domestic cups, including the EFL Cup, are often the first competitions to be sacrificed in place of success in the Champions League, Europa League or Premier League.
Jonathan Lewis is an MFF sports writer