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Last Updated: Monday, 5 January, 2004, 13:46 GMT
Cooling passions
By John May

Telford fans show their passion
Telford fans show their passion for the FA Cup
One of the world's great romances is in danger of fizzling out.

Large numbers of English football fans appear to be falling out of love with the FA Cup.

Supporters who once ached to have a long-running relationship with the world's oldest knockout competition now only seem to have eyes for the Premiership.

FA Cup third round day was once a cocktail of passion, excitement and expectancy.

But what once ellicited the sort of tingling feelings felt at the start of an enticing journey on the Orient Express, now feels more like a mundane commute for many.

Although average third round attendances were the highest for five years, just about every Premiership club which was drawn at home attracted a crowd well below their average for a top-flight match.

It is hardly surprising if supporters fed a regular, rich diet of world stars opted to pass on the visit of bread-and-butter performers from a lower division club.

But even the all-Premiership ties did not exactly float the boat of their supporters.

West Brom's Artim Sakiri plays to an empty backdrop
West Brom's Artim Sakiri plays to an empty backdrop

The Birmingham-Blackburn tie enticed 10,000 fewer than the Premiership clash earlier in the season, while 16,000 less than the average decided to drift along to the City of Manchester Stadium to see the clash with Leicester.

Southampton's crowd of 28,456 for the visit of Newcastle was the lowest of the season at St Mary's, where just about every Premiership game is a sell-out.

But it was not just Premiership fans who cocked a snook at the third round.

Division One ties would not come much bigger than Nottingham Forest and West Brom, but the 11,843 who bothered to show at the City Ground were some way short of Forest's average 20,000 average.

If there are starry-eyed FA Cup romantics around, they are among fans of lower division clubs.

THIRD ROUND HIGHS AND LOWS
Highest crowd: 40,816: Sunderland v Hartlepool.
Lowest crowd: 3,609: Wimbledon v Stoke
Lowest below average: 30,617 Man City v Leicester

As you would expect, Kidderminster's Aggborough was heaving for the visit of Wolves, and Charlton packed them in at Gillingham's Priestfield.

Liverpool's visit to Yeovil was never going to produce anything but a capacity crowd at Huish Park, likewise star-studded Chelsea's trip on the Metropolitan Line to Watford packed out Vicarage Road.

But Tranmere fans were not all that fussed by the visit of Bolton, who failed to test Prenton Park's capacity.

And it comes to something when Mick Jones, manager of Conference club Telford, says all he wants from the FA Cup is one more big pay day and a quick exit.

The Football Association appears unconcerned at what would appear to be a downturn in interest - at least in the early stages of the competition.

A spokesman said: "There's not a trend you can point to.

"Some clubs attracted crowds well in excess of their average.

HAVE YOUR SAY

"There was more than 40,000 at Villa Park for the visit of Manchester United and the crowd at the Sunderland-Hartlepool game was phenomenal."

The FA Cup may be in danger of losing her romantic suitors, but she knows they will return.

And you can bet that those fans who turned their back on the old girl in January, will be among the first clamouring for her affections come May.





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