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Last Updated: Friday, 4 February, 2005, 12:48 GMT
FA Cup in danger of losing lustre
By Phil McNulty
Chief football writer

Man Utd skipper Roy Keane lifts the FA Cup last year
The notion of the FA Cup final being played on a Wednesday evening is another blow to traditionalists who fear every ounce of romance is being drained from the famous old trophy.

But the Football Association is considering the move from 2006 to ensure England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson has more time with his squad before the World Cup in Germany.

The FA insists no decision has been made - but the confirmation that it is "exploring several strong proposals" suggests it is a serious consideration.

It is the latest setback to the image of the tournament, tarnished by a succession of setbacks and a perceived decline in its status as the most famous knock-out tournament in the world.

So what are the blows that have damaged the FA Cup's image?

MANCHESTER UNITED'S WITHDRAWAL

Manchester United were given permission not to take part in the FA Cup in 2000 to pursue an ill-fated campaign in the Fifa World Club Championship.

Portrayed as a key plank in England's doomed bid to stage the 2006 World Cup, it was a spectacular failure on every level.

The decision to allow a major club to dip in and out of the competition at will was regarded as a fatal blow to the FA Cup's prestige.

NO FA CUP FINAL REPLAYS

FA Cup Final replays have long been a source of drama - take Chelsea's 2-1 win against Leeds United in 1970 and Spurs' win against Manchester City in 1981.

It was decided to have only one replay in 1991 and they were abandoned altogether in 1999.

FALLING ATTENDANCES

Exeter salute their fans after their FA Cup draw with Manchester Utd
Exeter gained a worthy draw against a below strength Man Utd
Grounds that would usually be packed for FA Cup ties suddenly see empty seats - and plenty of them.

The packed houses still come along, but there are stark examples that suggest the FA Cup is not the magnetic draw it once was.

West Ham drew 27,424 for the Championship game against Sheffield United on 3 January, and yet only 19,444 were present at the FA Cup fourth round game later in the month.

And Blackburn attendance of only 10,634 for their fourth round game against Colchester United was also in stark contrast to their league games.

WEAKENED TEAMS

The League Cup - in all its various guises - was once regarded as the ideal opportunity for the Premiership's big guns to rest established stars and test out emerging young talent.

But in recent times that experiment has extended to the FA Cup - with particular reference to Manchester United and Liverpool this season.

Sir Alex Ferguson fielded a virtual reserve side against non-league Exeter City in the third round and was humiliated as they earned a deserved goalless draw.

Ferguson said it was the worst FA Cup performance in his 18 years at the club - but the lesson was learned and a stronger team won the replay 2-0.

But Liverpool suffered an even worse fate when manager Rafael Benitez fielded a second-string side and lost 1-0 at Burnley.

THE FINAL STRAW?

Moving the FA Cup Final from its traditional Saturday afternoon slot to a Wednesday evening, even for only one year, will be regarded by many as confirmation that the tournament has lost its old lustre once and for all.




SEE ALSO
Has the FA Cup lost its magic?
10 Jan 05 |  FA Cup
FA Cup going under the hammer
06 Jan 05 |  FA Cup


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