What is the FA Cup worth?
It’s a question that is feverishly debated every January when elite clubs enter the competition, fielding weakened teams.
‘Disrespecting the Cup’ has become a modern football cliché. We know, for the Premiership elite, the Cup now matters very little. Just winning the FA Cup is now regarded as a sackable offence by the top clubs (see LVG). Contrast this with 1990, when winning the FA Cup effectively saved Alex Ferguson’s job.
The famous old trophy has undoubtedly lost some if its lustre. The FA Cup is now just a consolation prize for the top clubs. Glory, to these clubs, means winning the Premiership, or that bloated cash-cow the Champions League. Even qualification for the Champions League is arguably a bigger prize.
But, here’s the thing:
glory is relative.
For United, winning just the Cup means failure. Wayne Rooney when interviewed with the FA Cup in his hands, said United were ‘disappointed’ with the season. For Middlesbrough, however, winning the FA Cup would mean the world.
As a Boro fan, I hadn’t quite appreciated how much winning the Cup still mattered until Saturday. I’d swallowed the lie that promotion from the Championship was now worth more. And it does if you measure value purely in cash terms, but I’m a football fan not a sodding accountant. Glory isn’t measured in money but in trophies. Proper trophies, that is, not the thing they present to the play-off final winners. A cup for the third-best team in the second tier of English football?
Of course, a play-off final is a big deal. It’s great to have a day out at Wembley – that drab north-west London suburb that has improbably become the Promised Land for football fans. And winning at Wembley is a thrilling experience. But while the play-off final looks and feels like a cup final, we all know it’s not the real thing. At best, all you’ll win is an entry ticket to the VIP club. Your team will be rubbing shoulders with the big boys. There’ll be cash for the chairman to splash and awaydays at Old Trafford and the Emirates. But what’s the best you can hope for once you’re in the Premiership?
Survival in the top-flight is a huge achievement for teams like Middlesbrough, Bournemouth or Watford. But it’s stretching the dictionary definition to call it glory. Proper 24-carat glory is winning the league, not just clinging desperately to the coattails of the big clubs. If you can repeat the Leicester miracle and win the Premier League then you can legitimately start using the word glory.
Until Saturday I believed that Premiership survival was worth more than winning the FA Cup. If Boro can hang in there for four or five years, I told myself, we can buy better players. We can progress to the next level – become an established Premier League club. I’m not suggesting that those benefits are unimportant. But you know what? I want my team to win a trophy.
I’m not interested in moral victories. You don’t win any trophies for out-singing the opposition. Winning promotion will bring you riches, but only the FA Cup can deliver glory.
COME ON BORO!!