Well, that was FA Cup Third Round weekend apparently. Cue disinterested shrugs. About as uninspiring a weekend of football as has graced the competition in memory - where was the spark? Where was the excitement? Where the hell, to borrow one of the most well-worn cliches in English football, was the magic of the Cup?
While the 'magic' isn't just about the big upsets, they certainly help - and there was a notable lack of them. A dreadful QPR team losing in the third round is as reliable as a rainy summer in Wales, so their loss to Sheffield United only just registered and the next biggest shock was probably Rochdale's win over Forest. A League One team winning at home to a Championship one - only really a shock in the sense that a little bit of static can 'shock' you. Something to pay attention to for about half a second, then brush off because oh my god, nobody cares.
The fact is, FA Cup upsets (cupsets, if you will) are becoming less and less common for a few reasons. The first is the increased pressure on top-flight managers - the money they have to invest in the squad means that even the clubs lower in the table are expected to challenge on two fronts now, an embarrassing upset is now less of an option than ever.
The other factor (and this is about 50% theory, so be patient) is the huge improvement in facilities further down the league pyramid.
It's a good thing, generally. Football isn't going to progress if lower league teams are still playing in mudbowls while the Premier League teams play on hand-cut lawns that have lullabies sung to them every night. But those mudbowls and the familiarity with them, was a big part of what used to cause the big upsets.
It took the big teams out of their comfort zones and massively blunted the threat of the tricky, skilled, 'play it on the floor'-type of player. Now, though, that just doesn't happen. When AFC Wimbledon hosted Liverpool at the Kingsmeadow Stadium on Monday night, the pitch was as close to perfect as it could've been - the only thing that gave the game the David vs Goliath feeling was the presence of Adebayo Akinfenwa, whose unorthodox physique and playing style caused Liverpool trouble throughout. How about that?
The slow death of the Cupset is a factor in the underwhelming feeling then, but the root of the feeling goes a long way deeper than that, down to the scheduling and the way the weekend was covered in the media.
Third Round Day used to be Christmas-after-Christmas for football fans. At least two games to watch on TV - three if you were lucky and got a 12:30, 3pm and 5pm set of kickoffs - with a couple of bonus matches on the Sunday for good measure.
The buildup would go into hyperdrive for the whole week before, there was a tangible buzz of excitement leading up to it. This year, we got maybe one day of buildup between the New Years Day Premier League games and the Cup kickoff. And there were no televised games on Saturday. At all. Blyth/Birmingham would have been the perfect televised game. But no.
Not even the League Cup gets treated with that little respect. How on earth do the FA and the TV companies expect fans to get in the slightest bit excited for a competition that is next-to-impossible to watch? By the time that BBC One aired a game, it was 5:30pm on Sunday and the weekend was gone. Monday night's Wimbledon/Liverpool match was probably the pick of the ties, which is exactly why it should never have been put on a Monday night. As much as Gary Neville and co would love to believe otherwise, nobody cares about football on a Monday night.
There couldn't have been a clearer example of this than Monday's other tie, Burnley hosting Spurs. It should've been a huge spectacle and a cracker - a resurgent Burnley against a Spurs side resting a handful of players, it had the potential to be an explosive classic.
In the end, it wasn't shown on TV anywhere (even the internet's ever-reliable international streaming services drew a blank), and Turf Moor was so empty that Burnley announced that they were closing an entire stand two days before kickoff. With no attention and no atmosphere, a drab game finished 1-1. Few people saw it. Even fewer cared.
If we're going to get behind the FA Cup as if it's still a huge competition, we've got to at least be able to see it. If the FA don't care about their competition, why should we?
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