This weekend will see the fourth round of the FA Cup, the world’s oldest soccer competition. The round already started today on Friday, when Championship side beat Manchester United on penalties to go through onto the next round. This round will also see sixth division Kidderminster Harries play Europa League side West Ham. As American sports lack cup competitions, today we will look into what makes the FA Cup such a loved competition.
The FA Cup was first played during the 1871-72 season and hasn’t been played only due to the World Wars and now recently due to Covid. But the love for the cup still stands. This year saw a total of 729 teams enter the competition in different stages. These go to all the way down level 10 of the English footballing pyramid, meaning that nearly every city and town has a local team to root in the cup.
But what makes the cup so beautiful?
Well, I would argue the most beautiful thing is, that anyone can beat anyone. For just one day you can be a national hero, even though you are just a semi-professional footballer. Just this year, Kidderminster Harries, the lowest ranked team left, beat Championship-side Reading last round. Few years ago, fifth tier’s Sutton United was playing Arsenal and their backup goalkeeper became a fan favourite for eating pie on the bench during the match. Another thing that I like personally, is that your team gets to play teams that you wouldn’t ever play otherwise. It also allows for players to play against their childhood local teams or rivals that they couldn’t normally.
The NBA has had a lot of talk about creating a in-season tournament to replicate the cup competitions in soccer. In my honest opinion, I don’t see it being a success. What makes the FA Cup so beautiful is it’s winner-goes-through, anyone can beat anyone attitude, which I think the NBA would lack due to the teams playing each other already so many times a year.
The best comparison I would have for the cup is March Madness, and we all know why we love it. It’s not because Duke could beat Kentucky in March Madness despite losing them to before. It’s the Oral Roberts’, the Chicago-Illinois stories that we love.
Living near Kidderminster myself, and them drawing my favourite team (West Ham) to play in the cup, I wanted to go see the match very badly, but the tickets went immediatley, not making to general sale due to the interest in the match. The FA Cup also follows an interesting procedure, where all ticket sales are split. This is why lower league teams enjoy away matches against big teams even more than the home matches.
The FA Cup is something that the US sports culture lacks. The US sporting system is not built for cup competitions like the FA Cup, where amateurs could challenge the pros in the same competition. That’s why we should appreciate the FA Cup even more than we do.