When Did The FA Cup Final Stop Being Special? And, More Importantly, WHY Did It? *Cough* Man Utd

by Paul Dyer
17th May 2018

It used to stop the country in its tracks. The one game of the year watched by princes and paupers alike. The nation's two main TV channels (out of only three or four, remember) would dedicate their entire day's schedules to it, regardless of whether or not the programmes usually bore any relation to football. Cup Final Mastermind, anyone? 

The FA Cup was special.

The world's oldest cup competition was revered around the globe. Kids in every corner of it crowded around television sets before going outside to recreate the goals they had just witnessed... Then the Premier League came along. 

All of a sudden, there was a bigger player in town and the slick marketers took over. Yet even then The Cup still retained much of its magic... Until Manchester United asked not to be in it.

Alex Ferguson's side were invited to take part in the World Club Championship in January 2000, coinciding with the FA Cup fourth round. And with a schedule clash looking likely, they felt something had to give. Fergie later claimed his Treble winners were under pressure from the FA and Government to attend the inaugural tournament in Brazil to aid England’s bid for the 2006 World Cup. Others thought it might have had more to do with the millions of pounds on offer simply for turning up. Or the worldwide shirt sales. No matter. The damage was done.

Rather than respect the venerable tournament that had given them so much, maybe even by putting out a second string, United all but killed it.

It is a small irony, then, that the same team might just be the ones to restore the trophy's lustre.

For this season it matters.

Whether it would still take top billing had either United or opponents Chelsea won the Premier League title – or been in next week’s Champions League final – is open to debate. *raises eyebrows* But for now at least the interest in the Cup feels different to how it has done for the past few years. 

Wembley was packed for United's semi-final victory over a Spurs team who would have done anything to swap places at the final whistle. Alas, the same could not be said for the tie the day after, although Chelsea, who have won the competition seven times, did their bit. (Southampton fans, praying their team would finish 17th, have obviously lost sight of the fact that sport is about glory).

Regardless, Saturday’s final will be contested by two of England's biggest, most successful, clubs. And they are both desperate to win it.

This is Jose Mourinho versus his old side and all that that entails. The Special One against the special players he last took to the title in 2015.

A chance for the permanently grumpy Portuguese to smile for once (at least on the inside).

And it is a final shot at redemption for Antonio Conte, who, after seeing his Chelsea team give up their Premier League crown so easily this season, might at least be able to leave Stamford Bridge with his head held high.

Coming, as it does, hot on the heels of a certain wedding, this has all the makings of a perfect match.

There may be no Cup final It's a Knockout (although that could be a blessing with the whole Stuart Hall thing) but, make no mistake, the FA Cup is back.

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