FA Cup at the Oval
Where would you rank winning the FA Cup as an achievement? First? No, that would be a Champions League winner’s medal. Surely second then? Nope, that would be a premier league winners medal. The FA Cup has slipped down in importance over the past decade, culminating in a sorry state of affairs where the more successful teams no longer aspire to win the oldest cup competition in the world.
Speaking to his club’s supporters at the Arsenal annual meeting, manager Arsene Wenger suggested that achieving fourth place – and subsequent Champions league qualification – was a more important goal that hoisting the country’s premier cup competition:
“For me, there are five ‘trophies’ – the first is to win the Premier League, the second is to win the Champions League, the third is to qualify for the Champions League, the fourth is to win the FA Cup and the fifth is to win the League Cup”.Arsene Wenger
“I say that because if you want to attract the best players, they do not ask ‘did you win the League Cup?’, they ask you ‘do you play in the Champions League?’.”
The esteemed Arsenal manager has won four FA Cup titles during his tenure, but this admission has validated the trend that has seen the FA Cup slip off the radar of clubs not only fighting for Champions League football, but clubs fighting to stay in the Premier League and even those in mid-table, where a few points here and there can gain them millions of pounds more by achieving a higher position in the league.
The FA Cup remains ever present, and rightly so. Its history began in 1872, when football was unrecognisable from today’s game. Fifteen teams entered, one of which was Scottish, and the final was played at what is now the Kia Oval cricket ground in south London.
Wanderers FC won the first ever game 1-0 against the Royal Engineers (the replay was a slightly more one-sided affair though with the Royal Engineers 7-1 victors). The original trophy was presented to Wanderers and “the little tin idol”, as it was known, was used until 1895 when it was stolen and melted down to make counterfeit coins. Probably the first instance of someone diluting football’s history to make a bit of money.
A replica trophy was made and used until 1910, by which time the football league had been formed and contested by the game’s oldest clubs, like Aston Villa and Preston North End.
In 1910 a third trophy was made, the iconic one we know today, while the second trophy was presented to the FA president in 1910 and was purchased in 2005 by West Ham’s joint chairman David Gold.
Gold perhaps understands Wenger’s pragmatic stance as a club owner, but prefers a more romantic view: “The heritage is vital, I mean it’s footballing history. We’re going right back to the very beginning, when football was basically invented of course. What we have now after beginning in 1872 is the greatest league the world has ever known. Our clubs and players are known throughout the world, so the heritage is vital because if there is no past there is no future I think the trophies behind us represent the past, the beginning and the present.
“For a club like West Ham, if one is completely realistic, is not going to win the Premier League, maybe of the 20 clubs in the Premier League you’ve got 16 clubs that realistically can’t win the Premier League, only four can. So the FA Cup still remains for them a fantastic opportunity, a goal and a target, and going to Wembley is still one of the great feelings. I can promise you, because I’ve been there a few times. I went there to watch West Ham in 1965, ‘75 and ‘82 and certainly it was three very exciting times, but I’ve also been there with Birmingham City in the Auto Windscreen Shield and I can say it’s a wonderfully exciting opportunity for a football club that can’t win the Premier League.”
So when Wenger starts to contemplate retirement, will he remember the four FA Cups, the image of Patrick Viera holding the trophy that to date is the last piece of silverware Wenger has claimed, or numerous fourth places?
Interestingly a poll, on The Daily Telegraph website shows that the fans agree with his assessment. Of nearly 2,000 voters, 64 per cent think that finishing in fourth place and Champions League qualification is better than winning the FA Cup.
Wenger and those 64 per cent might do well to reflect on the first year of the competition. The Eventual winners Wanderers FC were given a walkover in the semi-final because their opponents could not afford a trip down to London.