Unfortunately, as Olivier Giroud slotted home Arsenal’s fourth in their victory over Everton, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of Déjà vu. Another FA Cup quarterfinal, another three goal loss (though thankfully this year’s performance wasn’t quite as utterly lacklustre and embarrassing as Wigan last year). Everton have not won a cup in my lifetime, the Capital One Cup – in any of its many sponsorship forms – has eluded the Goodison trophy cabinet since its founding (this year saw the mighty Fulham scathing through credit card glory, an honour bestowed last season to Leeds). In fact, many others and I could be forgiven for being completely disenfranchised and, frankly, bored with domestic knockout competitions. However, the last few seasons, despite the galling, depressing failure – just when your hopes are finally raised – have reinvigorated the cups, and my passion for them is stronger than ever.
I often feel many people are slightly greedy with what they desire from the cups. Some vent spleen when Premier League sides don’t play their very strongest eleven, others bemoan the lack of ‘giant-killings’ any more. But as we saw last weekend, the much-feted ‘magic’ of the FA Cup is still alive and kicking, just ask a Wigan fan – top teams can field strong sides, but can still be culled by lesser opposition, even in the latter stages of the competition. Man City started a team with Yaya Touré, Jesús Navas, Sergio Agüero, Samir Nasri and Álvaro Negredo, but Wigan nonetheless pulled off yet another coup in the cup, reminiscent of last year’s Martínez-inspired triumph at Wembley, similarly over City. The spirit of Dave Whelan’s leg lives on.
The FA has received much criticism for the use of Wembley as a semi-final venue. Their motives are evident and financial, and in previous years the placement has been impractical. But surely as a fan of Sheffield United, Hull, Wigan or even Arsenal, playing at Wembley (albeit in a semi-final), is still a major draw? And the famous venue is a partial contributor to what makes the cups so special – the memories, the occasion. Money has become integral to modern football, it is true, and Champions League qualification has evolved into the prized asset for many clubs, but success in traditional competitions is still incredibly important, particularly to long-suffering fans. What do Arsenal fans remember, what will they tell their grandchildren about – the time they beat West Bromwich Albion to finish fourth in the league, or the time they beat Chelsea or Man United at Wembley to win the FA Cup? Admittedly, it is an unoriginal and slightly clichéd argument, but for my part, it rings true.
The Capital One Cup is frequently disregarded as an irrelevancy, an assessment I find unfathomable. In my opinion, people sometimes forget how few trophies there are to win. If you’re a Stoke fan, for instance, realistically you’re never going to win the Premier League or Champions League – that leaves two cup competitions to win, a season. To ignore one half of feasibly acquirable trophies is slightly silly, especially from the view of someone paying extortionate money for a season ticket every year. Bradford getting to the final is perhaps an indictment for the importance some teams place on the competition, but it is also a fantastic advert for the irrepressible joy such adventures bring. The penalty shoot-out at Old Trafford between Man United and Sunderland was simultaneously one of the most entertaining and bereft-of-quality moments in football I can remember.
The Premier League is important, money is important, the Thai section of the club website nowadays is important too – but so still are the cups. The FA Cup is steeped in tradition, regularly exhilarating and shocking, and, like it or not – teams do still take it seriously. The Capital One Cup is a rollercoaster of a competition, and a trophy that should not be sneered at either. A deluded romantic I may be in this respect, but I’m sure many fans would agree. Come May another set of fans will be celebrating an unforgettable day out at Wembley – but Arsenal fans should be careful, they’ve not won it yet, and this is the cup after all…