The magic of the cup

Dave Woodhall on Villa’s defeat to Spurs and the faded romance of the FA Cup.

One of the ways in which football shows its double standards is the way in which the FA Cup is regarded. We saw that two seasons ago, when after months of being told how supporters make the cup so special and how pitch invasions are part of these unique occasions, we did our bit towards a memorable event and the club was fined £250,000.

A bit more of what some would call double standards, and others would call downright hypocrisy, has been evident over the past three days. Low gates, under-strength teams and a general lack of interest from the bigger clubs combined to give an air that one commentator accurately called more akin to an international weekend than what should be the most romantic occasion of the season. Few of those pontificating about this sad state of affairs have mentioned that the biggest reason why the FA Cup now ranks so lowly in footballing importance is the all-encompassing obssession with the Premier League, fuelled by greed and driven by media exposure.

It’s difficult to get worked up when games are spread over a four day period, when live matches feature a disinterested West Ham against an unfocused Manchester City on Friday night, followed by Manchester United for the 55th time in a row in an entirely predictable routine win against Reading and Liverpool reserves at home to Plymouth. There was no justification in screening any of those games, and even less so Spurs against Villa. There was little chance of a giant-killing in any of them, nothing of what makes the cup such a great tournament and none of the home clubs need the money. The only reason they were shown was ratings.

Against such a backdrop, little wonder crowds were so low. Villa, for example, sold less than three thousand tickets for the trip to White Hart Lane when not long ago we took almost twice that number to a midweek fixture at Barnsley. Those in attendance saw what was at least a more or less full-strength side show that they have resilience but in the absence of Jonathan Kodjia little goal threat. Somehow we’ve gone in the space of a few weeks from more forwards than we know what to do with, to having Gabby Agbonlahor up front on his own.

The match itself was much the same as the days when visits to such exalted venues were for league games rather than one-off glamorous cup-ties. Villa generally matched the home side without looking capable of scoring, gradually got pegged further back and eventually conceded a couple of goals. No-one seemed too upset that the quest for the Holy Grail will now stretch beyond its sixtieth year.

The faults that have been evident against Championship opposition were equally obvious against a Spurs team that did what they had to – we don’t create and we can’t score. On the credit side, Sam Johnstone had a good debut and surely Aaron Tshibola must get a regular start now. The scoreline wasn’t the national humiliation some feared, there were no injuries except for yet another knock for Nathan Baker and now we can concentrate on the league.

Saturday sees Villa away at Wolves, and just for a change it’s on TV. Three points and the promotion challenge is back on track. Anything less and it’s increasingly likely that playing Spurs again will be down to the vagiaries of the cup draws.