Raging Against The Dying Of The FA Cup
Aging can be difficult to come to terms with, both in oneself and with others in our lives. There comes a point in your relationship with anyone when you might well look at them and think, “Things can and will never be the same again.” It’s a thought that is both profound and frightening, and I’ve been feeling it about the FA Cup this season. To be fair to myself, I’ve lasted longer than many, if not most. Though I’ve become as tired and jaded as the rest of the world with the media’s almost cynical spinning of the “romance” and “magic” tropes that are now starting to hang around the competition’s neck like a lexicographical albatross, I have done my utmost to try to hang onto the notion that there is something worth clinging onto here.
How much of that, however, is just me raging against the dying of the light? Like a good number of other people who were born in north London in the early 1970s, the FA Cup has a disproportionately special place in my psychological make-up. Never mind the fact that they needed a replay on each occasion and might easily have lost either if not both matches, Spurs winning the FA Cup twice in a row slap bang in the middle of my formative years as a football supporters have, especially when coupled with a hearty interest in the non-league game, proved to be highly determinative in terms of my personality as a football supporter, and even though the professional game has moved away from the FA Cup, I’ve spent a decade and a half, may be two decades, seeking to defend it against a steadily growing group of detractors.
This year, however, I’ve started to feel as if this loyalty and patience with it has started to snap. It would be easy to lay the blame for this at the door of the last two broadly uninspiring rounds of the competition that we’ve witnessed, but this particular malaise has been lingering for longer than that. I see the FA continuing their twin idiot policies of playing the semi-finals at Wembley – and yes, that is still an idiot policy, even though I suspect that the only reason that they’re persevering with it is because these matches were included in the corporate tickets that they had to flog for extortionate amounts of money on account of building the damn thing in the first place – and moving the kick-off time for the final to 5.15 in the afternoon, and I start to find the whole tournament increasingly difficult to stick up for.
Worn down by negativity
None of this is to say, of course, that I have any time for the broadcasters who treat it all with a rare degree of contempt or for the supine idiots within the Football Association who have sanctioned – one might even argue encouraged – this desecration. And much as I have sympathy for supporters who having further cost thrust upon them on top of their season tickets, when each round of the competition and I find myself reading paragraph after paragraph after paragraph of writing attacking it all, telling me that it’s all a waste of time and that we’d all be much better off if we took a fortnight’s break to allow Manchester City to fly to Dubai to play Paris St Germain in a friendly instead, I have little option but to consider that the football demographic has been moving on and leaving me behind.
It is, I have to say, the strangest of feelings. Perhaps I used to believe that whatever ills the FA Cup was facing were transient, that someone would eventually see sense in the fullness of time and fix them. But increasingly, over the last couple of years, I’ve started to come to the understanding that time will march on, that progress will be progress, and that there is now a possibility that the FA Cup is in something approaching an irrevocable state of tailspin from which it may never recover. I don’t want to feel this way about it all. But then again, I don’t want to feel the way that I sometimes do about my parents aging, not being able to sit up until five o’clock in the morning drinking tequila and chain smoking Marlboro cigarettes, or the slowly, inevitably and irrevocably changing colour of my hair.
Analogue in a digital world
Perhaps, however, this is how we come to terms with our advancing years. Over time, we come to understand that the world cannot and will not remain in stasis during a period of our choosing. Just as we evolve, age or mature, so do the people we know, the things that we do, the world that we live in. And much as there probably is a part of me that would have been quite happy for it to be 1982 forever, it would be almost gloriously self-centred of me to compel that upon the rest of the human race because Spurs won the Cup that year. The world will keep evolving, no matter what happens to us at a personal level. There comes a point when we should acknowledge that, just as the world of our parents and grandparents feels sepia to us, so the analogue world in which we grew up seems just as dated to our children and grandchildren.
Eagle-eyed readers of this site will note that it has in the past become a friend of the movement that stands “against modern football.” Personally – and this is absolutely not intended as a slight towards the intentions or motives of those who continue to work on that – I always found the #AMF hashtag to be be a little troubling. I’m against avarice, of course. I’m against corruption. And I’m against inequality. But was I assumed to be against modern football? Because being against something isn’t really enough, on its own. If you’re going to be against something and be of much use to anybody, you need to also provide an alternate vision for what you propose the future might look like. Interestingly, the protest group shortened their name a couple of years ago by losing the negative suffix to their name.
Reaching a zen state
None of the above should be interpreted as falling into a deep pit of depression, by the way. If anything, my feelings of inner rage at the direction modern football has taken have subsided over the last couple of years or so, and I’ve made a decision to chuckle quietly to myself at the ridiculousness of it all, enjoy the spectacle of it, reminisce about the transcendent feelings of joy that I used to be able to take from it all, and to try and remember that it is all, ultimately, just a game. Something that we are supposed to partake of for the purposes of entertainment. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t still stories to tell, that there aren’t fools, frauds and idiots to talk about. Far from it. Professional sport seems to have an endless supply of these. It’s more that I’ve reached a state of mind which is accepting that things won’t and shouldn’t stay the same as they were when I was younger.
So, is the FA Cup worth fighting for? Well, if the last two decades have taught me nothing else, they’ve taught me that all the words in the world are unlikely to make a great deal of difference, especially when money remains such a huge motivational factor for those in a position to actually drive change within the game. We all know that human lives have a sell-by date, but we never stop to consider whether the same applies to such things as sporting events. If the FA Cup is to survive, it won’t be as the competition that I grew up with. In many respects, it already isn’t the competition that I grew up with. It will never be that important again, and complaining about this really feels like little more than raging against the dying of the light. Que sera sera, and if the FA Cup turns out to complete a process that renders it a complete irrelevance, then so be it.
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