Man City: Winning The FA Cup Won't Be As Cathartic As 2011
As the weekend’s FA Cup fixtures approach, I had a look back over this year’s cup fixture list and made a noise which might be considered as the verbal equivalent of a shrug.
Has there ever been an easier route to the semi-finals of this competition? From the team we do not name’s decision to pull out of the historic cup in 2000, to clubs more recently sending out weakened teams with ‘more important’ fixtures ahead, the FA cup has fallen lower and lower down the priority list of the nation’s clubs in the recent past.
This year, City’s (potential) road to Wembley has perhaps been a good example of why that is. Maybe we’ve been lucky with the draw, or maybe the romanticism of the competition has simply bypassed us this time around (there have been some great upsets), but I can’t help but feel like it’s all been a tad dull for the City fan. Do not get me wrong – I’ve been to each of our cup games this year as it’s normally a competition I really look forward to, having experienced some cracking cup away days over the years, but this year has simply lacked that spark.
From a largely routine dissection of Watford’s Pozzi Family XI, to a similarly simple home win against Neil ‘Colin W**ker’ Warnock’s Leeds, this year’s cup run has only really featured one proper challenge – the away win at Stoke’s Britannia Stadium back in January.
Even that, which was billed as the blood and thunder tie of the round, ended up being something of a damp squib until Pablo Zabaleta (undoubtedly my player of the season thus far) tore into the penalty area and half-volleyed home in the 85th minute. Admittedly at that point the City end went so mad that I ended up losing my car keys, but a half empty stadium and weakened home side did nothing to add to the sense of achievement.
As such, this weekend’s home tie against Championship relegation strugglers Barnsley doesn’t fill me with a great deal of excitement either. Is this in part due to the new policy of playing semi-finals at Wembley stadium, rather than the traditional neutral venue? If you ask me, it definitely is.
A large part of the romance of this competition was drawn from the allure of the hallowed turf, the ‘home of football’ (though even that seems a chuckle nowadays), the place where cups were lifted and heroes made. Now, however, it has become the place where you have to go and win so that you can go back again to win again and be made a hero and lift a cup. Even a sentence to describe it sounds convoluted and stupid.
Aside from the few weeks’ gap between the semis and the final, the feeling is not dissimilar to watching your side play a pre-season ‘all-in-one-stadium’ tournament like the Emirates Cup. Where’s the drama in that?
Call me a cynic, but I’ve found this year’s Capital One/Carling/Milk/Coca-Cola/Mickey Mouse Cup a far more exciting prospect. To see the fans of Swansea and Bradford City so utterly delighted to be at Wembley, warmed my heart and I’m sure many other people’s bar maybe Leeds and Cardiff fans.
Obviously now would be the time for Barnsley to absolutely defy expectation and nick a 1-0 at our place, making me look like a gigantic fool in the process. But, if anyone’s interested I’d be more than willing to put my life savings (£23) on City making another semi-final appearance at Wembley without any of the drama or intrigue of our last appearance there in 2011.
Many City fans won’t ever forget that run that gave us our first trophy in 38 years, including brilliant fixtures which required replays against Leicester City and Notts County, never mind the cathartic semi-final derby.
This year if we win it again, which of course will be fantastic, it will certainly seem as if we’ve not been made to work for it. Blame it on the draw, the two visits to Wembley, or just on the FA Cup having lost some of its mojo, somewhere along the line this great old competition is becoming a less exciting prospect.
Hopefully, we can at least have another Manchester derby before the cup is out. Not only to exact some revenge on our cross-city rivals for their fortuitous league win against us in December, but also to get me excited about the cup again even if it means two games at Wembley and paying £20 for a programme. Twice.