Away From Home: How to save the FA Cup
TO start the New Year with a postponed game certainly seems to be a miserable foreshadowing for the rest of the season, although, for Watford, it should play into their hands.
In the wake of the missed game, the signings of Mathias Ranegie and Alexander Merkel were confirmed - allowing them an extra fixture to influence in the league campaign - and Watford had their name in the F.A Cup fourth round draw - albeit with the need for a home replay against Bristol City.
Whilst the 1-1 draw was by no means a masterclass of football, with all the important action occurring in the space of one minute, the showing was just one of many F.A Cup games which suffered from the dwindling reputation the competition holds amongst the English game.
The complete lack of interest shown by Sky Sports Soccer Saturday broadcast - the Watford game away at Bristol only had one update for the entire 90 minutes - confirms the notion that the F.A Cup has lost much of its appeal.
Whether down to an overabundance of cup competitions, the movement of the semi-finals to Wembley, or - the bane of all footballing traditionality - money, clubs no longer find the appeal in progressing far in the cup; the real aim is either survival in your domestic division, or a big pay day at an away ground. And - due to the overload of fixtures over the festive period - the football is of a fairly low standard as burned out teams struggle against mediocrity in terrible weather conditions.
There have been discussions about how the competition could recover its allure, ranging from the sensible - remove replays so games are decided instantly - to the insane - the winner gets bonus points in their division to compensate for focusing on the cup.
Whilst change is unlikely in the current climate - where business decisions overturn sporting decisions - there is certainly a need for the Football Association to combine past and present together and return the F.A Cup to its former glory as the oldest and most valuable trophy in the footballing world.
Since 2008 - as Wembley was not completed in time for the 2007 semi-finals - the decision was made to play every semi-final at the same ground as the final. Whilst alluring for smaller teams with the chance to play at the national stadium, the decision removes a sense of occasion from the final.
In the past, games would be played at neutral grounds - Villa Park being the most used with 55 semi-final ties - making the trip to Wembley another reason to get to the final, rather than removing that experience, and the excitement of it, one match early.
On the subject of removing excitement; nothing numbs the brain cells than the knowledge that your team has a replay to contend with alongside the congestion of the usual fixture list.
Whilst a lower league side may cherish the thought of drawing with Manchester United at home to play a game at Old Trafford, crowds at the draw between Norwich City and Fulham were bemoaning the fact that they have an extra game to play. If replays were removed, with games decided on the day they are played through extra-time and penalties, teams have more of a reason to go all out for the win.
Not only would this help the relegation threatened teams in their pursuit of survival, but the lower league team playing for a draw and a monetary away day could potentially scrape through with an extra-time victory over a Premier League giant.
Whilst this is all hypothesising, as change is unlikely to occur any time soon, it does set the imagination alight to think of a fixture that does stand above all others, regardless of the teams involved.
When C. W. Alcock, a major instigator in the creation of the Football League, international friendlies and a former England captain, opined that 'it is desirable that a Challenge Cup should be established in connection with the Association for which all clubs belonging to the Association should be invited to compete` he would have had no idea that his idea would soon be the basis of a competition involving 737 clubs in the 2013-14 season.
He would be proud to see his brainchild as the darling competition of English football, although the focus upon the financially beneficial Premier League seems as far from gentlemanly as he could suspect.
Whilst people still crowd around the television to watch the F.A Cup Final, crowds are diminishing in the early rounds, and if this doesn`t improve, who knows how the competition will fare in a footballing world increasingly abandoning tradition and moving further into the business world of the future.