The magic of the FA Cup, eh? The way Grimsby Town were dumped out of it by Huddersfield Town on Saturday, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was less magic and more like a kick in the balls. But then the ‘kick in the balls of the FA Cup’ doesn’t have the same ring to it.
Despite promising myself to fast forward through all the adverts and terrible punditry on ITV’s interminably crap FA Cup highlights programme on Saturday night, I did actually give the two idiots in their multi-coloured cardigans my time of day. I deserve no sympathy, I agree.
Like a man desperate to make his broken record work to impress his guests, host Matt Smith plied both Gordon Strachan and Martin Allen with the same unrelenting line: “But this is what the FA Cup’s all about, gents. Yeah?”
This was clearly a reaction to the comments made by Aston Villa manager Paul Lambert last week, who, when asked by the media for an honest answer, admitted that the FA Cup was not a priority to the majority of Premier League teams.
The media – who stoked the fire – didn’t particularly like that answer, despite its honesty, and so ITV moved, very honourably, to play devil’s advocate and insist (through Matt Smith and whichever cronies they could find to sit on the flea ridden sofa opposite him on their awful highlights show) that, really, the romance of the FA Cup was not in a medically induced coma and was, in fact, alive and breathing. Just.
So I thought I’d look at a few figures and draw my own conclusions on this topic.
What I found was this: of the 29 FA Cup third round matches that took place on Saturday 4th and Sunday 5th January, only seven of the home teams’ attendances were higher than their average attendance figures for the 2013/14 league season.
Those teams were Grimsby, Kidderminster, Macclesfield, Blackburn, Derby, Rochdale and Southend. I can’t be bothered to list all of the 22 teams that saw a drop in their gates, but some of the biggest drops were to be found in the north east at Newcastle (19,288) and Sunderland (19,267). And while a drop of 8,539 at Wigan and 4,722 at Doncaster might not be that remarkable in comparison, they actually represented more than a 50% drop in their regular league attendances.
Not that I’m blaming the supporters in particular. I mean, for Donny fans, a home draw against League 1’s worst club hardly gets you tidying the flat and sticking on some Barry White for some sexy Stevenage time. And for Wigan, well – a home tie against the franchise scum from down south hardly compares to that magical day at Wembley in May 2013 when they won the FA Cup. I imagine a date with the fake Dons is about as romantic as grinding your genitals against sandpaper.
However, if the fans really cared, they’d say: “We don’t care who we’re playing. This is the FA CUP!” But they don’t say that.
What these figures prove is that the magic and romance only appears to remain in the lower leagues. Take a look at those seven teams again – there’s one common denominator: most of them were lower league (or non-league) clubs playing teams from higher divisions, dreaming of upsets.
Apart from Forest, that is. Clearly they think West Ham are already beneath them (and their 5-0 win probably suggests it’s only a matter of six months before that’s true). Forest normally attract just over 23,000 home fans for league games, whereas their FA Cup third round tie against a Premier League team attracted just 14,397. Even the lure of a Premier League team isn’t enough for some.
I’m no statistician, and maybe the way I’ve measured this is crude, but when I did my maths I discovered that there were 120,198 fewer fans at these FA Cup third round matches compared to the numbers you’d normally expect for league games.
Across 29 fixtures, that’s an average drop of 4,145 at each match.
Pretty damning evidence, then, that the FA Cup malaise that Lambert spoke of last week amongst managers in the Premier League has unfortunately transferred to the fans. How? Why? That’s probably a subject for another post.
Sadly, what with the ridiculous wealth that’s growing at the top of our football system, I can only see FA Cup attendance figures dwindling further in future seasons.