The FA cup returns this weekend with the fourth round of fixtures. The World’s oldest and elite cup competition will once again have it’s own weekend without league matches overshadowing it. This year’s competition has gained a special importance as it marks the 150th year since the England FA was formed.
Hence we take a moment to remind ourselves the great importance of the FA and the FA Cup for the development of football.
The FA was formally formed on October 26, 1863. On that day members from 12 London-area clubs met at the Freemasons Tavern to put down the first official laws of the game. Ebenezer Morley, player and creator of Barnes FC was the main driving force behind the meeting and subsequently became the first secretary.
It took almost 2 months of discussions and negotiations before the first official laws of the game were finally agreed. From today’s perspective, this might not seem like much. But you have to consider the situation before that meeting. At that time, football had gained wide popularity, but was played with different rules everywhere. It was one big mess of lots of different games that looked very similar, but we not the same.
The FA had a pivotal role in the development of the game by creating a standardized single set of rules. The unified code allowed the game to gain popularity and acceptance more rapidly. It was the necessary precondition for organized football as we know it today.
The natural consequence of a unified set of rules was a unified competition among all teams in England. This was the FA Cup, which commenced in the 1971-72 season. It put all teams from the country in a single pool, and allowed even the small sides a chance to compete on equal footing with the big guns.
It is the oldest football competition today and is deeply loved by fans for the opportunity it gives the small, underdog clubs to upset the Premier League teams. It does not happen often, but when it does, it immediately enters the local folklore. It is unquestionable that fans of Barnsley will forever remember 2008, when their team consecutively took down Premier League giants Liverpool and Chelsea. It is the kind of stuff that gets gleefully talked about in pubs for eternity.
Granted, the FA Cup has lost some of its former glory in recent years. The monetary rewards it offers pale in comparison the Premier League and European competitions, so Premier League teams often don’t field their best players. For instance, Manchester United rested their star striker and goal scoring machine Robin van Persie in their previous fixture.
And while that might be understandable given United’s schedule is full of big games, smaller clubs are doing the same thing. Swansea faced Arsenal twice in the space of 10 days and left their most productive player Michu on the bench on both the occasions. In the long run, performing well in the Premier League requires Michu to get some rest and that beats pulling an upset against the favoured Gunners.
In the end of the day, West Ham and Swansea could not pull a famous upset against their big name opponents and both their games. It all goes down into the thick history books of the FA Cup. While the tournament may have lost some of its past glory, there are still enough teams and fans who appreciate the storied history of the competition. It set the beginning of the beautiful game as we know it in the last 150 years. That alone is worth celebrating.