Having Few Premier League Teams Left in the FA Cup Can’t be a Bad Thing
‘Locksley LLC. As in Robin of Locksley. As in Robin Hood!’ So said an excited Mike Ross as he discovered the mystery behind Lola Jensen’s dummy corporation. Ross was temporarily lost in the name, having been sent by Jensen’s father as to why her daughter keeps stealing from his company, and in keeping to the dummy company’s name, Jensen’s primary, if not only motive, is to help those with little.
But enough about the TV show Suits. Robin Hood was popular, or infamous, for stealing from the rich and giving to the poor, although he was also popular for his archery. Helping the quite helpless by any means was one of his motives. But if Robin Hood was around in this day, and involved in English football, trying to steal from the Premier League to give to the lower divisions would be quite the ask, not just because he’d find things rather digitised – which he might have adapted to – but he’d also be astonished at the amount of money the Premier League makes.
But, little matter. There’s no Robin Hood, so the above is as hypothetical as it is absurd. However, while the teams in the divisions below aren’t at the same financial ilk as the sides in the big time, they’re currently outnumbering the top-flight teams in the FA Cup.
As the world’s oldest competition reaches the fifth round stage of its 2018/19 season, Football League teams make up nine of the 16 teams left, with the Premier League having seven, although if you classify by divisions alone, the Premier League has the most teams, with six coming from the Championship, and League One and League Two having two sides and one side respectively. This season has seen AFC Wimbledon, bottom of League One, beat West Ham, Fulham lose to a side 59 places below, and Newport beat Leicester.
This has been raised for some, as proof of how the top-flight sides hardly care about the FA Cup anymore, how teams who wallow in mid-table mediocrity in the Premier League refuse to use their strongest sides in the competition, and how that means shock wins aren’t all that shocking anymore. That may be the true, but there have also been whinges about there not being enough top-flight teams in the current season’s competition. That may be a little unnecessary, as doesn’t the magic of the cup, which of late has been quite overstated, lie with the smaller sides making progress? The prospect of a supposed smaller team winning the FA Cup is surely enticing, especially as seven of the last eight semi-finalists have been Chelsea (twice), Tottenham (twice), Manchester United, Manchester City and Arsenal (the exception being Southampton, another Premier League side).
For those who still believe in the FA Cup, those kind of match-ups seem more like Premier League Super Sunday games with the regularity and predictability of those fixtures. There’s the chance of at least one lower-league side reaching the last four, especially as two of the strongest teams, Chelsea and Manchester United, meet each other in the next round. Not since Reading in 2015 has a non-Premier League team reached the semi-final of the FA Cup, and wouldn’t that be more memorable than a predictable semi clash between two supposed giants? The likes of Burton Albion and Bristol City, both of whom have recently being League Cup semi-finalists, have proved that it would be.
Make no mistake, this isn’t a message of entitlement; that smaller teams should be allowed to further on in the cups. This isn’t the kind of thing that says ‘how dare Manchester City score nine against Burton’. Any side that makes progress in any competition shouldn’t be begrudged. But neither should the smaller sides making progress lead to moans about how the big boys aren’t here. And everyone loves the underdog, isn’t that what we all say?
So, as Newport welcome City to Rodney Parade, to a meeting of two teams separated by 80 places, perhaps rooting for the League Two side wouldn’t be all bad. Perhaps rooting for a Wembley showdown, or Wembley showdowns, with teams who have been from the outside looking in isn’t the worst thing in the world. And who wouldn’t love to a see an FA Cup Wembley tussle between a Newport County and an AFC Wimbledon? I know I would.