The English FA Cup third round kicks off this weekend and for some Malaysian fans, it used to be ‘the’ football tournament.
Back in the day, before Astro, the FA Cup final was a ‘must’ for families to meet up and watch – no matter which teams were in the final.
Unlike now, where watching football from England and the other European leagues has become as common as a visit to mamak restaurants, Malaysian fans were only treated to three to five live football matches from England a season.
Usually, those matches involved Liverpool vs Manchester United, the League Cup final and perhaps both FA Cup semifinals and the final.
As such, the FA Cup was a big deal then.
The ‘Road to Wembley’ review programme was a must watch to see how your team performed (as was Big League Soccer) for the top division matches.
The final was also at a perfect time – 10pm on a Saturday – plenty of time for families to have a makan-makan session, get some bets going before settling down in front of the television set.
It used to be our relatives taking turns to host the FA Cup viewing parties each year.
Similar scenes were repeated in our neighbourhood and it was the same for big sporting events involving Malaysian teams – like the 1992 Thomas Cup.
Fast forward to 2020 and the FA Cup is no longer ‘the’ tournament and even English clubs prefer the Champions League.
Some point to the 1999-2000 season as when the demise started.
That season Manchester United withdrew from the tournament as it wanted to concentrate on the FIFA Club World Championship in South America in January.
It thus became the first team in history not to defend the world’s oldest football tournament.
Others say the big money incentive of staying in the Premier League outweighs the importance of winning the trophy.
The bottom three EPL teams last season – Cardiff, Fulham and Huddersfield – earned £99.6 million, £98.8 million and £93.6 million respectively.
Southampton, who just escaped relegation, netted £101.2 million and will earn even more this season.
The FA Cup winner is guaranteed ‘only’ just under £7 million in prize money and a few million more from televised matches and as such, some teams would rather work on staying in the EPL by fielding weakened sides in the FA Cup.
Whatever it is, the romance of upsetting the big boys – Premier League teams receive a bye in the opening two rounds – is a great motivation for the minnows.
Of the 20 Premier League teams in action this weekend, 16 meet clubs from lower divisions while there are only two all-Premier League clashes – Wolves hosting Manchester United (Sunday, 1:31am) and Liverpool welcoming neighbour Everton (Monday 12:01am).
With the final now played later in the day – moved from the traditional 3pm to 5pm in London to appease the TV boys, fewer families are hosting viewing parties (although pubs are doing roaring business).
And with wall-to-wall coverage, fans of the top six teams are guaranteed to watch their team in action in each round.
Here’s hoping for some upsets along the way.