The FA Cup – Damned if it does, damned if it doesn’t?

In a months’ of the year appreciation poll January would undoubtedly secure the bottom spot. Festivity comedown after Christmas and New Year’s eve, coupled with disheartening digits on the bathroom scales, not to mention horrendous credit card bills, win the first month of the year very few fans.

For years, football fans across the country have mastered the art of finding a silver lining to January’s gloomy cloud – the third round of the FA Cup where, as ITV and ESPN reminded us every two seconds over the weekend, “anything can happen”.

While the statement is as ludicrous as it is obviously impossible (I am yet to see a player hide the ball underneath their shirt, run the length of the pitch and slot it home with their hand), the third round has plenty of charm about it. Those David and Goliath moments that make up parts of the tapestry in the story of the round and that dominate the newspaper headlines. On the back of those results, we have the draw for the fourth round, which should be something that wets the appetite. If your club is in the draw it is another step closer to Wembley.

With a few big clubs out of the way and a couple of gallant non-league teams living the dream, the fourth round should be eagerly awaited by the football community as a whole, after all it is another chance to lift more January blues. Unfortunately, its nature is to be damned if it does and damned if it doesn’t, for football fans are impossible to please.

As the draw unfolded on Sunday afternoon it seemed to lack the carousel of excitement that surrounds the Champions League draw, there was a much more sombre air about it, maybe that was ITV’s coverage, but fans took to Twitter to express their feelings of disappointment as the fixtures were plucked out.

Many complained of the lack of a “glamour tie”, to borrow a line from the broadcasters’ vocabulary, a match that sets pulse running even among neutrals given the calibre, tradition or rivalry between the two clubs.

While the Metropolitan Police would have been pleased to avoid a potential West Ham vs Millwall encounter, and Greater Manchester Police would have nodded approvingly when United weren’t paired against City or Liverpool, many viewers felt a dull draw such as Sunday’s will deprive the FA Cup of its shine even further.

The same fans were probably as disgusted 12 months ago when the two Manchester clubs were drawn against each other in the third round and United then went on to play Liverpool in the following stage.

It doesn’t require a huge stretch of imagination to picture people dismissing last year’s draw as “fixed” – a desperate attempt by the FA to restore interest in the same competition – while now they vent their disapproval for what they had been craving for 12 months ago, in the same way that people that refuse to vote then criticise the government with gusto.

The FA Cup is all about lower league clubs facing off against big opposition, the magic is in how a team raises their game against all the odds, it is about the fans having a day out that creates an atmosphere that is like no other. Besides, would those fans really rather see their team being knocked out in the “tie of the round” or progressing to the fifth round after disposing of a lower-ranked club in an exciting, hard-fought tie?

I know what I would prefer, how about you?

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