And after this break...

And after this break...

A fresher FA Cup third round and a winter break for the Premier League combined - why couldn't it work for the benefit of all and the good of the game?


WE SHOULD be looking forward eagerly to the FA Cup third round, traditionally one of the great days of the English football calendar. After all, there are such evocative ties as Yeovil v Manchester United, Blyth Spartans v Birmingham City and Dover Athletic v Crystal Palace, along with echoes of folkloric finals such as Wimbledon v Liverpool, Burnley v Tottenham, Sunderland v Leeds and Arsenal v Hull City.

            Cardiff City's lowest ever crowd of 4,194 for their tie against Colchester United as Friday night overture hints at problems still for the Cup, despite the BBC's welcome efforts to inject it with new impetus and wider, livelier coverage.

            Once upon a time, when there was less European football and the old First and Second Divisions did not have the same financial covetousness that the Premier League's vast sums have provoked, the Cup meant so much more to clubs, and probably many supporters too, though most surely still love cup runs and are not persuaded by their managers' excuses for fielding weakened sides.

            Now third round weekend seems to be a feat of endurance rather than the episode of enjoyment it should be and used to be. Even mid-table Championship clubs with aspirations of the play-offs field virtual reserve teams.

            The Cup's third round was always, and should be, new impetus for the competition after the Non-League and lower division clubs have enjoyed their days in the sun through the qualifying and early rounds. Instead, it can peter out anti-climactically after the colourful occasions of first and second rounds, due to low crowds and weak teams.

            What to do to change it? Well, the FA have been looking at various suggestions to halt the decline of the Cup for a year or two - one being the reintroduction of the next round's draw as a special event on a Monday - and there is one from this quarter that could well help the third round - and the English game in another way.

            As their birthright, fans love the Christmas and New Year programme in England and the overseas managers and players who come over and decry it in their first year or two before understanding its wonder will never change that.

            They do have a point about being expected to play a Cup game straight after an intense holiday programme, however. In which case, why not delay the third round for a couple of weeks?

            The elite level is always crying out for a winter break to allow players to recharge batteries and avoid injuries, particularly in the even years when the finals of major tournaments are played. A winter break of a fortnight for them would thus fall naturally after the festive fixtures.

            The programme could then resume on the third weekend of January with the FA Cup third round. Managers in Premier League and Championship would then be far more likely to field stronger sides with players in need of games. The players would be fresh and raring to go.

            But how would we do without our football fix in January? We wouldn't. Clubs in League One and Two, along with Non-League - at both of which levels cash flow is vital - would continue to play. They would get more TV coverage and attention and probably bigger crowds and revenue. It would be one way for the top level to help the less fortunate without even having to do anything. There would be plenty to divert the fan. Everyone would benefit.

            It would mean that the FA, the Premier League and the Football League all have to sit down and work out a modified calendar and agree amongst themselves. That will be the hard part, with relationships strained and vested interests paramount, so none of us should hold our breath.

            I would, however, very much like to hear from those three organisations why it wouldn't make sense and is not achievable - apart from their own inability to compromise and adopt the idea. And why it wouldn't be for the good of all parties - clubs, players, spectators - and thus the game.

 

 

2014-01-03