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Mark Orders: Like Chopper Bikes, magic of the FA Cup has gone

By South Wales Evening Post  |  Posted: January 08, 2014

Like Chopper bikes, the magic of the FA Cup has gone, says Mark Orders

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AS the fate of Green Shield stamps, Andy Pandy, pound notes, the Generation Game, Chopper bikes, glam rock, Betamax videos, Midland Bank and Saturday-afternoon wrestling on ITV demonstrates, nothing lasts for ever.

World of Sport? Presented by half-man, half-badger Dickie Davies, it also went the way of the dodo.

Only last week it was suggested that alarm clocks and watches could soon disappear from the scene, as people look to their mobile phones to wake them up and tell them the time.

Change is inevitable, we are told, though that message never did quite get through to the coffee machine in the Evening Post’s old offices in Adelaide Street.

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But that’s another matter.

The point is that everything is in a state of flux — even the Welsh Rugby Union’s glacial relationship with the regions. It just seems like the two groups haven’t moved a millimetre since the ice-age, that’s all.

One day, as sure as night follows day, there will be resolution of a conflict that is starting to make the Hundred Years War look like a two-minute squabble in a schoolyard.

Even the age-old status of the FA Cup as a competition apart doesn’t last for ever, whatever misty-eyed romantics say.

Really, you have to laugh. Swansea City’s superb win over Manchester United at Old Trafford led some to pronounce that the magic of the cup is still very much with us.

It is no more still with us than child chimney sweeps are still with us.

Last weekend there was widespread disgruntlement after Aston Villa manager Paul Lambert declared the cup wasn’t a priority, with Premier League survival more important.

Sadly, given his team’s league position, just six points clear of the relegation zone, Lambert was spot-on.

Managers don’t get sacked for failing to win the FA Cup. They do get fired for failing to keep their teams in the Premier League.

Jamie Carragher gamely tried to take readers of his Daily Mail column down memory lane, writing: “Third-round weekend. Just saying those words takes me back to childhood and triggers the excitement I had for the FA Cup.

“What a competition it used to be.”

He went on to call for replays to be abolished, to restore the competition’s glory.

That is a bit like recommending Beecham’s Powders to cure a case of double pneumonia.

You have to be of a certain age to remember a time when the FA Cup was truly special, a football follower before the big bang that yielded the Premier League in 1992, with its limitless largesse.

The Champions League followed soon after, again offering transformative rewards for those fortunate enough to be involved.

Against such glamour and money, tradition never stood a chance.

Other factors were at play. An FA Cup final was special years ago partly because it was one of the few football matches to be shown live on TV. Broadcasters gave the event the all-day treatment, with customised versions of It’s a Knockout and A Question of Sport.

Now, a round-ball addict can get a fix morning, noon and night if he or she so desires, with games shown around the clock on satellite TV.

Is Manchester City v Wigan, last year’s FA Cup final, any bigger or more captivating than Arsenal v Bayern Munich in the Champions League? Those in certain parts of North West England might think so, but probably not many others would agree.

Tradition is great but it doesn’t pay the bills in the way that survival in the Premier League or securing a Champions League place does.

Anyway, the Football Association showed how much the FA Cup meant to them when they allowed the then holders Manchester United to sit out the 2000 season to take part in the Club World Championship.

The competition was further devalued three years ago when United clinched the Premier League title on the same day as the Cup final between Manchester City and Stoke.

FA Cup semi-finals at Wembley rather than at neutral grounds? All part of the vandalism of the tournament.

There is no going back.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I’m guessing that relegation-haunted Cardiff City and their fans would have preferred their fine away win at Newcastle last weekend to have come in the Premier League rather than in the FA Cup.

And there is a fair chance Michael Laudrup would have felt the same about Swansea’s triumph in Manchester.

Nowadays, cup success is a bonus rather than a priority, with the final just another game.

It is all massively sad.

Getting rid of replays, a course advocated by Laudrup as well, will not restore the elevated position of a tournament that has been around for more than 140 years.

The magic of the cup belongs to another age.

Like Atlantis, it is gone for ever.

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