Andrew Warshaw: Cup traditions, old and new, play the dating game

Tradition has increasingly taken a back seat in the modern age of football. Sometimes, it has to be said, for the right reasons but not when it comes to the English FA Cup, the game’s oldest domestic knockout competition.

For the last few years, the cup final, watched by billions of armchair fans worldwide despite many of them getting out of bed at some ungodly hour, has been shunted into unfamiliar territory, given whatever end-of-season slot can be found for it – provided it doesn’t interfere with the climax to the Premier League programme. In other words, very much a sideshow.

How refreshing, then, that the English football authorities have seen sense by restoring this iconic fixture to its rightful place next year as the showpiece finale to the season.

Wherever you live, whatever your football allegiance, whatever your nationality and how ever you like the game played, the date of cup final has long been one of those eagerly awaited sporting occasions that goes straight into every neutral fan’s diary. Even if your team isn’t playing, you normally support one of the two finalists. It’s that kind of occasion: gripping, compelling, unmissable. Everything else on cup final day gets cancelled. There is only one event worth watching. At least that’s how it used to be.

Until a few years ago, television and radio coverage of the final began in the early morning, building up gradually to kickoff as nerves became frayed, stomachs churned and finger nails bitten. Sadly, with so much emphasis on the money side of football and the quest for league glory, the romance of the cup gradually waned. The trend started in 2011 when Manchester City’s encounter with Stoke began just as Manchester United were celebrating their Premier League title triumph at Blackburn. Last month saw the euphoria of Wigan beating Manchester City – one of the great David v Goliaths upsets – overshadowed by the race for Champions League spots and Wigan’s own relegation three days later.

Premier League games have been played on the same weekend as the last three finals. Over the last two seasons the fixture has been forced to share the spotlight even more with a weekend programme of top-flight matches. But now the showpiece finale is back where it belongs and not before time. Next season the cup final will be played on May 17 – a week after the Premier League season has concluded. Just as it used to be, with the focus on one match and one match alone. Domestic cup competitions may mean little in other countries but as its global following will testify, the FA Cup has a place of its own in the annals of the game.

FA general secretary Alex Horne said: “We’re well aware that fans and media have been calling for The FA Cup Final to have a day to itself and we’re delighted that this is going to happen for 2014. It’s the first time we’ve managed to get the FA Cup Final a stand-alone date since 2010. There have been various reasons for that, not least the two UEFA Champions League Finals at Wembley Stadium which have been fantastic occasions and required huge resources and a massive build-up time behind the scenes.”

Horne’s remarks will be welcomed by all those who bemoaned the cup final losing its lustre and its special place in the sporting psyche. But just as the FA took its decision, so another cup competition was splitting opinion several thousand miles away. Compared to the FA Cup, the Confederations Cup is a relatively new phenomenon, one which was initially sneered at by those who accused FIFA of over-playing their card but which is now steadily securing its place as a valid dry run 12 months before every World Cup.

Forget for one moment the public demonstrations off the field in Brazil, let’s concentrate on the actual event which appears to have generated a terrific atmosphere in the stadiums. However, one scoreline, at the time of writing, has got tongues wagging. Spain 10, Tahiti 0, and a virtual second-string Spanish team at that. Do we really want to see results of that nature in a bone fide FIFA competition? On the one hand, there is an argument to suggest that mismatches of such magnitude can only devalue a tournament that is still, to the public at large, trying to find its feet. On the other, Tahiti qualified by right as Oceania champions, has as much of a claim as the other seven teams to be there and will have great memories of playing the world champions at the Maracana, one of the sport’s most iconic venues.

Perhaps the real question is not whether Tahiti’s amateurs should have been allowed to take part but whether we need the Confederations Cup at all. On balance we probably do, mainly as a test run for the real thing rather than a chance to win what still can’t quite yet be described as one of the great trophies in world football.

Andrew Warshaw is chief correspondent of Insideworldfootball. Contact Andrew at moc.l1713608539labto1713608539ofdlr1713608539owedi1713608539sni@w1713608539ahsra1713608539w.wer1713608539dna1713608539