Andrew Warshaw: Mickey Mouse? He would have killed to win the FA Cup

Driving back from an English FA Cup game in the pouring rain last Saturday, I was listening to a radio phone-in and suddenly became so incensed by a Chelsea-supporting caller, I gripped the steering wheel even more tightly in the treacherous conditions to avoid swerving into the path of another car in my rage.

The caller, displaying an arrogance so common among Johnny-come-lately fans whose clubs have enjoyed unlimited success and who disregard everyone else, described the world’s oldest and most revered domestic knockout competition as a “mickey mouse” tournament.

It made you want to weep.

One of the two presenters – a veteran, well-respected player – immediately disagreed, saying how, for him, whilst the FA cup may not enjoy the rich rewards of the Premier League, it nevertheless retained a special magic. He specifically made the point that an FA Cup winner’s medal was far more long-lasting than, for instance, qualifying year after year for the Champions League. Which of the two, he countered, could you proudly show your grandchildren?

As I continued my journey, my anger subsided and I was warmed by a stream of other callers, most of them fans of lower-league teams who agreed that the FA Cup is the stuff of dreams: a one-off chance for the Davids to knock out the Goliaths and, crucially, for struggling clubs heavily in debt, often the difference between survival and possible extinction.

The afore-mentioned Chelsea caller was not interested in such trifling matters. The FA Cup came way down his list of priorities. To give him credit, he did point out that if the competition was so important, why were attendances so poor?

The answer, he suggested, was that most fans had lost faith in the competition since it presented few incentives apart from actually lifting the trophy. It was a fair argument but only partly valid and missed one vital point. Lifting the trophy, for most fans, is in itself a pride-bursting achievement.

Whilst no-one would deny that third-round cup crowds WERE down at most ties, in some cases by a worrying margin, it was interesting to see that a spate of lower-league and non-league teams actually increased their attendances; in non-league Macclesfield’s case by 300% for the visit of Sheffield Wednesday, one of the FA Cup’s great old names and three divisions higher than their opponents.

The sad reality is that with so much at stake financially, vast swathes of supporters have been weaned on only caring about promotion, relegation or qualifying for Europe. It’s the same in many countries where the domestic knockout competition is no big deal, especially to fans of teams who regularly win the cup and have become blasé.

But for those who don’t, in England at least, the FA Cup remains a special, unique tournament. Listen, for example, to Crystal Palace manager Tony Pulis. “It’s a great competition and we’ve got to try as a nation to keep it that way,” said Pulis after his side’s 2-0 win at West Brom in front of a half-full stadium.

Perhaps, given how much it costs these days to attend games, fans simply can’t afford to keep forking out and have to make sacrifices somewhere along the line. Fine, no problem. But to suggest the FA Cup is a “mickey mouse” tournament shows total ignorance and disrespect for one of the great sporting traditions, the final of which is still televised around the globe.

Call me old-fashioned but as a lifelong Tottenham Hotspur fan, I am still reeling from Saturday’s cup exit at Arsenal and can’t bear the thought of going through the rest of the season not being involved in this beguiling, compelling competition. Qualifying for the Champions League would be a magnificent achievement but I have one burning footballing desire for my team whilst I am still on this earth. Well, two actually. Of course seeing Spurs win the league title for the first time in over half a century would cap everything. I remain hopeful though pigs might fly.

More realistically yet nevertheless a generation since it last happened, I yearn to take my son to Wembley to see us lift that magnificent nostalgia-filled trophy one more time. Long live the FA Cup.

Andrew Warshaw is chief correspondent of Insideworldfootball.