The Romantic Fairytale

Whether you are listening to the pundits on the television, or reading the press releases emanating from the A-League clubs the message will once again be that the FFA Cup is a hugely successful competition. It is all about to get under way again, and already much of the same rhetoric is being used.

Words such as “fairytale” and “romance” have been and are used at every possible opportunity to try and convince everyone that this is a competition on par with England’s historic FA Cup. Of course it isn’t. It is still very much in its infancy and will take time to reach that stage. This is sadly another blatant example of trying to make something be what it isn’t, rather than letting it evolve naturally.

Do the average fans buy into all the hyperbole? There is no doubt that true fans will go and watch their team whomever they are playing, and these same fans want to see their side win trophies; although not such meaningless ones as the ridiculously conceived “Long Distance Derby Cup.”

If all the hype were true that the FFA Cup has genuinely ‘caught the imagination’ of the Australian football fan how do you explain the paltry crowds at both semi-finals? These two games were, if we are to believe the hype, “massive” as they would determine who would meet in the FFA Cup final.

In 2015/16 Perth Glory attracted 4165 for their semi final against Melbourne City and the best supported club in the country Melbourne Victory only managed 6575 for their game against Victorian NPL side Hume City; This was in fact a Hume City home fixture that they opted to play at a bigger venue, AAMI Park.

In most countries where football is played the semi-final of a national cup competition would witness a sell out gate, yet on either side of the country the crowd can only be described as poor.

If the competition really had taken hold of people’s imaginations one would have expected the crowds to increase dramatically after the first season yet in the semi-finals of 2014/15 Bentleigh Greens attracted 3,300 for their semi final against Perth Glory and Adelaide United only 4,548 for theirs against Central Coast Mariners.

Why is this? Some will say that it is because the games are midweek. It is accepted that football fans in Australia are not used to midweek fixtures, but if the competition really had a hold on people, and really was about romance then they should still turn out. Would people go and see Robbie Williams, U2 or Beyonce midweek?

Is it because the draw was seeded? Six of the A-League clubs forced to face each other in the opening round and then be eliminated? So not surprisingly fans of those clubs are likely to ‘switch off’ after the first round.

Is it because the “Cinderella Story” we have rammed down our throats is in fact far from being anywhere near such a thing, with the draw set up to ensure that one non-A League side makes the semi finals?

If we look at the 2014 FFA Cup, semi finalist Bentleigh Greens did not play an A-League side until the semi final and there, as expected, they lost 3-0. Again in 2015 Hume City did not come up against an A-League side on their run to the semi finals where they too lost 3-0.

The ‘romance’ of the FA Cup, the Cinderella Stories are when semi professional sides beat full time professional teams, or when they manage a draw and force a replay at their home venue. The FFA Cup does not have replays. So that key aspect for an underdog is lost; as well as a revenue making opportunity.

In fact in the first two seasons of the FFA Cup there has only been one upset, one real case of a club being giant-killers and that was when Adelaide City defeated Western Sydney Wanderers. So there has been only one upset in 61 games. Yet we are still fed the line that this is a great competition, and there is some ‘romance’ to it.

The FFA love to promote the fact that 621 federation teams compete in the FFA cup. The FA Cup in England has 736 teams compete in its competition. There is no seeding in the FA Cup. Geographically Australia has a massive problem compared to England and it tries to work around that. The English FA Cup used to try and save teams travel costs in the early rounds by having Northern-based teams playing each other and Southern=based sides the same. This was abandoned in 1997-98. Once again this is a competition where anyone can be drawn against a team from anywhere in the country. Australia cannot do that due to the costs to clubs in the early rounds, however this would help generate that ‘romance’ and give all teams a chance.

Having the cup competitions in each state be the qualifying competition, the FFA Cup is not really about 621 teams competing in the same competition. There is, the way their competition is set up, a risk that the some state representatives from each state will rarely differ. There has been the argument that the A-League sides should have to compete in the State Cup competition, again to enhance the local competition and also have the chance of an upset. Yet that is unlikely to happen as the A-League clubs would not want the extra games, or to play on ‘inferior’ pitches.

To create “the romance” one feels that replays must become the reward for a team who manages a draw on the road. The first thing that needs to happen is that seeding process must be scrapped, or in 2016 the “Cinderella Story” will again be one manufactured by the draw.

The other big issue is the final. Once again last year there was a squabble over where this should be played, and understandably the final in 2015 was played in Melbourne. Despite their posturing to host the final at the time, Perth Glory were probably mightily relieved. Why? You may ask. The FFA Cup Final is a game run by the FFA and not the home club. Perth Glory promised their members free tickets to the final if they hosted it, and they would have had to buy those tickets off of the FFA, so it would have cost them a pretty penny. Especially as the FFA inflated the prices of the tickets, which ultimately resulted in a reduced crowd at the final

Should the FFA announce a venue for a final at the start of the competition? This would be very hard as they may chose a city that neither of the finalists come from and that would restrict their earning capacity.

Should the FFA Cup final be played over two legs with away goals counting more in the event of a draw? This has far greater merit as it would give both clubs the chance to play at home and is likely to produce attacking football, as if a team is trailing they will have to attack. If their opponent scored an away goal they may have to negate that advantage. This option would build up the competition and again could produce results or games that become a part of history.

There is an even stronger argument that the dates of fixtures be thought through a little better. First of all the early games see the State teams at the end of their seasons and the A-League sides in pre-season. When the State season finishes the sides still have to keep training with no games, while the A-League sides are in their stride. Why can’t the FFA Cup be put on hold until the new year when the state clubs are back in training, and then the final be played the week after the Grand Final?

The crowd for last year’s final between Melbourne Victory and Perth Glory at AAMI Park, a ground that has a capacity of 30,050. was 15,098. The year before Adelaide managed a near on capacity crowd at the smaller Coopers stadium; 16,142 of a 16,500 capacity. Even with the final on a weekend in 2015 the crowd was disappointing.

All supporters want to see their team win a cup, and all teams want to win trophies, but one still feels that the FFA Cup is far from a priority. Yet if it was played at the end of the season and teams who missed out in the Finals were still involved it would suddenly have a great deal more meaning.

The prize money is another issue. In 2015 the prize money was $50,000 for the winner. That would not cover most A-League clubs wage bills in a week. If shared between the players and coaching staff it would be a welcome bonus but not substantial, so the money is certainly not the incentive. If as mooted the winner gains a berth in the Asian Champions League then it may suddenly have more appeal, but one feels at the moment that it is almost a pre-season cup for the A-league sides. A chance to get games under their belt and if they progress that is an added bonus.

Certainly there is very little ‘romance’ in the competition thus far, and as for ‘fairytales,’ and ‘Cinderella stories’ there have been none. Until these easily-spoken phrases are actually backed up with performances on the pitch, the FFA Cup will continue to struggle for credibility. Best to keep such terms in reserve for when something spectacular really happens, and the crowds turn out in force in the hope of witnessing an upset.

The Romantic Fairytale
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