Cup v League - Football v Business
Date: Friday 27th May 2005Phil Gartside caused a storm when he seemed to blame fans for not turning up to the FA Cup fifth round game against Fulham. The 16,000 crowd was poor, but should Phil be pointing the finger at the fickle fans, or looking at why they stayed away? The fact is, this is not a BWFC problem, it is a bigger issue. And what it all boils down to is where we are today - is football a sport or a business. I think it has become the latter, and maybe that is the way it should beÖ For the past two seasons, many clubs have seen cup crowds drop way below their league average. TV exposure, bad kick off times, weakened sides, and devaluation of knockout competitions have all made fans stay away. The rising cost of Premiership football also has taken its toll. Finding an extra £30 every month is not always easy, especially when whole families want to attend. When Man United were allowed to pull out of the FA Cup in 2000, the competition lost a lot of its prestige. Now they are talking about taking away replays for certain teams, and an earlier final too. The cup also gained sponsorship a few years back. All nails in the coffin of the competition. But I think this is all minor when compared to the main debate. Do clubs want to make money or win trophies? Is football a sport, or a business? 10-20 years ago, winning a cup, or even getting to the final was a huge prize for any club. Sure, for the Boltons and Oldhams who were in the lower leagues, this might seem obvious, and would still be the case today for Rochdale or, well, Oldham still. But even the big clubs wanted to get that Wembley trip and the silverware. Friends who followed Man Utd and Liverpool, the biggest clubs in the land, got excited at the prospect of a trophy, even if it was called the Littlewoods, Rumbelows (remember that one?), Coca Cola, or Milk Cup. Back then, the cup run did generate some decent revenue, but that was never the thought of the fans, and only secondary to the clubs. The fame, pride and prestige of being the champions was the real prize. I donít think I ever recall a big club resting an entire team for an Ďeasyí cup tie. Mid 80s I remember seeing Oldham v Liverpool, Milk Cup third round. Dalglish, Souness etc all played. Back then, clubs were concerned with success, and being the best was all that mattered. Fast forward to the past few years. It all started when the top teams got back into Europe. Clubs began to prioritise and put weak sides out in the League Cup. This is understandable. If you have a chance of winning the league or the Champions League, you will take every help you can. If that help means resting players mid-week, then sure, go for it and chase the bigger prize. But it was more recently that my concerns start. Clubs who will never win the league or European competition started to field reserve teams in the cup. Their argument was simple. Cups no longer raise significant funds when compared to the all powerful Premiership. So the debate is simple, what is most important, the success of winning a cup, or raising money. Sport or business? Surely, the whole purpose of being a football club is ultimately to win something. For me, I canít see the point of merely existing. Lets say a club like Tottenham put out the reserves in all cup games (which they do). Most times that a side fields a weak team, they will get knocked out early on in the competition. So, on that basis of concentrating on the league, the best they could hope to finish is mid table. On a good year, the UEFA Cup is a possibility, but they will never win that. So what we essentially have now is a business and no longer a football club. If you are never going to try and win anything, then what is the point of existing in a COMPETITION. It all boils down to money, so why not build houses on the stadium and wind the club up. Of course, finances must be considered, we donít want clubs going bankrupt, but at the end of the day, the ultimate goal for all clubs should be to win something. In the sad state of things, only three, maybe five clubs will ever be capable of winning the Premiership, so that means that the cups should be more important than ever before. For me, I would happily finish fourth bottom in the league if we could win a cup. Forget the prize money, gate receipts, or European qualification. I want my club to win something. Itís the one thing all fans should hope for in their lifetime. When I get old and senile (if I'm not already), I want to look back and remember the great cup run of 2010, or the FA Cup triumph of 2019. I will not recall that we made £100,089 profit in 2011.