The ‘FA Cup’ and ‘romance’ are two words so synonymous with each other that they fit together like Donald Trump and impeachment.
For my generation (and many before and after) all our dreams, and playground matches, were centred around scoring the winning goal in the FA Cup Final at Wembley. The FA Cup is where dreams come true and every season there is a fairy tale story that elevates a mere mortal team to the forefront of the nation’s media. Last season it was the turn of Newport County to be heroes. They beat Leicester City 2-1, then beat Middlesbrough 2-0 in a replay before finally succumbing to eventual winners Manchester City. That run saw Newport earn record profits and plaudits from everyone, including Pep Guardiola.
Now let’s take off the rose-tinted glasses and analyse cup runs with cold hard facts. Newport ultimately fell at the final hurdle in their (main) quest for promotion. Did the elongated season ultimately cost Newport? If you look at the three teams who earned promotion from the Championship last season (Norwich, Sheff United and Aston Villa), not one of them progressed passed the third round and in the case of Sheff United and Norwich they lost at home to lower league teams. Nobody remembered those results when they were celebrating in May. Even in the Premier League, teams with smaller squads prioritise league survival over cup runs.
I’m not suggesting that kids should run around the playground celebrating scoring the goal that keeps their team in mid-table but, in the cold hard world of football business, competitions need prioritising. Brentford are around 150/1 to win the FA Cup but as short as 9/5 for promotion. I know my view is slightly cynical and at odds with many people’s views of the importance of the cup, but The Bees are in a fabulous position and are genuine contenders to earn the ultimate prize of promotion.
The Championship season is a long hard slog, there’s no other league in the world with more games to play. Just one or two extra matches can have a huge impact on players’ fitness and bodies. Then there becomes the impossible task of playing rearranged fixtures on top of an already punishing schedule. Hopefully I’m wrong and Brentford can achieve cup success and promotion this season, but I know which one is the most important.