Tuesday, 6 January 2015

The FA Cup - Football's American Dream

By Shane Thomas

As the 3rd round of the FA Cup draws to a close, my thoughts have turned to the almost edacious manner of its promotion, especially by the BBC - who regained the broadcast rights from ITV.

The phrase "the magic of the cup" has become a cliche so worn, it represents a pair of jeans that have been in the washing machine so often, that the area around the crotch begins to thin.
And yet, it's a football idiom that still retains power. It may be exploited be television companies, but that doesn't mean it has no value. At its best, the FA Cup has a unique frisson absent from any other football competition (at least domestic ones), and the 3rd round is particularly piquant.

Why is this? Well, essentially the FA Cup is English football's version of the 'American Dream', and the 3rd round is the chance for those in a lowly position to jump the game's own class system.

The American Dream is a notion that gets enough oxygen to proliferate because enough people believe that despite being in servile circumstances, it's not a locked state of being. With persistence, hard work, and a little bit of luck, one can prove that themselves the equal of their more heralded peers.

In English football, enough teams in the lower leagues - and further down the pyramid - also believe that the FA Cup gives them their chance to not only stand alongside clubs with more resources, but to look them in the eye and not flinch. They get to - as was once said of Groucho Marx - "knock the top hat off the rich man."

The fact that this whole concept often turns out to be complete tripe is irrelevant. John Oliver recently did a sublime deconstruction of the flaws in clinging to the American Dream, all the while acknowledging that trying to deter many from believing in it is an exercise in futility.

Dreams aren't meant to make sense. They often correlate with the childlike part of our consciousness that responds to whimsy. A place for the quixotic. In fact, one would think a country like America would revel in a similar type of tournament in their own sporting leagues[1].

Sport is a natural partner for this emotion. Many of the most popular sports movies, such as Rocky or The Mighty Ducks could only exist because of this mindset.

Football remains the most popular sport in the country. From the prestige of the Premier League, to the middle-aged person who plays 5-a-side with friends once a week, to those who had ambitions of playing professionally and never quite made it, the FA Cup remains the last bastion of football that links all who once kicked a ball for fun.

It's the competition that at its core, is a place where you can lack all the tools needed to be a success in the game, but on one day, in one match, you might - just might - get one chance to knock the hat off the rich man.

Football has increasingly become a mirror of society's own stratification process, but the FA Cup is the final place where anyone could achieve. It doesn't mean they will, but the very possibility that they can is a powerful idea, and an idea I'm loathe to see go from the sport.

Journalist, Oliver Kay recently wrote about this state of mind"That romance, or the promise of it, is what blinds us to the many unedifying aspects of the industry. Love is blind, you see. Romance rules."

Indeed so. Romance rules. Keep dreaming.

[1] - American journalist Travis Waldron definitely thinks America are missing a trick not having their own version of the FA Cup.

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