CRAIG NELSON: Gone are the magical days of cup final day on TV

The Bolton News: Ricky Villa, left, and Ossie Ardiles lit up the 1981 FA Cup final Ricky Villa, left, and Ossie Ardiles lit up the 1981 FA Cup final

WHEN Greg Dyke makes it his personal mission to mend the FA Cup, you know the famous old competition is in trouble.

Even before the new chairman of the Football Association got his teeth stuck into the thorny issue of the England team and its future, he was busy canvassing opinion on what to do to revive the game’s most revered knockout trophy.

For years now, its popularity seems to have been waning.

It is definitely true the wall-to-wall coverage of competitions like the Premier League and Champions League have watered down the FA Cup’s importance.

When I was growing up, the only football matches I can remember being televised live were the FA Cup final and the World Cup.

Like many people, I am sure, the FA Cup final was my first introduction to live football – on television, at least.

My dad used to take me to watch Wanderers as a youngster, but I don’t have too many memories of the actual matches.

When I wasn’t cowering at the grumpy old man sitting next to us, whose screams at the players introduced me to a whole new vocabulary, I spent most of my time running up and down the stairs to the top of the Burnden Stand and back again.

The 1981 FA Cup final, between Manchester City and Spurs, was the first match I can remember sitting down and watching.

It helped it was a great final and in many respects the replay – and more importantly Ricky Villa’s wonder goal – just sealed the deal.

I have been hooked ever since.

I have a crystal clear memory of every final from then until the mid-1990s, when other distractions started to get in the way of football.

But that was also about the time Premier League coverage started to overtake the FA Cup as the must-watch football on television.

In my youth, the FA Cup dominated programming on final day, from Swap Shop and Saturday Superstore in the morning through to an extended Grandstand and finally the match.

There is so much football on TV these days, that kind of nationwide interest is unthinkable.

In many respects, the FA Cup final is just another game.

As an adult, I have no problem with that, but I can’t help feeling our younger generation are missing out on a special childhood experience and, possibly more importantly, an introduction to the game.

There is always a danger with the FA Cup that you can slip into nostalgia, but I think our national game has lost something very important.

And I’m not sure, no matter what gimmick Mr Dyke and his focus groups come up with, it will ever be possible to get it back.

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