Empty stands and absent stars a sign of FA Cup’s slow demise

Derby County's Scottish striker Chris Martin (R) shoots and scores past Crystal Palace's English defender Martin Kelly during the English FA Cup third round football match between Crystal Palace and Derby County at Selhurst Park in south London on January 5, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 07 January 2020

Empty stands and absent stars a sign of FA Cup’s slow demise

  • The 24 Championship sides made 171 alterations to their starting lineups

LONDON: The FA Cup third round used to have pride of place among the showpiece dates of the English football calendar, but a weekend of empty stands and much-changed teams showed there appears to be little romance left for the cup.

After a grueling festive fixture schedule saw four rounds of Premier League games crammed into 13 days either side of Christmas and New Year, managers from the 20 top flight teams made a combined 136 changes.

Crystal Palace, Brighton and Aston Villa were the only Premier League sides to pay the penalty for resting first-team regulars against Championship opposition with even many of the sides further down the pyramid taking the chance to rotate.

The 24 Championship sides made 171 alterations to their starting lineups.

Many fans also took the opportunity for a weekend break from football with attendances for Premier League and Championship clubs down over 150,000 on their previous home matches.

Cardiff narrowly avoided their lowest ever attendance since moving to the 33,000- capacity Cardiff City Stadium over a decade ago.

Just 5,828 saw Saturday’s 2-2 draw with Carlisle with only one of the four stands even opened.

“I think the amount of fixtures in the schedule over this period makes it very difficult for supporters to support every single game,” said Cardiff manager Neil Harris.

He was not alone in calling for a change to the schedule if the cup is to be revived.

After a gruelling December in which his side played nine games across four different competitions, Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp made nine changes as the youthful Reds still inflicted more Merseyside derby pain on Everton with a 1-0 win at Anfield.

“Two players started the last game, one of them got injured,” said Klopp after James Milner limped off inside 10 minutes. “That’s the situation we are in, that’s why a lot of managers make a lot of changes. It’s nothing to do with the cup, it’s the timing.”

However, others believe more radical changes are needed to the format to halt the FA Cup’s decline.

Replays have already been abolished from the fifth round, but Wolves manager Nuno Espirito Santo said he would have preferred a penalty shootout than another go at Manchester United after a 0-0 draw at Molineux.

From this season the fifth round has also been moved to a midweek to allow a Premier League winter break for the first time over two weekends in February.

The Premier League taking priority and people’s attention has been a recurring theme of the FA Cup’s dwindling attraction.

“You never used to see many changes in the third round but the introduction, rise and growth of the Premier League means that’s by far the biggest competition in this country,” said Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder, who made 11 changes for his side’s 2-1 win over non-league Fylde.

Yet, just months after Bury went to the wall after over 100 years in the Football League, there are fears that changes such as removing replays completely may sound the death knell for more lower league clubs who rely on the financial bounty of a big name draw.

“I remember playing Burton away in 2005,” said Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. “That went to a replay at Old Trafford. We beat them 5-0 but it was a great day out for them.

“It’s a debate we can have but it is not just about the top teams having too many games. It is about romance.”


Team UAE rider Pogacar claims maiden Tour de France title

Updated 21 September 2020

Team UAE rider Pogacar claims maiden Tour de France title

  • Tadej Pogacar youngest man to win the race since Henri Cornet in 1904
  • Pogacar also won three stages in one of the most brilliant individual performances in recent Tour history

PARIS: Tadej Pogacar became the first Slovenian to win the Tour de France after he retained the yellow jersey in the 21st stage on Sunday, a day after he pulled off a major coup to take the overall lead.
While Sam Bennett won the final stage, the day belonged to Team UAE Emirates rider Pogacar, who will celebrate his 22nd birthday on Monday and is the youngest man to win the race since Henri Cornet in 1904.
Pogacar, who claimed the yellow jersey from a stunned Primoz Roglic with a monumental performance in Saturday’s time trial, also won the white jersey for the best Under-25 rider and the polka dot jersey for the mountains classification.
Roglic ended up second, 59 seconds behind, with Australian Richie Porte taking third place, 3:30 off the pace.
“This is an incredible feeling, standing here in Paris on the top of the podium. It was an amazing three weeks, an incredible journey,” said Pogacar after the first one-two for one country since Bradley Wiggins finished ahead of fellow Briton Chris Froome in 2012.
“I want to thank all those who made it happen. It was three memorable weeks on the French roads, with incredible crowds. I won’t find the words to express my feelings.”
Pogacar also won three stages in one of the most brilliant individual performances in recent Tour history, leaving Roglic’s dominant Jumbo-Visma team wondering what went wrong.
“We didn’t see it coming,” said Roglic’s team mate and former Tour runner-up Tom Dumoulin.
Bennett became the first Irishman since Sean Kelly in 1989 to win the green jersey for the points classification, ahead of Peter Sagan who was looking to claim it for a record-extending eighth time.
Bennett was the strongest at the end of the 122-km ride from Mantes-la Jolie on Sunday, beating world champion Mads Pedersen, with Sagan coming home third.
Swiss Marc Hirschi, the former Under-23 world champion was voted the most aggressive on the race after notably taking a brilliant win in the longest stage of the 107th edition.
Ineos-Grenadiers had a Tour to forget as defending champion Egan Bernal dropped out of contention in the Jura stage to the Grand Colombier, pulling out a few days later with back pains.
They recovered some pride later on, however, as Michal Kwiatkowski, their unsung hero for five years, claimed an emotional stage win — although that was certainly not enough for a team who had won seven of the previous eight editions.
It was an anti-climatic finale on the Champs-Elysees as only 5,000 fans were allowed on the famous avenue as a precaution against the coronavirus.
France reported 13,498 new confirmed COVID-19 cases over the previous 24 hours on Saturday, setting another record in daily additional infections since the start of the epidemic.
Reaching the Champs-Elysees was, however, a relief for organizers, who had imposed strict sanitary rules to protect the race ‘bubble’.
The bubble did not burst as only four team staff members tested positive and were removed from the race, preventing a spread that could have stopped the Tour.
No rider tested positive.