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.”


Michael Jordan, Denny Hamlin partner on NASCAR team for Wallace

Updated 22 September 2020

Michael Jordan, Denny Hamlin partner on NASCAR team for Wallace

  • Michael Jordan becomes the first Black principal owner of a full-time Cup team
  • Former NBA star dabbled in racing before with Michael Jordan Motorsports

CHARLOTTE, N.C.: Denny Hamlin has joined Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan to form a NASCAR team with Bubba Wallace as the driver, a high-profile pairing of a Black majority team owner and the only Black driver at NASCAR’s top level.
The partnership was announced Monday night in coordinated social media posts by Jordan and Hamlin, with Wallace adding his own comment. The posts showed a picture of Jordan alongside a firesuit-clad Hamlin in a motorhome at a race track.
“Historically, NASCAR has struggled with diversity and there have been few Black owners,” Jordan said in his statement. “The timing seemed perfect as NASCAR is evolving and embracing social change more and more.”
Jordan becomes the first Black principal owner of a full-time Cup team since Hall of Famer Wendell Scott drove his own race car in 495 races from 1961 to 1973. Scott’s 1964 victory at the Jacksonville 200 is the only win by a Black driver in Cup history.
The NBA great, who earlier this year pledged $100 million over 10 years for initiatives combating systemic racism, said the move into NASCAR is another step toward racial equality.
“I see this as a chance to educate a new audience and open more opportunities for Black people in racing,” Jordan said.
Jordan joins former NBA player Brad Daugherty, a partner at JTG Daugherty Racing, as the only Black owners at NASCAR’s elite Cup level.
“Michael and Bubba can be a powerful voice together, not only in our sport, but also well beyond it,” Hamlin said.
Hamlin, a three-time Daytona 500 winner and a top contender for this year’s Cup title, will be part of a single-car Toyota entry aligned with Joe Gibbs Racing. Hamlin has raced his entire career for Gibbs, a Hall of Fame NFL coach.
“Eleven years ago I met Michael Jordan at a then-Charlotte Bobcats game and we became fast friends,” Hamlin wrote. “Not long after, I joined Jordan Brand as their first NASCAR athlete. Our friendship has grown over the years and now we are ready to take it to the next level.
“Deciding on the driver was easy — it had to be Bubba Wallace.”
Wallace is the only Black driver in the Cup Series and this season used his platform to push for racial equality. The 27-year-old successfully urged NASCAR to ban the display of the Confederate flag at its events.
Wallace is winless in 105 Cup starts over four seasons, but he has six career victories in the Truck Series. He’s been hampered by mid-level equipment driving the No. 43 for Hall of Famer Richard Petty and, until this summer, the team struggled to land sponsorship.
“Bubba has shown tremendous improvement since joining the Cup Series and we believe he’s ready to take his career to a higher level,” Hamlin said. “He deserves the opportunity to compete for race wins and our team will make sure he has the resources to do just that.
“Off the track, Bubba has been a loud voice for change in our sport and our country. MJ and I support him fully in those efforts and stand beside him.”
There’s been speculation for months that Hamlin was organizing some sort of ownership group as he expects NASCAR’s business model to become more favorable for team owners when the “Next Gen” car is released in 2022. NASCAR rules prohibit a current driver from owning a team and driving for another, but Hamlin works around the policy with Jordan as the principal owner.
“Starting a race team has been something that Michael and I have talked about while playing golf together over the years, but the timing or circumstances were never really right,” Hamlin said. “It just makes sense now to lay the foundation for my racing career after I’m done driving and also help an up-and-coming driver like Bubba take his career to a higher level.”
In a statement, NASCAR welcomed Jordan to the series.
“His presence at NASCAR’s top level will further strengthen the competition, excitement and momentum growing around our sport,” NASCAR said.
Jordan became a partial owner of the Bobcats in 2006 and bought the team outright in 2010, restoring the franchise to its original Hornets name. Hamlin has been a longtime season-ticket holder with courtside seats along the visitors’ bench.
Jordan dabbled in racing before with Michael Jordan Motorsports. He owned an AMA Superbike team and had one win in 10 years. Jordan has twice traveled to the NASCAR season finale to watch Hamlin race for the championship. Hamlin, who’s 39, is still seeking his first title.
“Growing up in North Carolina, my parents would take my brothers, sisters and me to races, and I’ve been a NASCAR fan my whole life,” Jordan said. “The opportunity to own my own race team in partnership with my friend, Denny Hamlin, and to have Bubba Wallace driving for us, is very exciting for me.”
Wallace, who has cobbled together about $18 million in sponsorship deals since he made racial equality his platform, had already announced he was parting with Petty.
“This is a unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I believe is a great fit for me at this point in my career,” Wallace wrote. “I am grateful and humbled that they believe in me and I’m super pumped to begin this adventure with them.”
Jordan and Hamlin purchased a charter for their team from Germain Racing that guarantees Wallace a spot in the 40-car field every week.