Harty on . . . if the FA Cup is a pale shadow of what it was

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ANOTHER one of those anniversaries that almost sneaks up each year came on Thursday.

It was exactly 32 years to the day (May 21) since the Albion took on Manchester United in the FA Cup Final in front of 100,000 fans at Wembley Stadium and millions more around the globe on TV.

Along with my wedding, the birth of both children, and a number of other Albion-related episodes, it’s still one of those days that will live in the memory for the rest of my life.

While these things can never be planned, in the grand scheme of things, it probably came at the right time.

I was 18 years old, working, living at home giving Mr and Mrs H next to nothing in housekeeping, life was good and the FA Cup final was one of the great occasions in world sport.

I’ve still got both of my ticket stubs, from both the first game and the replay (funnily enough, the result of the replay is something I’ve managed to block out for years), Lower East Standing (Tunnel end) £5, now put that in the inflation calculator and it’s worth £15.07 in today’s money.

Through contacts, I’ve been lucky enough to sort out a couple of tickets for some local Villa fans for this Saturday’s final, which came out at £90. Granted, they are seats but it’s still a long way off from what we paid all those years ago.

That, sadly, all points to the fact that the FA Cup final is a pale shadow of what it was.

I know football has, to a degree, moved on and I’m probably classed as very much a dinosaur now but, in my opinion, the whole competition has been devalued over the years.

Live TV has played its part. Back in 1983, the final was one of only three live games shown in the season, England versus Scotland and the European Cup final being the other two.

The whole country used to stop and watch the game but it’s not really a pull now, with more than 200 live games shown on various channels during the season.

The Wembley victors then qualified for the Cup Winners Cup, which was just what it said on the tin, and was second only to the European Cup in the pecking order.

The TV companies then hijacked and demonised the European Cup, which eventually saw the Cup Winners Cup disappear, to be replaced in part by the Europa League. (“Channel 5, Thursday night.”)

And, as for the FA Cup, the larger teams almost disrespected it with their team selections.

The semi-finals also moved to Wembley, removing yet more of the magic of the final, which has ended up with Saturday’s showpiece moved to a 5.30pm kick-off to ‘accommodate’ TV schedules.

What of your archetypal 18-year-old Villa fan, a ‘Harty’ living in Birmingham?

If the game goes to extra-time and then penalties, will there be time to watch the cup being presented if Villa manage to beat Arsenal?

Not if he’s come by train, as the timetables indicate the last train to Birmingham goes just after 10pm, which leaves little time for celebrations – clearly the TV bosses don’t use trains any more.

Once again, the fans get the thin end of the wedge but are expected to spend even more of their hard-earned money.

It’s a far cry from the glorious memories of 1983 and, as Mel Gibson said in Braveheart, “they can never take them away”.

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