American Football

Can the FA Cup Final be England’s ‘Super Bowl’?

A little over a week ago, the sports world basked in the occasion of the 48th annual Super Bowl.  The Seattle Seahawks embarrassed the Denver Broncos, dispatching them 43-8. Most of us on this side of the pond will have already forgotten that scoreline, but the spectacle itself will remain a little fresher in our minds.

In truth, the Super Bowl is more than just an American football match. It’s an occasion. The NFL have managed to fuse sports and culture perfectly to make it an event that the whole country is enveloped in regardless of their individual interest in sports.  People gather, TV stations change their schedule and the whole nation, for a day or two, is gripped by one singular sporting event. For instance, the Super Bowl has a grand history of spectacular half-time shows including performances from Beyonce, Diana Ross, Michael Jackson and more. Coupled with its corporate tradition of debuting spectacular adverts during the many intervals from play, there is genuinely plenty on offer to entertain all sorts of people.

Prominent… The NFL’s showcase game regularly draws in over 100 million US viewers. [Photo: Wikipedia]

The FA Cup final is the obvious contender to compare with the Super Bowl for English sport. A famous tournament of the nation’s favourite sport, settled by one single game that airs on terrestrial television. In fact, the comparisons end there. Now, I’m not saying that I want the FA to fervently promote the final by shoving Jessie J on the pitch at half-time, in a feckless attempt to maintain any interest in the event. But I do think Britain’s footballing body could do more to make the FA Cup final a bigger occasion on a national scale. There’s no reason why the FA Cup final can’t be an experience that grips the entirety of England in the days leading up to the event. There’s certainly no need for us to try and emulate the Super Bowl to too great an extent. The cacophonous pageantry of American Football and the orgulousness required to call the winners of a domestic trophy ‘world champions’ is not found on these shores but their blue print for sporting spectacles is certainly to be admired.

Super Bowl XLVIII brough in 111.5 million viewers for Fox last Sunday night meaning around 35% of the USA was tuning in, making it the most watched television broadcast in the nation’s history. In stark contrast, the most recent FA Cup final which saw Wigan Athletic upset the odds to beat Manchester City was viewed by 4.10 million on ITV (8% of England), being outperformed that week by an episode of Off Their Rockers and Paul O’Grady: For The Love of Dogs. It’s not like a boost in attention for the FA Cup final wouldn’t favour TV channels, if American trends are anything to go by. Fox’s comedy New Girl received 26 million viewers, an 867% increase in viewership on it’s season average.

Overlooked: FA Cup Finals are convincingly outperformed by entertainment variety shows. [Photo: Wikipedia]

Unfortunately, the FA Cup is a distant after thought behind the much preferred league campaigns, which I can certainly appreciate. England has two cup competitions. The Football League Cup has long been disregarded by the ‘bigger clubs’ unless they reach the latter stages; only then do they usually field their strongest sides. Even Championship clubs see that tournament as a chance for squad rotation. In recent years, the FA Cup has been heading in the same direction with many clubs simply not trying to compete, illustrated by falling attendances and of course ‘weakened’ squads.

It’s not like England wouldn’t embrace a grander spectacle, we see how much football fever takes hold of the nation every time the European Championships and World Cup roll around. And, it’s certainly not beyond us to forge such a special sporting event, given the overwhelming success of the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London. In theory, everything is in place for the FA Cup final to be a truly global sporting event. We really ought to be giving English football’s grandest competition a less bathetic climax, otherwise what is the point? But, until the FA and indeed the football clubs themselves start to take the world’s oldest football tournament seriously; it’s likely to remain a distant dream.

(Thank you to Kyle Andrews for helping with this article. Read his stuff; chrispowellsflatcap.wordpress.com)

The Price of Success

In every popular sport in the world, there are heroes and villains. Those the crowd love and those they hate. Typically, the athletes or teams the spectator takes a disliking to share one trait; success.

Prime examples of the unfavoured, are sports’ elite competitors; Manchester United, Leicester Tigers, the New York Yankees etc.. Many people would put this dislike down to an admiration for the underdog, the romance of the unworthy pretender emerging in glorious victory. But why?

Brand… The Yankees are well-known and disliked in the sport

I was actually inspired to write this article based on a Ladies’ 4th Round match at the recent Wimbledon Championships between Serena Williams and Sabine Lisicki. Taking place in Old Blighty, neither’s home nation, you would probably expect a neutral crowd or one that’s slightly swayed toward the plucky underdog in Lisicki or another edging on the side of a respected veteran in Williams. That wasn’t the case. The raucous Centre Court crowd were overtly biased toward Lisicki, cheering her on to every point and greeting Williams’ successes with groans of disappointment. Lisicki’s support rivalled that of the home talents, Andy Murray and Laura Robson and it even continued through the next rounds when her more arrogant nature came to prominence.

In Serena’s case, she is partially disliked for her intense competitive nature. Understandably, most perceive a dislike of losing as a negative trait but it really isn’t as bad or counteractive as it seems. In reality, a hatred for defeat is the very thing that breeds the successful sports stars that are loved the world over. Serena is often levelled with criticism about her image too, with many labelling her as a ‘man’, usually the same people who detest the shameful body image tabloids pressure women to obtain, while mocking a woman making a positive contribution through sport. Actually, you could argue that Williams is simply ostracised because of her race or gender. It would be untrue to say stars like Nadal, Djokovic and veteran, John McEnroe are dealt the same backlash. They remain popular despite exhibiting very similar behaviour.

Of course, there is less opportunity for vocal bias in neutral grounds in football but that doesn’t stop Manchester United being targeted for abuse from supposedly apathetic fans. In contrast, local rivals, Manchester City have become many fans’ ‘second team’. Back in May 2012, when City pulled off a remarkable title theft from United, fans of other clubs publicly celebrated the failure of the Red Devils despite their club having no links to them themselves. In the Etihad, QPR fans (the visitors on the day), even publicly celebrated a goal being scored against them, because it was at Manchester United’s expense. Seriously.



(around the 1:45 mark)

Legend… Serena’s success breeds more resentment than admiration.

Ultimately, it comes down to jealousy. No matter that Serena Williams’ success story in particular comes from hard graft and determination and Manchester United didn’t necessarily employ the bank-rolling tactics of their cross-city rivals to start their route to success, they are still loathed by sports fans alike. It’s the same jealousy that sparks the Scotland or British debate among Andy Murray’s fans. Some Scots are keen to claim Murray as just theirs so they can exclusively identify his success. However, Englishmen are less likely to do the same because as a nation, they’re more successful. As with football, the neutral supporters identified with Man City’s title triumph as a victory for every other club against Manchester United… for some reason.

I’ve never bought in to the establishment of disliking the successful stars of sport. I can see why people do, but I don’t share their feelings. Being prosperous is an adaptive characteristic that biologically, every human is attracted to. When I think of the aim of sport, I think of every team or competitior striving to be the best and I cannot see any rationalisation for hating that. After all, being victorious is the reason we love sport, if you’re not trying to win then what would be the point?