JUMPING FOR JOY: Liverpool’s Curtis Jones celebrates his winning goal. — AFP/VNA Photo
Sometime in the past, in a galaxy far, far away, the FA Cup really, really did mean something.
Come the end of the season, year in year out, tuning into the final of the greatest cup competition in English football was a regular ritual for all and sundry.
For a player, I’m sure it was the ultimate experience as a professional. Playing, and better still winning, the historic competition that was first fought over in 1872.
For a fan, especially if your team was playing, and better still won, the FA Cup, there was no greater feeling.
Today’s isn’t 1872. Nor is it the 1980s and things have changed dramatically in modern football, pushing the FA Cup to basically the third (of fourth if you count the Europa League) most important tournament of the domestic season.
This is never more evident in the early stages of the competition than when Premier League teams have to weigh up what is more important in the great scheme of things.
Take Watford for example.
Over the weekend they played Tranmere Rovers who currently sit third from bottom of the Football League Division One.
Even though Watford are themselves languishing at the foot of the Premier League, the gap between the two clubs is gigantic.
So what do Watford do? Field an experienced side and put Tranmere to the sword? Or weigh up what is most important, Premier League survival or a half decent FA Cup run?
They opted for the latter, and failed to overcome their inferior opponents and must now face a replay against Rovers.
Liverpool too weighed up their options post-FA Cup and decided to also field a weaker team that included a 16-year-old and a number of players making their debuts.
Their opposition Sunday was Everton, their biggest geographical rival.
If they would have lost, manager Jurgen Klopp would have received dog’s abuse for not taking the oldest club competition seriously.
But guess what? They won, with his team showing a level of performance and maturity beyond their years.
Now for me, in this modern era where cash counts, that is exactly the magic of the FA Cup.
Liverpool have bigger fish to fry as they chase their first ever Premiership title, and after a packed Christmas fixture list, and with a number of senior players injured, they did the right thing by playing ‘the kids’.
It wasn’t an insult by Klopp to the FA Cup, it was just a practical move that needed to be made.
And it paid off.
So this morning, as Curtis Jones who scored the only goal of the match wakes up, try telling him the FA Cup has lost its sparkle.
For Jones, and the other youngsters in a team made up mainly of teenagers, it was undoubtedly the highlight of their careers to date and a match none of them will ever forget.
In fact the only way to possibly describe their feelings when the final whistle blew, would be to say they felt magical.
If Liverpool were to progress in the competition, and reach the final, then maybe you will see more established stars lining up.
But if Liverpool would have lost, then it would have been a whole different story.
The FA Cup is still very important, but in a different way than in years gone by.
It has evolved, and while it may well have dropped down the pecking order behind the Champions League, Premier League, top four finish or even survival, for those lucky enough to play in it, it will always remain magical. — VNS