Saturday 17 May ~
The FA Cup final is often said to have a global audience of some improbably huge figure – the current favourite guess is over a billion. In practice this simply means that a significant proportion of the population of each country that takes the live broadcast is presumed to be watching the match. Estimations of the total viewing statistics will be revised downwards this year because the final can't be presented as a showpiece for some of the best players. Well, good.
In the recent past, the decade-long dominance of the Cup by the current Big Four had prompted concerns about the health of the competition, with attendances generally in decline. Now some at the FA are said to be worried about the diminished global viewing audience for the 2008 final while Sky have long been resigned to a falloff in advertising revenues ever since Manchester United and Chelsea were eliminated in the quarter-finals.
Concerns about profit – how much can be made and how much can be lost – seep into most public discussions about football now. Money's corrosive influence is embodied by the increasingly absurd chief executive of the Premier League, Richard Scudamore, who continues to pop up with reminders, or warnings, about his Game 39 plan. Meanwhile, several Premier League clubs have justified fielding weakened teams in FA Cup ties on the basis that the first-choice team needs to be saved for League fixtures – avoiding relegation being deemed to be more important than a cup run.
Of course there is monetary value attached to reaching a cup final, not least in boosting the transfer value of the players involved, such as Cardiff's Joe Ledley and Aaron Ramsey. Any manager who hasn't taken the FA Cup seriously might feel that he was right if his team stayed up in the Premier League, earning the chance to be embroiled in another nine-month struggle against relegation next season. But all such managers will be envious of David Jones and Harry Redknapp, one of whom will enter the record books as a Cup-winning manager. There will no comparable TV retrospectives or public functions built around that glorious campaign to finish 15th or 16th.
For whoever is watching it, here's hoping that Cardiff v Portsmouth is entertaining. Even a moderately good game would be a vast improvement on almost all the finals of the Premier League era. “Normal” service may be resumed next year.