‘TRAGIC OF THE CUP’ cries the back page of The Sun as the nation’s best-selling newspaper mourns the true loss of this global pandemic: the integrity of the FA Cup.

They cover Aston Villa’s ’emergency talks’ with the FA to rescue their third-round tie against Liverpool on Friday evening, in which they will field youth players led by Under-23 manager Mark Delaney.

They quote PFA chief executive Gordon Taylor recommending that players not hug when celebrating a goal.

They refer to Kevin McDonald, who last started for Fulham in February and was omitted from their Premier League squad, as an unnamed ‘star’.

Mark Irwin makes a fair point in his column about ‘getting your priorities straight in a time of crisis,’ comparing Kieran Trippier and Edinson Cavani’s lengthy recent bans to the complete lack of FA action against players found in breach of social distancing rules.

But Dave Kidd focuses mainly on the FA Cup itself, penning the usual article about the competition’s ‘demise’ but framing it in the current circumstances. Clever.

‘The devaluation of the Cup has been clear and obvious for two decades now – and the Covid era is only hastening its demise.’

‘The devaluation of the Cup’ is neither here nor there and has prompted annual pearl-clutching thinkpieces around this time of year for ages. Yet there the FA Cup still is, being crowbarred into an incredibly packed fixture schedule when hindsight suggests it should never have gone ahead in the first place.

It doesn’t sound like ‘the Covid era is only hastening its demise’ whatsoever. If there was any actual desire not to hold the competition at any point, this season offered the perfect excuse to scrap it until at least next campaign.

‘No club is being asked to forfeit three Premier League points because of infections,’ he continues, clearly unaware that no club is being asked to forfeit three Championship, League One or League Two points either because a domestic league season is entirely different to a domestic cup competition.

He even notes that ‘those league matches which have already been postponed and those under threat will be staged at later dates,’ without taking a second to wonder why that is not possible in the FA Cup.

Take Tottenham as an example. Their two Premier League meetings with Fulham have been postponed and must be rescheduled at some point. But they can theoretically be played whenever: in May if necessary and possible. A third-round FA Cup tie cannot for obvious reasons, much like their Carabao Cup game that Leyton Orient had to forfeit.

It’s not particularly fair on anyone to have to forfeit games in these circumstances but what alternative does Kidd propose? None, funnily enough.

‘As usual, the dear old FA Cup can go hang,’ he laments instead. ‘There is barely any room for the world’s oldest knockout competition.’

Agreed. Absolutely spot on.

Oh wait, that’s actually a criticism instead of an obvious statement? And you’re pretending that ‘this is not merely a product of Covid’? So this is just the usual ‘the FA Cup is dead’ January piece dressed up as something else?

That is the only answer as to why Manchester United withdrawing from the competition in the 1999/2000 season is brought up for the 427th time by a newspaper refusing to actually remember or report the context of the situation as it was.

By the time Kidd commits phrases like ‘restore the romance of the tarnished Cup’ to print, along with mentions of Premier League players facing ‘binmen, NHS workers and teachers,’ Mediawatch really is left wondering what he would do to ‘save’ this competition instead of putting out youth teams, postponing or abandoning ties in the midst of a global pandemic.

Then we reach his final two paragraphs:

‘Well there’s no bunting, no fans, no true sense of occasion, this year.

‘And the further the Cup is devalued by youth teams, walkovers and byes, the graver the doubts over its long-term future.’

a) What is your overall solution? b) Can you genuinely not see that the circumstances are pretty unique this year and the FA Cup is absolutely no-one’s realistic priority for very obvious and understandable reasons? c) Have a day off.


Powell to the people
But that pales in comparison to Jeff Powell, still employed by the Daily Mail to shout at clouds and young people.

‘Football continuing through lockdown is a national scandal. The superstar super-spreaders are putting lives at risk on and off the pitch… and Government backing them is a disgrace,’ is an incredibly strong online headline to a piece that knows full well no-one would click if it led on cricket, either code of rugby, boxing or any other sport continuing being ‘a national scandal’.

It takes him four whole paragraphs to refer to Premier League footballers as ‘Superstar Spreaders’ with ‘their up-yours partying, their late night car crashes and their arrogant, disingenuous apologies’.

‘The way they conduct themselves on the pitch is putting us all in greater jeopardy,’ he adds. At which point it feels important to state that a tiny fraction of the league’s players have actually broken any rules, be that through ‘up-yours partying’ or any other means.

Based on the most recent figures, one of 57 Premier League players or coaches have tested positive, in comparison to one in 50 of the general population. The only ‘deadly nonsense’, which is how Powell refers to football continuing, comes from the words he writes and the blame he apportions.

By the fifth paragraph Mediawatch can only hope Powell is running the coldest of showers.

‘Their mass hugging, kissing and collapsing into piles of writhing bodies when one of them somehow manages to score a goal is not only embarrassingly infantile but a gross breach of the regulations under which the game was permitted to resume.’

Good lord. Who is going to break it to poor Jeff that what he’s been watching these past few months most certainly is not football if it has included ‘mass hugging, kissing and collapsing into piles of writing bodies’?

He then aims his barbs elsewhere: at the ‘so-called ‘models” hanging around with a handful of players; at the ‘mates, relatives and favoured hangers-on’ he insists are still attending games with no actual proof that’s the case; at the monetary motivation to continue.

‘They all scream what a financial catastrophe it would be to stop playing. So why should football clubs be treated so differently from the thousands of shops, pubs, restaurants, gyms, hairdressers – to name but a few businesses – which are going bankrupt in the national interest? Or the millions of workers being made redundant and destitute?’

What an incredible take that is. ‘These industries have been crippled and millions have been made redundant so football should go the same way,’ this despite the fact they employ more than just well-paid footballers and coaches; what about physios, groundspeople and others who earn a wage more representative of the national average, but without whom football clubs could not still operate? They should be made redundant purely because pubs have had to close too and you don’t like footballers?

‘It’s shit for loads of people so it should be shit for absolutely everyone,’ basically. It must be lovely to have such stable job prospects in these times that you can shout that from the comfort of your ivory tower.

Powell throws the weight of his support behind one man: ‘Yet who dares to speak out? Only Sam Allardyce, back in management with West Bromwich Albion, who urged the game to take a circuit-breaker as the Covid outbreak spread.’

Yes, Sam Allardyce, who willingly returned to management despite not needing to at the age of 66, then promptly declared he was “very concerned for myself and football in general” while calling for a circuit breaker after getting thrashed 5-0 by Leeds. That paragon of virtue himself, who is presumably not one of the Premier League managers Powell earlier eviscerates for failing to ‘resist embracing each other’.

It’s a shame, because Powell makes good points on the Premier League refusing to even contemplate pausing the season, on the league and clubs bucking responsibility when it comes to punishing certain players, and on the integrity of the season suffering for all the postponements and weakened teams.

But then he says something about ‘filthy lucre’ to remind us all who he is, before wrapping up a not at all horrible, hateful article with four immortal words:

‘It will be a gravestone.’

Lovely. Have a great weekend.


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