Ignore what they say: the FA Cup matters

Posted by Kristian Walsh

Laurence Griffiths/Getty ImagesThe FA Cup might not matter to some, but it certainly does to Steven Gerrard who was clearly emotional after losing last year's final to Chelsea.

For those who think the FA Cup no longer matters, look away now.

Look away. That is what the tens of thousands of Liverpool supporters at Wembley did in May, their gaze averted from the brutal reality beneath. It mattered to them that it was not Steven Gerrard atop of the snaking, labyrinth steps lifting a trophy for the second time that season; it mattered Kenny Dalglish's final act would be a slow trudge down those same steps, eye-contact minimal, the worries of the world bursting out of his oversized bench coat.

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There was a lot of emotion from Liverpool that day -- understandable given it was their first FA Cup final defeat in 16 years. They felt anger and disappointment at the flaccid opening hour, their meagre surrender of two goals unbefitting of the hard work the five rounds previous. After disappointment came pride; the barnstorming final 30 minutes when Chelsea were not only on the ropes, but tangled in them with seemingly no escape. The Blues' reprieve came only with the linesman's refusal to wave his flag following Andy Carroll's header.

The final whistle brought a deadening blow to the senses. Realisation that the inevitable equaliser proved a false promise began to set. Anger, disappointment, pride. This potent cocktail of emotion ultimately left Liverpool supporters intoxicated on an overriding feeling of sadness and regret, albeit subsiding by the second.

But soon the sober reality followed: two cup finals, despite a poor eighth-place finish, was something to savour for supporters. Three trips to Wembley: one trophy won, one dramatic last-gasp victory over their overconfident rivals. Though it mattered that Didier Drogba, John Terry and Frank Lampard ran around the Wembley pitch with trophy in hand, it also mattered that Liverpool found their way there at all.

Liverpool's owners, Fenway Sports Group, disagreed. The King left the club by mutual agreement -- long live the King. Chief executive Ian Ayre said it would not have mattered if Liverpool won the FA Cup -- the final league position always sounded the final bell on Dalglish's time in the Anfield dugout. Though it may be far from reality, it is what they have deemed in public.

Those who own football clubs and those who support them rarely agree. It should come as no surprise. Supporters feel like consumers, underappreciated by those who can never love the way they do; owners feel undervalued and unfairly treated, misunderstood by those they try to please. But to disregard an FA Cup campaign which brought such delight -- and such meaning -- was a folly exercise in public relations; to use it as justification of the usurpation of a living Liverpool legend was the final nail for some.

There is no point reigniting the debate on Dalglish's dismissal, nor whether the two cup finals were enough to override the backwards steps taken in the final few months. The ink ran dry from the quill a long time ago. Yet to hear it from those in the hierarchy rankled a club who use the steel of trophies as a security blanket. Tell the supporters who performed roly-polies down the Kop after Dirk Kuyt's late winner against Manchester United that the competition does not matter; so too to those who revelled in the bruising of Brighton and clung onto Carroll's derby-winning ponytail.

The allure of the competition may have diminished, with managers and players as guilty parties. That the supposed bigger clubs take it less seriously is worrying, as is the treatment of it by those further down the Premier League pecking order, and even some in the Championship and below. But it still matters to the fans, and it is here where the biggest disparity between supporters and club emerges.

And so Liverpool's strange relationship with this competition resumes at the weekend at non-league Mansfield. Brendan Rodgers will wonder how to approach a competition so publically denounced by the management above, but so cherished by his supporters. That Liverpool came so close last season means the notion of redemption will drive many, players included; that they were drawn away to Mansfield possibly gives Rodgers longer to figure out the best approach.

Liverpool will respect Mansfield; Rodgers squad is not one to disregard a team on their status alone. But he knows only a win is good enough against a team 91 places beneath them in the vast football hierarchy. Though Daniel Sturridge's arrival helps, Liverpool's squad is still thin; nevertheless, players such as Jamie Carragher, Jonjo Shelvey, Nuri Sahin and possibly Sturridge himself should prove enough to dispose of the Stags.

The Reds will simply hope the magic of the cup, as cliche and trite as it is, fails to appear in any form. Indeed, the supposed magic is one of the competition's biggest failings in the modern era. As the gap between the Premier League and the rest has grown, the audience still expects the drama of yesteryear when such results are becoming less commonplace and more miraculous. In reality, the FA Cup is a strong tournament, unique in its appeal and history, but that fairy dust has long since blown away.

The FA Cup might not be important according to the hierarchy at Liverpool, but an embarrassing defeat certainly would matter to them, so Rodgers will do all he can to avoid that. As for the rest at the club, only seeing the name of 'Liverpool' in the fourth round draw will matter.

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