When Swindon Town beat Wigan in the FA Cup three weeks ago, manager Paulo Di Canio, said it was the best day of his life.
But aside from events at the County Ground, the Third Round had few other shocks. Just one other Premier League team (Wolves, who lost to Birmingham in a replay) were knocked out by lower league opposition, and no non-league teams progressed to this weekend's Fourth Round.
Add this to the fact that that this season’s final will be played on the same day as a full round of Premier League and Football League fixtures and will kick-off at 5.15pm rather than the traditional 3pm, and it is easy to understand why some have been left wondering if there is any magic left in the FA Cup at all.
Can the world’s oldest knockout competition still lay claim to being the world’s greatest cup competition? Here we compare the FA Cup with rival competitions in Europe.
Competition: DFB Pokal
Most successful team: Bayern Munich (15)
All teams from the Bundesliga and 2 Bundesliga compete alongside 21 amateur sides, all of which have to win their regional cup to qualify. Professional teams are paired with amateur teams in the first two rounds and then it is a free draw.
Since 1985, the final has been played in the Olympic stadium in Berlin.
This season four Bundesliga sides were knocked out by lower league teams in the first round but the real story of the tournament has been about Holstein Kiel, an amateur team from the fourth tier. They knocked out last year’s finalists Duisburg and also beat Mainz, who finished fifth in the Bundesliga last season.
How important is the cup in Germany? Uli Hesse, German football journalist, says:
“Having the final in Berlin since 1985, at the height of the Cold War, made the cup unique because for the first six years it meant crossing into a foreign country. You felt: ‘This is not a normal game.’ But now, like everywhere, the cup is suffering from a football boom. The way football has been marketed for the last 10 years is all about the big clashes between the titans. The cup is about the exact opposite, it’s about giant killing and playing away from home in a thunderstorm in a godforsaken place against a lower league team, and the romance of that has gone.”
Competition: Coupe de France
Most successful team: Marseille (10)
With a non-seeded draw and weekend matches, the Coupe de France is the closest of its equivalents to the FA Cup. But in recent years it has produced many more upsets. Six top flight teams have been knocked out by lower league clubs this season and at least two teams from the third division or below are guaranteed a place in the quarter finals. Bourg Peronnas, an amateur team from the fourth division and whose ground holds just 3,500, are the lowest team left in the competition. They beat Ligue 1 side Ajaccio 3-2 in extra-time in the previous round and will host Marseille next week.
How important is the cup in France? Philippe Auclair, journalist for France Football, says:
“It has kept what makes it a special event, and that’s the stories. It happens every year and it’s absolutely extraordinary. Calais came out of nowhere to reach the final in 2000. One of their players was working in a warehouse, selling wine and beer to British visitors, so it was a proper old style cup story. The whole country got behind them and they were robbed in the final. The cup is really big because we have surprises, things happen which are not supposed to happen.”
Copa Del Rey
Holders: Real Madrid
Most successful team: Barcelona (25)
The Copa Del Rey has become less important thanks to a seeded draw and two-legged ties, making it very difficult for smaller teams to do well. But this year the tournament has been reinvigorated due to the remarkable success of Mirandés, who this week became only the second team from Segunda B (Spain’s regionalised third tier) to reach the semi finals in the tournament’s history, knocking out three La Liga teams – Villarreal, Racing Santander and Espanyol - in the process. The club owe a lot of their success to top scorer Pablo Infante, who could not celebrate the victory over Espanyol as he had to get up early the next day to go to work as a bank clerk.
How important is the cup in Spain? Pete Jenson, Spanish football correspondent for The Independent, says:
“To fans of smaller clubs it’s really important because it’s the only chance they’ve got of winning anything. For Madrid and Barcelona it depends on what else they win. Madrid had gone so long without winning anything, so last year, with the final against Barcelona, it was really important for them and when they won it was celebrated as a big thing. It doesn’t have the same romanticism as the FA cup but every now and then you’ll get a special story. This year it has been Mirandés and two years ago it was Alcorcón [then in Segunda B] knocking Real Madrid out.”