By Simon Gray
With the FA Cup Fifth Round just around the corner and their being as many teams from outside England’s top tier as there are inside England’s top tier, it is looking as though the FA Cup is back to it’s very best.
None of the eight Premier League teams meet in the last 16 of the FA Cup meaning there could be some shock quarter finalists on the horizon, with two non-league teams in the form of Lincoln City and Sutton United still featuring in England’s most magical competition.
League One Millwall have defeated two teams in higher divisions to reach round five, both Premier League clubs and go up against a third in the form of Leicester City but they are not the only League One team in recent years to go up against Premier League opposition in round five having beaten one in round four.
Bradford went up against Sunderland in the 2014/15 FA Cup Fifth Round having beaten Chelsea in a memorable match at Stamford Bridge but two years before, a fellow League One side provided one of their own magical moments in the FA Cup when seven time winners Liverpool came to town.
Oldham Athletic, with an average attendance of 4,142 that season, welcomed the likes of Luis Suarez, Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge, who all started the match for Liverpool.
Oldham fan Simon Crowe was at the match and has described what the win over Liverpool was like and what the FA Cup run that year meant to Oldham Athletic. He also described how much a financial boost it was for the club. Oldham’s highest attendance that year was 10,295, coming in that Fourth Round tie at Boundary Park.
Simon’s outlook on the team he supports’ run to the Fifth Round spoke volumes of what it means for a lower league team providing a moment of FA Cup magic and reaching the latter stages of the competition. Not only is it financially beneficial for a side that is not in England’s top tier, it can bring together everyone connected with the club even if they are not doing so well in other competitions. In Oldham’s case, they finished the 19th in the league and just three points off of relegation but as Simon put it, it gives a side like Oldham hope and it can help as a distraction from poor league form.
This year, Oldham were on the wrong end of a shock, suffering defeat in the Second Round at the hands of National League side Lincoln City, a team who are still in the competition going into round five. Lincoln travel to Premier League side Burnley next as both Lincoln and their National League counterparts Sutton United attempt to become the first ever non-league sides to reach round six of the FA Cup. Sutton host Arsenal in a huge Fifth Round tie at Gander Green Lane after they knocked out Championship side Leeds United in round four.
The FA Cup this season has shown that although the competition has been dealt with a blow with some Premier League teams fielding weakened sides, it has provided a better competition for those lower league sides who have reached the later rounds with the Fourth Round winners earning £90,000 each.
As Gary Lineker and Alan Shearer said in the build up to the Leicester City v Derby County match, Premier League team’s are not valuing the FA Cup in comparison to the Premier League. A Premier League team will earn up to or around £100 million for staying up where as they will only earn £1.8 million for winning the FA Cup meaning that unless the FA Cup starts distributing more money for winning rounds and the final, Premier League teams are more and more likely to concentrate on staying in the league. Leicester boss Claudio Ranieri was quoted after the defeat to Swansea last weekend, “The FA Cup and Champions League are not the priority now, Leicester City must stay in the Premier League, it is what the club needs.”
But the Premier League’s loss is the Football League and non-league’s gain, with the possibility of two non-league teams taking a trip to Wembley in the semi final in two round’s time, media coverage is already showing that prize money is not the only contributing financial factor in this year’s competition for lower league and non-league sides with both non-league teams being selected for TV coverage in the Fifth Round meaning more money for them.