Following Brighton & Hove Albion’s pairing with Millwall in the quarter-finals of the world’s most famous knockout competition, a hypothetical debate has been brewing among Seagulls supporters – would you rather stay in the Premier League or win the FA Cup?
If you listen to majority of the media who constantly tell us that the FA Cup has been downgraded in importance to a similar level to the Burgess Hill Billiards Competition or the Jeremy Clarkson Look-a-like Contest 2019, then you’d think the answer would be straightforward – top flight survival all day long.
But it’s not. We ran a poll on our WeAreBrighton Twitter account last week which revealed that a third of Albion supporters would happily replace away days at Arsenal and Manchester United with Blackburn Rovers and Rotherham United if it meant seeing Lewis Dunk hoisting the trophy aloft at Wembley on May 18th.
What this reflects, more than anything else, is the growing chasm between football’s administrators and supporters. For those who run clubs, their overriding priority is money, money, money. Winning the FA Cup will make you a pittance compared to the vast riches on offer for finishing as low as 17th in the Premier League.
To the suits who are more interested in balance sheets than trophy cabinets, that makes the FA Cup a sideshow.
Whilst fans can understand the importance of money in the modern game and being part of the gravy train, nobody decides to support a football club because they want to see it make money. You support a football club for the memories and the glory.
And that’s why so many Seagulls supporters would trade the club’s hard-earned place in the Premier League for success at Wembley. There’s no glory or many memories from scraping to a 16th placed finish and winning twice away from home all season. There is if you win the FA Cup and write your name into the history books.
Nobody remembers Wigan Athletic for their decade-long spell in the Premier League in which they never finished higher than mid-table. Everyone does remember the year they won the FA Cup though. If Brighton lifted the trophy, then nobody could ever take that away from us. It’s a fact that stands the test of time, unlike finishing in the bottom half of the top flight for five consecutive seasons.
That’s the reason why I’m just about in the take-relegation-to-win-the-cup camp. Without some serious investment and a lot of luck, the best Brighton can ever hope for in the top flight is to finish seventh. That isn’t much to aspire to – we’re certainly not going to have an open top bus parade through the city with 100,000 people on the streets to celebrate finishing one place above Watford, Bournemouth and Everton.
The FA Cup offers a rare shot at prestige and glory that the dominance of the big six makes virtually unachievable for the 86 other clubs in the top four divisions. It’s a day out at Wembley – a day that would easily be the greatest in the Albion’s history.
Winning the cup also provides the chance to go on a European tour. Imagine flying out to Ukraine for a couple of days of £1.20 beers to watch Brighton v Dynamo Kyiv or the Albion taking on AC Milan in the San Siro? I’d take that over spending the next five years travelling to Manchester City for a league game with the best you can hope for being that Maty Ryan doesn’t concede more than two goals.
Of course, as pointed out at the start, all of this is very hypothetical. Let’s be honest, if there is one club in the country who are capable of stuffing up playing a struggling Championship side for a place in a semi-final it’s Brighton and Hove Albion.
So, it probably won’t matter anyway.
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