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Blue moon rising but FA Cup is on the wane

The 130th FA Cup final was an occasion to feel pride in the old competition and fear for its future. The wonderful fans of Manchester City and Stoke City arrived early and stayed late. The players of Manchester City, and a few from Stoke, also made it a special day, but the romance of the Cup risks souring.

Saturday felt like a celebration of the traditions that make the FA Cup unique. The sun shone. The fans raced the singer through the English National Anthem. The Wembley spotlight panned across the pitch, seeking out a hero.

In keeping with recent ritual, it was not a particularly good final. With honourable exceptions in Thomas Sorensen and Jermaine Pennant, Stoke let their fans down. Sorensen saved superbly from Carlos Tevez and Mario Balotelli, although he was fortunate that David Silva wasted two chances.

Pennant tried to take the game to City but lacked significant support, barring the constant backing of those in the stands. Unlike their fans, Stoke seemed daunted by the occasion and by a Dutchman.

Any attempt at building through the middle was met by a well-aimed wrecking ball called Nigel de Jong, who was comfortably the best player on the pitch. Stoke's cause was also hampered by Matthew Etherington not being fully fit.

Down at the other end 10 minutes later, Sorensen stood no chance when nimble approach work from Silva and Balotelli culminated in Yaya Toure crashing the ball home to settle the final and win City's for trophy in 35 years.

If both sets of fans' passion for the Cup made Saturday so memorable, then it was deeply disappointing to hear the FA confirm this was the last 3.0 kick-off. The FA Cup will now be a made-for-television early evening event, not a match designed for those bothered to attend.

"We've done surveying on what fans would like and what TV would like and for once they coincide -- 5.15 is a very good time in terms of people being at home,'' David Bernstein, the FA chairman, said.

For the FA, the viewer is king. Once again, the victims are those who have followed their team all over, who have spent considerable sums on Cup final tickets, travel and sustenance, not forgetting £10 for a programme.

Bernstein even claimed Manchester United's title success at Ewood Park had been overshadowed by Wembley, but he now wants a "constructive conversation" with Richard Scudamore of the Premier League over keeping future Cup final days free of league action.

"We will do everything we can to get back to one day for ourselves and get back to the last day of the season,'' said Bernstein. "However, it won't be next year because of the European Championships.''

There is the problem. International coaches' understandable demand for a four-week pre-tournament preparation period means the Cup will now be absorbed into the end of the league season every other year. The FA's money-driven choice of a 5.15 kick-off gifts the Premier League the chance to lever in games on the same day, whether 12.45 or 3.0 kick-offs.

Saturday was a celebration of the FA Cup; the FA must not let it become a wake. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent