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Changes afoot for ailing FA Cup
The Guardian, January 7th, 2011 12:08PM



On the eve of a glamorous third-round FA Cup pairing of Manchester United and Liverpool (Sunday, Fox Soccer Channel, 8:30 a.m. ET), ideas and suggestions to revive the competition are abundant. Declining attendance, especially in the earlier rounds, and teams utilizing under-strength teams have devalued the tournament whose history dates back to 1872.

Played on a straight knockout basis conducted by blind draws, without group play or two-leg seriesor seedings, it is a romantic's dream that is falling behind sleeker, sexier alternatives. Myriad proposals are being considered -- midweek matches, eliminating replays, seeding teams -- to revive what some feel has become a stagnant competition, overshadowed by the hype-fueled Premier League and lucrative Champions League.

Yet its essential appeal is personified by a Saturday matchup of non-league Stevenage and top-flight Newcastle United (FSC, 12:30 p.m.) "With a managerial background in non-league football, my experiences are at the other end of the scale from the big boys," said Stevenage's manager Graham Westley. "Look at Exeter, they played Manchester United [in 2005] and the funds they generated helped them go from the Conference to League One.

"Now we're playing Newcastle United, so you can imagine the excitement around our football club and there's certainly that magic feeling." But for the past few seasons, much of that magic seems to have dissipated.

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