FFA Cup allows minnows to play stars

FFA chief David Gallop with players Brett Emerton and Paul Reid. Photo: Ben RushtonAmateur soccer players across Australia can dream of toppling the giants of the A-League in a meaningful competition with the introduction of a national knock-out competition, the FFA Cup, beginning in July.

The tournament, named after Football Federation Australia, will provide a definitive link between the grassroots level of the game up to the elite clubs with a meaningful national and cross-tier competition.

There’s a resemblance to the oldest competition in the sport, the FA Cup in England, though the first few years of the Australian version won’t likely include such an abundance of romantic runs of amateur clubs. Storylines such as Blyth Spartans and Hereford from the 1970s may not be a common occurrence as just 22 teams from the lower leagues will compete against A-League clubs and all must qualify through their respective state competitions.

More than 600 teams from around Australia will enter the tournament through initial qualifying phases, with the best from the eight state and territory federations earning the right to face off against the 10 A-League clubs in the first round.

The competition will begin on July 29 with the first round consisting of 32 teams and the final to be contested on December 16.

”Today, the FFA Cup comes to life as a very tangible link between community football and the professional tier,” FFA chief executive David Gallop said at the announcement.

”It’s a unique sporting link from the locals to the legends. We all grew up with the romance of the English FA Cup and well remember the history of upsets. I’m sure the FFA Cup will bring the same fascination to fans across Australia.”

The large traditional trophy to be awarded to the winner was inspired by that of the first national cup competition, the Australia Cup, which existed from 1962-68.

”The FFA Cup has taken on an almost mythical status among football fans who have longed for a national knockout cup competition to fill a void in the football calendar,” Gallop said.

Football Federation Australia will cover all travel costs of the competition as well as providing prizemoney, beginning at the round-of-16 stage, increasing exponentially up to the winner.

The FFA Cup will not be a profitable exercise, at least in the short term, but there is a belief from within Australia’s governing body that the return from its investment will be measured in the growth and development of the game.

”We’ve had to make it a sensible business decision but also recognise this is a very important part of the future for Australian football,” Gallop said. ”It’s something that can only happen in football because of the nature of the game, so we see it as a very important investment for the game’s future.”

■ Embattled Socceroos skipper Lucas Neill is reportedly in discussions with state league side Sydney Olympic, with the veteran defender becoming increasingly desperate to secure a playing deal before the World Cup.

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