‘Extend the experience’: Australian fan culture at the heart of FA Cup trophy tour

The Emirates FA Cup may be a domestic competition, but that has not prevented it from becoming a globally-followed event. 

So, naturally, it makes sense that a sport-loving nation like Australia would take great interest in it.

Sydney is one of the stops on the Football Association’s Asia-Pacific Trophy Tour, which will allow fans to get up close to one of football’s most iconic pieces of silverware.

MORE: Stunning goal sends Liverpool into FA Cup fourth round

Navin Singh, the FA’s commercial director, says that he has seen how devoted Australian fans are, and believes the trophy tour will help to engage them further.

“Fans in Australia are hugely passionate about English football,” Singh told The Sporting News.

“I think you see that based on the amount of coverage that occurs – whether it’s the FA Cup or other properties coming out of the country.

“A number of ex-players from the Premier League and the other divisions of English football have played or managed in the A-League … you think of Dwight Yorke being a manager down there, but also the fact that Emile Heskey has played down there and Daniel Sturridge as well.

“We know there’s a connection – obviously, the connection between our nations has a long history – and that extends towards the following of football.

“And we know that Australian fans are truly passionate about the game, and we want to just continue to deepen that relationship with our fan base around the world, with Australia being one of the key territories.

“And a great way to bring fans closer to the event itself is bringing the [FA Cup] trophy there and to get a greater sense of what these players are vying for because it is the most prestigious and historic domestic cup competition in the world.”

Liverpool FA Cup 2006

Singh also acknowledged the challenges that come with being an English football fan down under –  in particular, the time difference.

Setting an alarm to wake up in the middle of the night for a match is common practice for diehard supporters, and that commitment has not gone unnoticed by the FA.

“You look at the times that those games are on that those fans are consuming and watching … what we want to do is just find a way to reward that passion to allow that fan to get even closer to the game,” he said.

“And it speaks volumes to the Australian football fan that they’re willing to put themselves out to do that.”

Singh also understands the perspective of being an international fan, having spent his childhood in Canada.

As he gradually became more interested in football, he was drawn to the format of the FA Cup.

The knockout structure and David vs. Goliath match-ups instantly set the competition apart for him from other tournaments and leagues.

“Seeing the best in the world play and understanding that every match mattered was what made the FA Cup different,” he explained.

“It was unlike any league match where next week you go back out there, and kind of reverse your fortunes and continue your quest to win a league championship.

“But in the FA Cup, when you’re out, you’re out. And that sense of jeopardy, the sense that a moment can swing the fortunes, not just of that game but effectively of your season, is massive.”

Chelsea FA Cup 2018

And it’s not just Australian fans who enjoy the FA Cup.

A number of players from Down Under have featured in the tournament during its 150+ year history.

Two of them have even won the competition – Craig Johnston in 1986 and Harry Kewell in 2006, both for Liverpool.

Whilst there are fewer Australians in the English top flight than in previous years, the FA Cup offers an opportunity for players to get in the spotlight.

As we head into the fourth round of this season’s competition, the likes of Tom Rogic (West Brom), Bailey Wright (Sunderland), Kenny Dougall (Blackpool), Harry Souttar (Stoke) and Massimo Luongo (Ipswich Town) are all still alive.

Harry Souttar Australia Socceroos

Singh witnessed first-hand the support for the Socceroos at the FIFA World Cup in Qatar last year, and was able to recognise the love for football that exists in Australia.

“I had the opportunity to be in Doha for the World Cup and got the feel of the passion of the Aussie fan base while I was there,” he said.

“The showing that the Socceroos put forth demonstrated the passion and the capability of the team.

“So, we know there’s a passionate fan base and we know there’s an educated fan base there in terms of intelligence and smarts associated with the game.

“And we know that there’s a great appreciation for the FA Cup … that’s part of the reason why we’re coming [to Australia] is because we want to extend the experience, deepen that fan base and make sure that they’re getting more out of it.”

Whilst Singh acknowledged that it would be a “cool idea” to play in an FA Cup match in Australia or another international location, scheduling, logistics and home-and-away draws mean that it is simply not feasible.

However, the FA still wants to engage global supporters and attract new ones, so initiatives like the current trophy tour are being established to create that international connection.

“People want to be a part of things that are big, and the trophy coming is an example of that,” he shared.

“[We want to] associate and extend ourselves through social media, working with footballers, influencers, sports influencers, and hopefully beyond that.

“I think you’re seeing it in the United States with Ryan Reynolds and his partner (Rob McElhenney) buying Wrexham, and what that’s done to create a groundswell of interest around Wrexham and their participation in the FA Cup … that fan base is now extended beyond the football fan.”

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The FA Cup trophy will be in Sydney on Monday, January 23.

The tour will then see the trophy visit Kuala Lumpur (January 25) and Singapore (January 26), before finishing in Seoul (January 28) in time for the start of the fourth round of the FA Cup.

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