MUCH of the past 15 years or so have been spent with football fans bemoaning the decline of the FA Cup.
It has meant the world’s oldest knockout competition invariably being cast in a negative light.
Such criticism is inevitably done with a heavy heart, not least because the Cup retains a tremendous fund of goodwill among those old enough to remember its heyday.
Back in an age when live football on television was the exception rather than the rule, Cup final day was the outstanding date in the country’s sporting calendar.
What few of those who pulled the curtains to keep the sun’s glare off the TV before bedding in for five or six hours of footage from Wembley probably realised, though, was the debt they owed to Charles Alcock.
Born in Sunderland and educated at Harrow School, Alcock was a true pioneer who was not only the mastermind behind the introduction of the FA Challenge Cup but also international football.
A decent footballer who went on to play five times for England, it was his organisational skills as secretary of the FA that stood the test of time.
Appointed to the role in 1870, the Cup made its debut a little over a year later with Alcock using as his inspiration the inter-house rivalries of his former school.
Fifteen clubs took part and Wanderers, with Alcock at right-back, beat Royal Engineers in the first final. The Cup quickly became a success, something that prompted Alcock to think even bigger.
If football was an attraction on a domestic level why not take it international?
Alcock set to work and on November 30, 1872, the first official international match took place as Scotland and England fought out a goalless draw in Glasgow.
He remained as FA secretary until 1895, combining his duties with being secretary of Surrey County Cricket Club for 35 years.
In that post, Alcock, a former captain of Middlesex, organised the first cricket Test match to be played in this country, England against Australia at The Oval in 1880.
Clearly, a remarkable organiser and, quite probably, the greatest of English football’s pioneers.