Bolton Wanderers feature heavily in the rich tapestry of footballs most famous national cup competition. From the White Horse final in 23, other wins in 26, 29 and 58, the Matthews final defeat, the 'White Hot' cup runs of Rioch and Todd, to Big Sam's semi final penalty despair against Villa in 2000, and Coyle's infamous semi-final defeat against Stoke in 2011, the FA Cup has always held a special place in Bolton fans hearts.
Since the turn of the millennium though, it is safe to say that, generally, national cup competitions have become a sideshow. Maintaining Prem status, UFEA cup runs and then the unsuccessful attempts to halt our decline, have all taken precedence.
A particular victim has been the FA Cup. With the 3rd and 4th rounds taking place in mid winter (Jan) straight after the heavy Christmas schedule and being diluted by parallel lesser national cup competitions, this cup has suffered. Injuries and trying to keep the remaining first team players fit, has meant a succession of managers who have used first team fringe players or even development squad players for these games. This cup has become a side show.
So what about now in 2016? In my opinion, playing anything other than a reserve team with a smattering of first teamers, will be madness and here's why:
1. We have a small squad that has a track record of being susceptible to injuries. We just need to look back to September to see the damage a bad run of injuries can cause. Whilst it is also true that Parky was still working out the best system to play back then, injuries caused a major disruption. Freshly signed players also weren't bedded in and a winless run ensued. As I write this we have Davies, Pratley, Thorpe and Spearing out, with Clayton still to make a comeback. We need to ensure our remaining players are available for the league. Simple as.
2. We have a shot at promotion this season. Highly unexpected prior to season start, it has to be said, Parky has somehow put together a team that can get us promoted. This is an opportunity not to be risked by cup competitions. For reasons mentioned many times, Boltons primary focus has to be to get out of League One as soon as possible.
3. Too many games. 46 league games, 3 cup competitions, including the Mickey Mouse Tin Pot cup that starts with a group phase, produces a fixture list of ridiculously epic proportions. For a successful season, something has to give and this season, it has to be the cup games. I'm a big believer that sometimes less is more. Until we have 20 team leagues and just one national cup competition, being the FA Cup naturally, we have to choose what to properly compete in.
4. Game attendance tells a story. This is linked to the less is more point above. Why play first teamers in games that have no fan appeal? The whole point and existence of football is as a spectator sport after all. Surely it'd be better to focus on matches that will get the fans through the gates. The club are shutting the upper stand tiers for the game against Grimsby. The Checkatrade or whatever it's bloody called cup has had such low attendances it'd probably be cheaper for the club to play them behind close doors! Why use our best players for games that don't matter to the fans or to the clubs future prospects at this time?
5. Blood the youngsters, who've earned a chance in the first team that is, and the fringe players that have not had a chance, have been out of form or coming back from injury. Cup games are an ideal opportunity to see what those players have to offer. Alnwick, Buxton, Dervite, Moxey, C Taylor, Henry and Proctor all have a point to prove. Saturdays game is an ideal chance for them to prove that point or have their bluff called. If it all goes to shit, we haven't lost three points.
So on Saturday, I'll be cheering our team on as usual, but I'd feel a hell of a lot more comfortable if that team is unfamiliar.