Sporting Traditions: The FA Cup, and sport’s most memorable customs

A few weeks ago we saw one of the world’s most feted football players leave Liverpool Football Club’s Anfield ground for the last time. As Steven Gerrard did so, his daughter in his arms, a photographer caught the moment that he reached up and touched the Liverpool crest that hangs above the player’s tunnel. It was a fitting moment to capture for a one-club player who has helped to define a generation of soccer stars, and a photograph that will surely become iconic in years to come.

In sport, we’re lucky to have hundreds of traditions and customs that help to give meaning to the places we love. This Saturday, one of world football’s most famous competitions will come to a close at one of its most iconic venues. First held in the 1871-72 season, the FA Cup gives 736 teams from across the English football league system the chance to lift the most prestigious silverware in British sport. However, rather than being confined to UK shores the competition’s appeal has always been global, with annual TV audience figures for the FA Cup Final approaching half a billion. Other than the FIFA World Cup, this has traditionally been the football competition that has drawn football fans together from every corner of the globe, many of whom will be setting their alarm clocks very early or very late so as not to miss any of the action!

Since 1923, the FA Cup Final has always been held at Wembley Stadium; the only interruption coming when the new stadium was under construction between 2000 and 2006. Interestingly, although he won the Cup twice with Liverpool, Gerrard never lifted the trophy at Wembley, winning in 2001 and 2006 when the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff played host. Since completion, the FA Cup Final has come home to Wembley, and this year sees defending champions Arsenal take on Aston Villa, who are competing in their first final since 2000.

Over the years, many FA Cup traditions have been created that uniquely unite the stadium and the competition; from ‘giant killings’ by lower league clubs against their premier league rivals, to a member of the royal family always being present in the Royal Box for the FA Cup Final. When Populous first prepared designs for the new Wembley Stadium, the small details that made the stadium and event so special were among the first things we looked at. Some were refreshed – the old Twin Towers being replaced by the now-iconic ‘Wembley Arch’ – while others were preserved. Maintaining the ‘Wembley roar’ was key to translating the passion of the crowd into the new stadium, and included acoustic studies being undertaken to ensure that the bowl was sufficiently reverberant.The steps that mark the route taken by the winning team to reach the Royal Box to receive their trophies have also been incorporated into the new design.

Whoever wins this weekend will walk in the footsteps of some of the greatest players that the sport has seen in this country. But more important than the famous names on the pitch, we’ll be sure to see many traditions followed, and if we’re very lucky, some new ones created.

Love your sporting traditions? Here are some other fine sporting customs from around the world. What would you add?

The MCG, Melbourne, Australia – The AFL Grand Final
The AFL Grand Final is the culmination of a week of traditions in sports-mad Melbourne. Over the course of the week hundreds of thousands of fans of the competing teams line streets in the city to cheer on their team at the Grand Final Parade, where the best player of the season is awarded the Brownlow Medal in a live televised event. There are hundreds of corporate breakfasts, lunches and dinners with the biggest being the North Melbourne Kangaroos Grand Final Day Breakfast attended by the Prime Minister, celebrities and leaders of all States and Territories. And in a recently introduced tradition, young children learning to play the game from right across the country come to the MCG and hand the winners medals to the players after the match.

The Boat Race, The River Thames, London – Oxford University vs Cambridge University
Since the first nautical challenge was laid down between Britain’s most prestigious universities in 1829, ‘The Boat Race’ has been held annually on the River Thames in London. In the men’s race, Cambridge currently lead the series by 81 wins to 79, with 1 dead heat, and 1 double-sinking. 2015 saw a new piece of tradition, with The Women’s Boat Race being contested on the same course as the men’s race for the first time.

McLane Stadium, USA – the Baylor Line
McLane Stadium, home of Baylor University’s American college football team, has a longstanding tradition embedded into the design of their new stadium, which opened in 2014. The Baylor Line is a longstanding tradition where all freshman at the university – nearly 3,500 students – run across the field prior to the game in just under two minutes, celebrating, cheering and welcoming the team to the field, before finding their seats in the stands. Designers kept this tradition in mind, creating a path for students to enter and exit the field safely and expeditiously and get to their seats located in the first 15 rows from goal line to goal line behind the opponent’s bench. By understanding the traditions of the university, the designers enhanced the Baylor Line by honoring the impact.

Flemington Racecourse, Australia – The Melbourne Cup
This horserace held annually in November is known as the “race that stops a nation”, and is so big that it has become a public holiday in Melbourne, Almost every business around the country stops work at 2.50pm to watch the race on the television!

Orlando City, USA – standing section
Orlando City SC, an MLS team in the US, will open their new stadium in 2016, which will become the first in the country to have a safe standing section. An expansion team, the Orlando City Lions will make use of a rail system and careful planning to create a space for the team’s most fervent supporters and a unique tradition that will forever be associated with attending a game in Orlando.

The Wimbledon Championships, London – Britons losing
For many years, British players strictly adhered to an age-old tradition of not doing particularly well at tennis’ oldest championship. Losing in the early stages was as British as strawberries and cream and ‘rain stops play’. In recent times Andy Murray has rudely ignored this fine practice, even winning the title in 2013.

AT&T Park, USA – Kayakers
AT&T Park is situated on San Francisco Bay and just beyond right field is McCovey Cove, which is bounded by the ballpark to the north and a ferry landing and breakwater at the northeast. The ballpark is one of the most beloved in baseball – primarily because of the unique nature of the site and orientation that allows for views of the water. This iconic site has given way to an interesting tradition as fans on kayaks take a place in the cove during the game waiting for “splash hits” or home runs that leave the ballpark and land in the water, where kayakers eagerly try to catch the balls.

This article first appeared on isportconnect.com

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