One of my earliest footballing memories is of the FA Cup.

I was six years old and vividly remember Norwich being drawn at home to Manchester United in a televised fixture.

Oddly, the main thing I remember is walking to the shop on the Bull roundabout in Hellesdon before kick-off to pick up some snacks before all gathering in the living room to watch the game.

Back then, it felt a real occasion for City to be on proper telly which made it just feel important.

We lost that fourth round tie 2-0 to a United line-up that probably wouldn't have been too different if they had been playing Real Madrid in the Champions League Final rather than our good selves - boasting the lines of Cantona, Giggs and Keane to name just three.

This was 30 years ago, but back then I would have never even entertained the thought that this tournament would be viewed by so many people as nothing more than an inconvenience.

It is actually quite fitting that this early memory involved Manchester United - since they are the team I hold most responsible for the way the FA Cup is treated these days.

Eastern Daily Press: FA Cup

In the 1999-2000 season, the year after claiming their famous treble, the Red Devils decided to sack off the cup completely.

At the time it was warned that taking this measure to play a few glorified friendlies against the likes of Necaxa and South Melbourne could devastate the FA Cup in future.

Karma was well and truly in force when they crashed out at the group stages.

Looking back in hindsight this felt to me like the tip of the slippery slope we now find ourselves at the bottom of.

It would be wrong to solely place the blame on Manchester United - so many other factors have destroyed what the FA Cup always was.

The lucrative nature of the Premier League and European football, the latter of which is open to far more teams now, clearly makes league success a bigger priority - but being a bigger priority should not mean treating the cup with contempt.

Yet here we are, in 2024, when even clubs like us feel we're above playing a full strength team.

It has made the FA Cup feel like a replacement for traditional reserves games, which is just so upsetting.

These are professional footballers at the end of the day, it is their job to play football and they are paid handsomely to do so.

No extra football match during the football season should be seen as being inconvenient.

But the problems with the FA Cup are far deeper than simply bigger sides treating it with contempt by fielding weakened or rotated teams. I have more gripes.

It feels like more and more the decision-makers associated with the cup have the absolute wrong mindset to the tournament - taking a top down approach in terms of its priorities.

There has recently been talks about doing away with replays - which would be an utter, utter disgrace if it is allowed to happen.

Including preliminary stages, more than 700 clubs play in the tournament. This decision would clearly be made with the interested of about eight of them at heart. That is a disgrace.

I can see the argument in some cases - nobody needs to watch Crystal Palace reserves slog it out against Everton reserves twice. Likewise neither club would really even notice the extra gate a replay brings.

But consider for a second the winner of Eastleigh and Newport County, who will host Manchester United in round four.

What would benefit clubs of this size more - being able to get the tie done and dusted and go out on penalties after fighting for a draw, or sharing the gate of Old Trafford and, most crucially, being able to play there? No-brainer.

The one way I could even slightly entertain scrapping replays would be to put in a clause whereby the two clubs can agree formally, before kick-off, to end things on the day. 

If blanket decisions are made, they have to be made to benefit the many, not the few.

Likewise, the same sickening 'top-down' approach is taken to televising fixtures.

The last round's television picks saw all Premier League ties which may not even have been selected for telly in the league.

When Paulton Rovers played us on television, the cash they made from being on television was said to have lasted them a decade. To Premier League clubs this is a drop in the ocean.

I understand the impact of their money is probably the least of the concerns of television networks.

I also understand, to an extent, the argument that live coverage of Premier League clubs is ordinarily blacked out from the terrestrial television viewer, so there is that argument.

But again, the FA Cup's famous 'magic' is all about giant-killings and David against Goliath stories - not seeing Premier League second strings begrudgingly scrapping against each other.

If television networks must insist on selecting 'big clubs' - television money from the tournament should be spread equally between each round competitor rather than helping the rich get richer.

Then there's the fact the cup final never seems to be the final fixture of the season any more.

It used to be the signal that the season has finished and the grand curtain-closer on the campaign. Now it is just shoehorned in. I hate that.

And don't get me started about the "if it's there" use of VAR in the tournament. This is daft as hell.

All these factors piled in together produce a horrible picture of the tournament which should still be seen as a big deal.

Winning the FA Cup is among the best things I could ever want to happen to Norwich City - if we did it would create a memory to last a lifetime.

Yet it feels even some of our own fans see it as just a big inconvenience - and that is heartbreaking.

Mental health event

Norwich City excellently used the club's social media platforms earlier to highlight mental health - with a truly moving video.

The positive role football can play in mental health should not be underestimated - so many people rely on the sense of community being a football fan can create.

Later this month a great example of this kind of outreach work will be held by the Norwich City Fans' Social Club, with an awareness event at Carrow Road.

The event will be hosted by former City winger and mental health ambassador Darren Eadie, who has always been very candid about his own struggles.

It will also help signpost many services people can access and highlight the type of support that is out there.

It will also give supporters a chance to meet Onel Hernandez and George Long.

The event will be held in the Norfolk Lounge on Thursday, January 18, with doors at 6pm. It should be well worth going along.