Is the FA Cup still special? Older generations would argue that what the competition serves up these days is a far cry from the ‘magical’ offerings of the 70s and 80s.
However, this year’s third-round giant-killings utterly debunked that idea, proving that the “Magic of the Cup” is very much alive and kicking. Not that anybody could watch them.
While they did show Cambridge United’s 1-0 defeat of Newcastle, BBC and ITV also chose to broadcast games including West Ham vs Leeds and Manchester United vs Aston Villa, both of which Sky had down to show in the Premier League a week later.
This came alongside the decision not to broadcast any games involving non-league teams, a move hardly in the spirit of the world’s oldest domestic cup competition. We missed out on Kidderminster Harrier’s huge ‘cupset’ as they beat Reading, a mammoth 79 places above them in the football pyramid, 2-1.
While it was not a giant-killing of such great proportions, Boreham Wood’s highly impressive 2-0 win over AFC Wimbledon was also overlooked for broadcast. It begs the question: why are these decisions being made?
As is characteristic of the modern game, the answer is, of course, money. Premier League teams attract greater audience figures and bring in the big bucks for broadcasters. However, this means that only the larger clubs are benefitting, while those really in need are being left by the wayside.
This money is ending up in the wrong pockets, and the situation illustrates a huge problem in football. In an era of the failed European Super League, fan-led inquiries into the sport, and a new obsession with supporting grassroots football, the FA should be working with the broadcasting companies to help lessen the divide in the football pyramid.
The FA Cup both has been, and still is, a great platform to improve this situation. Right now, the opportunity is being wasted.
For the third round, the FA confirmed that each club taking part in a televised fixture would receive £85,000. While being fairly inconsequential for most Premier League teams, this is an eyewatering sum of money for teams outside of the Football League.
Furthermore, in a season that has been shortened due to the untimely World Cup in Qatar, replays have been scrapped, putting an end to a potential money-spinning fixture at a Premier League ground for smaller teams who manage to battle their way to a draw. This makes the money from televised fixtures all the more important.
The unique thing about the FA Cup is that it brings something different to our football viewing and stirs our age-old need to support the underdog. Alongside its ability to dish out big paydays to smaller clubs who have a long run, it gives them a well-deserved moment in the spotlight.
We get to experience clubs that really are the heart of their community. This is quite literally the case for Marine A.F.C., who we remember from their game against Tottenham last year, with their pitch backing onto the gardens of neighbouring houses.
Due to the game taking place during a lockdown, Spurs took the initiative to help out the non-league side by selling ‘virtual tickets’ to their fans in order to make up for the loss of gate receipts, raising £15,000.
These Cup-inspired actions and generosity are something we see so rarely in football today, and it was all given huge publicity, principally because the game was broadcast on TV. The BBC even sent out the likes of Lineker and Shearer to cover the game, showing the respect that the competition deserves.
It is something special when these smaller clubs are brought to our screens. Everyone, perhaps apart from Roy Keane, fondly remembers Chorley beating Derby last year in the third round, followed by a passionate rendition of Adele’s “Someone Like You” in their changing room.
Broadcasting choices cannot be allowed to threaten these moments, and something must be done. The FA and TV companies need to sit down and act. Perhaps a system of quotas, stipulating a minimum number of broadcasts involving teams at lower levels. Who knows?
What is in no doubt is that if we are to rekindle the spirit of this famous old competition, some much-needed change has to take place.
Image: John Cooper via Flickr