It’s a Last Word double today. Along with the column on Sam Saunders, let’s not forget that Brentford have a fourth round FA Cup tie with Chelsea approaching. Tickets are already flying off the shelves with those unable to use the internet lining up from 8am yesterday morning to get their hands on a coveted pair.
Does this queue show the love of the cup is still there? Or is it simply because of the calibre of opposition? Would a fourth round trip to Cheltenham Town attract the same sort of queue as the one for Chelsea? As Brentford prepare to make the short trip to Stamford Bridge, we have a special guest columnist.
Regular readers may be familiar with update from Bernard Quackenbush. Now, the entire page is handed over to him as BQ speaks about his love of, and frustration with, this oldest of tournaments. In his own words…..
I love the FA Cup.
There is an excitement like no other when it comes to the Cup. From the balls being plucked from a plastic bucket where a trembling handed ex-footballer valiantly attempts to read numbers through to the game itself. This very season, Brentford will experience the two extremes of the Cup from playing against non-leaguers dreaming of a scalp through to pitting our wits against the best team in the country.
So why have so many fallen out of love with the Cup?
When I was a kid, Cup Final Day was one of the most exciting days of the year. Both BBC & ITV would start their programmes at what felt like breakfast time. Tony Gubba would be posted outside a North London motel reporting on the type of bus that would take the finalists to Wembley. I am sure that did please one type of demographic. There would be special programming with Cup Final Jim’ll Fix It or Its A Knockout. Oh! Er…Nick? Shall we move on from that?
Live broadcasts from trains carrying moustachioed supporters from the North which culminated in seeing them sing Abide With Me after one too m any lagers, and then the game itself played under a scorching sun. And the day would not be complete without a pint…of milk.
So why do we not get this excitement anymore? Even respected journalist Tony Incenzo last week told us it broke his heart that the FA Cup was not held in high regard any more.
The obvious reason first. The Premier League.
In a day when finishing fourth is considered to be a greater achievement than winning the Cup, the old girl was always going to suffer. With the Premier League, came a greater intensity in television coverage with the Ford Super Sunday Battle for Fourth…and its live!!! happening more than once, thus putting a fairly big dent into our dear old Cup.
Its easy to blame Sky for all these woes, but they arent the only TV culprit. Already this season we have seen picks from BT that have been made purely on potential audience, therefore anyone Manchester United plays is going to be live. The decision to show their tie with Reading at Old Trafford rather than the far more appealing Sutton-Wimbledon tie made my heart sink.
Then there is dear old Auntie Beeb. Nick, may I suggest you look away. The BBC are not innocent in this. In fact a lot of blame can be pointed at the BBC for demeaning the Cup. Their early round coverage has meant that a number of ties have had to be put back to a Sunday at 2pm, just so a generic screechy BBC stock reporter can stand on the side of the pitch being patronising about both teams. We even had the sight of Nick’s favourite, Clem, trying to interview Graham Westley mid match. The look on Wesetley’s face said everything and the BBC’s profanity buzzer operator was looking forward to being able to justify his employment.
In Round 3 we have seen the BBC fall into the BT trap of picking a big team whoever they may be playing against, and on every occasion producing the dullest of matches. Spurs-Villa case in point.
The BBC’s dire coverage even extends to later rounds. Last year I looked forward to seeing highlights of the Semi Final which I didnt see as it was on BT earlier in the day, but no we all had to wait until highlights of the day’s Premier League dead rubber matches were shown and we were treated to a tedious goalless draw between two of the dullest teams in history, and then finally at some ungodly hour came the Cup Semi!
So TV has a lot to do with the degrading of the Cup, but who else? The FA!!
Right, let’s start with its marketing. Just thinking about it made me spasm.
Cringeworthy. Dire and so completely out of touch. This seasons politically correct film of friends going to a Cup match is difficult to get through without sticking pins in your eyes. Clubs, including our beloved #BeeTheDJ are being forced to play a Cup playlist, mostly of sponsored content. No doubt promoters are paying the FA to have their bland insipid music played before each tie. We even have the Cup sponsored. For me personally this is akin for the Roman Catholic church referring to ‘his Holiness the Pope as brought to you by Persil, brings out whites, whiter than white’.
Replays. I loved the days when replays went on forever. I can recall an Arsenal-Everton game which had about 4 replays. Yet these days clubs are moaning about having to play them, saying it effects our ability to succeed in Europe. Lets see. How many European trophies have English clubs won recently, then lets think back to the early 1980s when we had limitless replays when English clubs must have won nothing….Oh! Not sure if anyone knew this but Aston Villa were Champions of Europe in this period, just thought I should remind everyone of this. And this season for the first time we wont even have Quarter Final Replays (then why not have them on neutral turf)
One of the most exciting aspects of the Cup was seeing the Semi Finals at neutral venue. I’m sure we can all think of wonderful examples when we were younger of great semis (careful) at grounds like Highbury, Villa Park, Maine Road and Hillsborough, but we now have semis only at Wembley, as the new version of the national stadium (which still smells of wee) needs to be paid for. Where the stadium announcer has to check his schedule to announce in his local radio twang ‘its Team A vs Team B’.
Something many critics will point out is the likes of Stoke, Bournemouth & Watford fielding weakened teams in the Cup in order to preserve their Premier League status. Actually if you look back, these sort of mid to lower placed top flights often fielded weakened sides in the Cup. So its actually not a new practice. Although changing your whole team like my home town team of Bournemouth did, isn’t the norm and they got right royally spanked and embarrassed as a result.
The culmination of this grand competition was of course Cup Final Day. The crowds of spectators walking to Wembley on a hot day ready for a 3pm kick off. Unfortunately we now have a 5.15 kick off. The current time is an abomination, not for the reason you may think. The FA moved the time to 5.15 for a greater TV audience, but I question whether thats true. The tea time kick off is neither here nor there. Its not afternoon and its not evening. Its the time of day when people are getting home, having something to eat or going out to catch the rest of the sun.
5.15 is the worst possible time for the Final, and it feels like its been crowbarred into the TV schedules so people dont miss out on their weekly diet of a third rate singing contest or people having farcical accidents in Casualty. The Cup Final should be the sporting event of the year, and it should be treated as such. But I say 3pm is a thing of the past.
The Cup Final should be primetime, and it should be 7.45, just like the Champions League Final. Platini has plenty of faults, but he got the rescheduling of the UCL Final, spot on. The Cup Final should be pride of place in the TV schedules, the focal point of the day. Make it an event, rather than just another football match. Lets have the massive build up from 4pm. Bring in the special programmes, bring in the celebs and ex-footballers!
So theres my rant over and I thank Nick for giving me the opportunity to vent my spleen. But come 10 to 3, a week Saturday, slightly further West in London, where the posh people live, there will be at least 6000 of us still very much in love with the Cup.