I hold my hand up, I never thought the BBC could produce quality coverage of the FA Cup, but they proved me wrong, showing a passion and a reverence for the competition long lost by their commercial rivals. The question, though, is: Did they really do it justice?
The 2014/15 FA Cup competition started with eight Extra Preliminary Round matches on Friday 15th August. Were these, or any other of the 184 contests that took place that weekend covered by the BBC? On TV, definitely not. On Radio, there was a spattering of local coverage. On the Internet, there was a dedicated web page on the BBC Sport website providing previews, scores, some facts and reviews, and for that the organisation is to be applauded.
The Internet coverage of the early FA Cup Rounds was a welcome addition to the BBC service, but by not being complemented by the mainstream TV media, it lost a considerable amount of its impact. This was a golden opportunity missed by the corporation, a miss that was compounded by the desultory references to these early matches once the coverage moved to TV in November and January.
Those first two ‘proper’ rounds were freshly presented, providing new and interesting styles of coverage including the excellent Sunday afternoon score updates programme. Whilst there was little in the way of mention of the six rounds that had gone before them, the ‘getcarriedaway’ hashtag and the obvious enthusiasm for the competition shown by the presenters and commentators promised that the Cup was going to be in good hands with the Beeb.
But then the Third Round came along, and all that had gone before it was almost forgotten. A repeat of the 2014 final was chosen as a live match at the expense of coverage of any of the five non-league teams that had battled to make it that far, a match that even die-hard fans of both sides would have found it difficult to be enthused about. Sadly the non-league teams failed to progress, although both Blyth Spartans and Wrexham gave us cup romantics some hope, but even then the BBC more or less ignored the lower league sides. Yes Cambridge United were chosen to be shown live, but only because they were facing Manchester United and the Beeb hadn’t covered them in the Third Round. Even after Bradford City stunned the eventual Premier League Champions, they were still ignored despite being drawn against another Premier League side at home in the Fifth Round.
Even the ‘much better than usual’ documentary fronted by Gary Lineker failed to give any recognition to the Qualification Rounds. That’s 624 clubs, across the length and breadth of England and Wales that were completely and utterly disregarded. It was as if their contributions to this fantastic competition had no worth. Well try telling that to the thousands of players and fans who were involved in those games. Having attended these early cup ties over the past 30 years or more, I know that the passion and desire to be involved in the FA Cup by these clubs is at least as intense as it is for those who get close to tasting actual glory.
So BBC, well done for taking the competition seriously. Congratulations for creating new resources, adding more angles, showing more enthusiasm and giving the FA Cup more airtime than your rivals. However, if you really want to present this illustrious, historical competition in all its glory then please bring the cameras and the reporters and the TV pundits to matches played in August. Come talk to the players, the managers, the fans, the volunteers of local clubs up and down the country who, despite knowing there’ll be no glory in it for them, all love being involved in the FA Cup and who all would love their clubs being given the recognition for helping to make it the number one football competition in the world. Overall then it’s a B+ and ‘could do better’.