On the surface there can be little argument that the three FA Cup First Round matches selected for coverage by the BBC and BT Sport are three FA Cup ties with the potential for high interest, high drama and, by pitting non-league clubs against league clubs, there is a high potential for memorable giant-killing. So why don’t they sit comfortably with me?
As an ardent supporter of grass roots football, I’m all for non-league clubs getting their well-deserved moment in the sun as a consequence of their endeavours in the Qualifying Rounds of the FA Cup, and national TV exposure is a fantastic money spinner for them, a windfall that can set them up for many years to come. But the choices of matches in this year’s First Round have not just been made because of the potential high drama they may deliver or based on any form of sentimentality for the game, the competition or the clubs involved, but there are other factors involved, too.
Northern Premier League Premier side Salford City versus League Two outfit Notts County – the perfect FA Cup First Round clash for TV. It pits a team who’ve only ever been as far as the 3rd Qualifying Round in their 26 year FA Cup history against a former winner of the competition itself, albeit way back in the 19th Century. It’s a no-brainer. Any TV channel would consider it as the ‘one to show’. What galls with me, though, is the typical predictably of the BBC in selecting it as the tie that they want to show.
This isn’t a decision based on it being the best tie to show (there are several other ties equally as attractive), but one borne out of a desire to be able to link it to other football output the Beeb has in its current schedule, namely the documentary on the former Manchester United players owning the non-league club involved. I can see the revised adverts now. It was certainly a no-brainer for those BBC TV execs in charge of scheduling who probably couldn’t believe their luck when the draw was made. It’s as predictable as the fact that Liverpool and/or Manchester United will be chosen by the Beeb when the 3rd Round comes along regardless of who they may face.
The ‘romantic’ tie of the round is arguably Southern League Division One South and West side Didcot Town v Exeter City playing in League Two, five levels above their hosts. It’s the lowest level side who’ve never been this far in the Cup before versus a club that has lost each of its last five First Round matches. This ticks the boxes both for potential upset and for giving air-time to a club that isn’t bank-rolled by multi-millionaires.
It’s commendable that BT Sport has selected this tie to be shown, albeit in the graveyard slot of Sunday lunchtime. That decision for when to show it is purely influenced by their second choice of match, a choice based upon putting their viewing figures and potential advertising revenues first and football nowhere (and the FA kowtowing to their demands) by showing a game at peak time on a Monday night that they know will have a much broader appeal involving, as it does, FC United of Manchester.
Oh the irony of it all. FC United of Manchester, formed out of fans’ dismay of how the commerciality of football was ruining their beloved Manchester United, now having to wrestle with their principles as a consequence of being selected to be shown on TV at a time when their fans do not want to see their club play, namely a Monday night, because they are now at a stage of the competition when it becomes commercially viable to show them on TV. The club protested about the move of kick off and how it was against the club’s and the fans’ principles (sharing their stance publicly on their website and social media), and the FA and BT Sport have ridden roughshod over their desires and are insisting the game goes ahead. Great. The FA not giving two hoots about football fans wishes. It’s good to see such a caring organisation in practice.
However, FC United of Manchester can do something about it. They cannot have naively believed this moment wouldn’t come so they surely already have a plan as to what they would do when the moment arose. If they didn’t, more fool them. The club has a clearly stated set of principles based on fans first and everything else second, and it is those principles they have put to the FA to get them to think again about the kick-off time. The FA has refused and FC United of Manchester has reluctantly conceded and will play the game when told do so. Some fine principles there, then. It’s easy to say you have principles, but it is extremely difficult to live by them. If the club is adamant about its principles and philosophy then maybe they should have had a plan for how they would deal with this inevitable situation, a plan that was more than just fine words.
A truly principled organisation would stick to their guns, and in this case this would translate into FC United of Manchester refusing to play their Cup tie on a Monday night just to satisfy demands of a TV broadcaster, and suffering the consequences of their actions. But no, they go public with the unfairness of it all to try to get people on their side, but when push comes to shove, the fear of expulsion from the competition and the lucrative finances it provides (especially from TV), means that they will play the game on the Monday night.
So, FC United of Manchester, I implore you to stick to your guns and refuse to play the tie on the Monday night. Now that would be taking a principled stance, but it will cost the club a heck of a lot of money and maybe banishment from the FA Cup. Any other course of action, though, means the club should keep their principles to themselves and just get on with it and enjoy the limelight like any other non-league club would do given the opportunity to be aired on national TV.