Anything Can Happen

This season the BBC is promoting its FA Cup coverage with the strap-line ‘Anything Can Happen’, a strap-line tapping into a phrase often used in the past about the FA Cup, in particular when it involved matches between lower league sides and top flight clubs.

‘Anything can happen’ is supposed to evoke the magic of the Cup, instilling misty-eyed memories of famous giant-killing acts and applying those memories to matches in this season’s competition. The broadcaster’s choice of showing Exeter City versus Liverpool in the Third Round was one such tie where ‘anything could happen’ and almost did.

Their second choice of Tottenham Hotspur versus Leicester City was selected, though, just to pamper to those BBC executives who have financial measures at the heart of their decision making processes, an all Premiership tie that could be sold to TV stations across the world. On paper it had the potential to be an exciting tie, pitting together as it did two clubs currently exceeding expectations in the Premier League. The truth of the matter, though, was that both clubs were likely to litter their team with reserve and under twenty-one players.

As it turned out that’s exactly what they did, but I have to confess that despite this approach the two teams did produce an entertaining Cup tie. It didn’t have the ‘anything can happen’ element to it as the Exeter versus Liverpool tie did, but it ended in the same two-two result and was enjoyable to watch. However, for its replay to be selected as the match to be shown live by the BBC is a decision so far removed from their ‘anything can happen’ tag-line as it could possibly be.

Let’s look at what other options the BBC could have chosen to show, ones that would be more in keeping with their strap-line. The BBC had first choice of which match to show and have ignored an obvious ‘anything can happen’ match, Bristol City versus West Bromwich Albion, a match with the Championship side at home to a Premier League side, and one which is being replayed thanks to an exciting first match at the Hawthorns.

More incredulously the organisation has obviously decided that there is not enough romance in the tie Bolton Wanderers versus Eastleigh, even though the National League side are the last remaining non-league club in the competition, despite the fact that the non-league club were just two minutes away from beating their Championship opponents, and ignoring the fact that Eastleigh have never been this far in the competition before, and that this tie is the epitome of ‘anything can happen’.

I’ve requested an explanation as to why the BBC believe that Leicester City versus Tottenham Hotspur is the right tie to show live. As yet I haven’t had a reply. I can only surmise that it is all about maximising their revenues from selling another all-Premiership tie, and riding roughshod over their advertising strap-line. Others have mooted that they have a duty to show the tie to its completion having aired the first match. If that is true, then Liverpool versus Exeter is a better choice to meet that criteria and to also being closer to their promotional communications.

As it is the BBC have shown disdain to what the FA Cup is all about, focusing more on trying to get a slice of the lucrative Premiership action than on reflecting the essence of the FA Cup. Maybe they are waiting to show Eastleigh versus Leeds United in the Fourth Round should the Spitfires overcome Bolton Wanderers, but don’t hold your breath. Whilst Manchester United are in the draw and whilst the BBC didn’t show them in the Third Round, then it is guaranteed which tie they will choose to show.

Go on, Aunty Beeb, prove me wrong and show me ‘anything can happen’.

Addendum following further TV announcements!

Well, what d’ya know? BBC choose Derby County versus Manchester United as a live game, (as well as Chelsea away at either MK Dons or Northampton Town). No surprise there at all given I predicted that outcome 2 seconds after their two balls had come out of the ‘hat’ together in the Fourth Round draw. And BT Sport have chosen their matches, too, also snubbing the only potentially ‘romantic’ tie in the round at Eastleigh, presumably because Bolton Wanderers versus Leeds United tie would be just too awful for them to show!

The bigger story, though, concerns BT Sport and their desire to show Liverpool versus Exeter City in their Third Round replay (again Eastleigh are ignored!). Because the BBC are showing their game on the Wednesday night, BT Sport wanted to show Liverpool on Tuesday or Thursday. However, Liverpool didn’t want the game to be moved from the Wednesday due to their fixtures either side of the FA Cup game. Unlike with FC United of Manchester in the First Round, BT Sport aren’t able to flex their financial muscle and demand the game to be shown when they want it to be shown, and have backed down against the might of Liverpool, and have agreed to show the game on the Wednesday night at exactly the same time as the BBC match. Now that can’t be a good solution for the FA having two matches being shown live at the same time thereby diluting their potential audience. But it is interesting to know that the FA can bend their own rules when they want to.

Why didn’t BT Sport just choose a different game? Oh, because it was Liverpool, of course. If not able to show Manchester United, then must show Liverpool. I’m not sure Eastleigh would be selected to be shown live even if they made it all the way to the final itself!

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2 thoughts on “Anything Can Happen”

  1. I contacted the bbc over the choice of round 2 games and basically got the response that Salford City already shown live in round 1 and the subject of a bbc documentary) were chosen again as it was “in the public interest” meaning they had a by-story of rich famour owners. That annoyed me as there were other interesting ties where the club’s involved could really have benefitted from the money and exposure of being on TV.

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    1. I contacted them too – here’s what they said

      Thanks for getting in touch with us about our decision to show the Salford City v Hartlepool FA Cup match.

      We’ve raised your concerns with our colleagues in the FA Cup production team at BBC Sport and they’ve asked us to forward you the following response:

      “Our choice of matches is decided on a combination of factors such as the likelihood of an upset, the gap between the clubs, atmosphere at the ground, interesting stories within the teams and occasionally on a team’s proud cup pedigree.

      Taking into account all those factors, we felt that the stand-out fixture from the second-round was Salford City against Hartlepool. There’s a real interest from viewers in Salford’s progress and whether a team from the seventh tier can make the third round for the first time in their history.

      We do try to mix up our coverage of the lower league teams and we showed Warrington, Blyth, AFC Wimbledon, Cambridge and Bradford live on the BBC last season. In addition to this, we have delivered more prominence to the early rounds with extra FA Cup Final Score programmes that involve additional payments to the 16 clubs involved in the early rounds. Football Focus also provides more exposure to non-league sides and in the last 12 months, we’ve presented the show from Weston-Super-Mare, Wrexham, Blyth and Wealdstone, with Stourbridge hosting the show in December. The FA Cup draw has also been taken around the country, presented live in Burton, Hull and Bradford, with Cardiff staging this year’s prestigious third round draw.

      Last season 36 million people watched our coverage, 9 million more than the season before, and in a recent survey 45 per cent said they followed the early rounds more closely. We will continue to work closely with the FA to give the oldest and most cherished cup competition the coverage it deserves, including featuring a wide range of teams and fixtures.”

      We hope we’ve addressed your concerns and thanks again for contacting us about this.

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