All Brass and No Class – BBC Revert to Type

I despair.

Just when the BBC look like they ‘get it’ with regards to how best to present Non-league sides playing in the FA Cup they go and choose to show Billericay Town as their live on-line match in the 1st Qualifying Round.

I called it ‘baby-steps’ when learning that the BBC were going to show a ‘live’ game from every qualifying round of the FA Cup. The organisation had a reputation for not really covering (or caring about) these rounds of the FA Cup, only recently providing an on-line coverage, thanks in the main to employees pulling together the research in their own time. Progress of sorts was made when the BBC, fronted by Dan Walker, showed live matches from Rounds 1 and 2, typically involving non-league clubs at home to league clubs, matches with giant-killing potential all over them.

However, there were two significant things about this early rounds coverage. Firstly, the non-league clubs were treated condescendingly, not piss-taking as such, but lightheartedly trotting out all the cliches about their level of football, naming jobs of the players, highlighting quirky signs, showing archaic facilities etc. Secondly, as soon as the Third Round came around the non-league clubs were dropped like a stone in favour of the opportunity to show two Premier League clubs full of reserves.

So when it was announced that the Corporation was to show a tie from each round, starting in the Extra Preliminary Round, I was both delighted and sceptical in equal measure. I happened to be at the first match chosen, Litherland REMYCA v AFC Liverpool, so didn’t watch the broadcast, but seeing just one cameraman at the ground and no presenters at the match did at least make me think it wasn’t going to be presented as a sideshow.

I watched the match again two days later on i-player and gathered feedback from others who had seen it live, and the consensus of opinion was of a positive nature. The single camera, no gimmicks approach really allowed the game to present itself for what it was, a good standard of non-league football. Connor McNamara’s commentary and thorough research added to the presentation, and the interaction with social media really gave the whole thing a down-to-earth, real non-league feel.

The same was true of the second game chosen, South Shields versus Bridlington Town, a game I did manage to get to watch on-line live. Both games were treated with respect by the presenters, no gimmicks, no condescension, and no day jobs mentioned. They commentated on the game played by footballers. I was almost ready to let all my scepticism go, but having been mis-led into thinking the BBC had ‘got it’ in the past, I was still cautious. And that caution has proven to be well placed.

The two matches previously shown live presented the true face of non-league football. Good quality players, committed to playing football first with no theatrics, supported by loyal fans, and sustained by an army of volunteers and business folk keen to ensure the football club was linked to the local community for the benefit of the community. Club benefit first, individual benefit nowhere.

Now contrast that with what is going on at Billericay Town. It’s all about Glenn Tamplin and nothing to do with the club. Yes, I’m sure in his own mind he’s been a life-long fan of the club and like every other fan wants them to do well, and it’s great that he is investing in the club to help it advance, but everything he is doing to go about it is so non-typical of what is happening at the 99% of other non-league clubs. I don’t begrudge any success that may or may not come Billericay’s way, but it is not what the tens of thousands of other people involved in non-league football experience week-in, week-out.

The BBC, by choosing to show Billericay Town as their live match, have taken the same course of action as they had done in the later rounds in previous seasons. Dropping non-league football for something they perceive has more pulling power. It may well prove to have more appeal, but just as two Premier League team’s reserves facing each other has got absolutely nothing to do with the FA Cup, Glenn Tamplin’s plaything has got absolutely nothing to do with non-league football.

It’s all brass and no class.

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