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Why the fans really own the FA Cup rights

Why the fans really own the FA Cup rights

Like so many of my generation of football fans, I grew up watching the FA Cup Final on Saturday afternoons and always on BBC 1.

I remember the big match build-up from about 10.30 that morning with favourite items such as ‘meet the teams’ and ‘it’s an FA Cup final Knockout.’ If the latter is now tainted by the grossness of one individual, the collective production was a wet dream of an experience, long before puberty kicked in. There was genuine excitement and I was allowed to have my meals on a tray as my favoured position on the sofa could not be left. I always felt that my older sister – who, like my father, hated football – would take advantage if I did and switch channels. My mother was a secret footie fan, though, and she looked out for me.

My sister might have switched to the film matinee alternative on BBC 2 but obviously not ITV. I never cared much for the Big Match, even when Mike Channon managed to upset everyone in the studio by crossing more fences than his subsequent horses. John Motson’s anecdotes became wearing but he had, for me, more of a sense of the big match, as did David Coleman before him. A triumph of product over packaging really.

In all the years since then I have stuck by the FA Cup and suffered ITV’s terrible highlights shows and terrible team of pundits who are all so afraid of Roy Keane they are even more bland than the Match of the Day boys. I think the Match of the Day format just needs a complete overhaul and ITV should simply give up.

So, it was interesting to see that the BBC and BT have won the FA Cup TV rights for the next four years and, simultaneously, the kick-off time of 5.15 being maintained by Greg Dyke and the FA Cup blazers who clearly hate the idea of being branded as traditional. I do understand the need to add TV viewers if you work for the FA. TV brings money and they will argue that this has allowed investment in British football to bring it out of the 80’s doldrums and to the global entertainment powerhouse it is today. Never mind the fans who travel to Wembley and then can’t easily get back again: ‘hey, they must be well-off to even consider buying tickets and pay for the travel in the first place so an overnight stay in central London is more than manageable.’

Having been bombarded by BT all summer, I’m actually disappointed that Sky didn’t get the digital rights. Jamie Carragher was a fantastic pundit during Euro 2012, saying exactly what he thought (shadows of Mr Channon I thought) and will complement Gary Neville really well. I never thought I would have written that last sentence but it shows how much I have moved on from a more traditional football view, and I think I’m being very grown-up about it.

It’s a pity the FA cannot do this too and be adult enough to accept that some things from the past actually make the present better. The FA Cup brand is all about it’s history: the Ronnie Radfords and the Ricky Villas and the 3.00 kick-off time for fans who savoured the trip down Wembley Way in both directions without having to worry about the trip home again or, like me, watching them on TV with an increasing heartbeat and unmitigated excitement about the football match to come.

If it really wanted to, the FA could have enabled the traditional BBC terrestrial broadcasters to sit alongside the best soccer broadcasters at the moment – Sky. If they really wanted to put the FA Cup back in its rightful place on the world football map, they would work to enable the winners (or losers) a place in the UEFA Champions League the following season.

Let’s not forget, though, that they do not have the rights to the FA Cup. We do – the ordinary football fans. If ITV’s coverage is rubbish, we won’t watch it. If the cost of watching FA Cup ties is too expensive we won’t be able to afford them. If they make it too difficult to attend the final, the media backlash will eventually turn from lucrative to punitive.

In some ways I wish I was back on that Cup Final sofa and that the build-up was about the team who might win the FA Cup rather than the team that might be broadcasting it.

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