Thursday, May 19, 2005

I Quite Fancy an Old-Fashioned FA Cup Final Saturday

"....And here comes the Arsenal team bus now; leaving the hotel, bedecked in red balloons and ribbons. Some small children, cheering them as they pass. I expect there'll be a few nervous card games in progress; there's kit-man Jimmy Stalwart, what a character....oh look, a seagull!... now Garth Crooks is speaking to Frank McLintock...."

Of the many charges on the rap-sheet that football moralists lay at Sky Sports' door, the interminable and bloated pre-match coverage afforded the most colourless fixtures is one of the most commonplace. But the phenomenon of two hours of clip packages, meandering build up and punditry as sharp as butter was not originally thrust upon the football public by Richard Keys' hairy hands; when it comes to making a fair day out of a kickabout, the BBC's traditional F.A. Cup Final broadcast cast the mould.

The BBC has trimmed its pre-match coverage to just the two hours of Doves-soundtracked "Road to Cardiff" clips and old codger interviews, in a weary nod to the competition's own diminished stature. Its one of those things that those of us who remember the F.A. Cup in its pomp are referring to when we lament its current status, appearing as it does to be only a couple of rungs above Masters Football in the priorities of the major clubs.

When I was a boy Cup Final day was the season's pinnacle, football people's Big Day Out.

And it was a bacchanalial joy for those watching on television. It seemed that no sooner had Philip Schofield and (the lovely) Sarah Greene pulled down the shutters on Going Live, than Des Lynam and co. were spooning on the atmosphere, crowd scenes of excited, rosetted proles, footage of players in suits and white ties inspecting the hallowed turf, waving to family, and of course the bizarrely compelling shots of the team buses, winding their way towards Wembley.

This kind of thing was bread and butter for the Beeb. The template for the Big Event was used again and again, and is the basis for all coverage of Events of National Importance. The Trooping of the Colour; royal weddings, funerals, tea-parties; the Last Night at the Proms; and of course the gilt-edged portfolio of major sporting events.

The principle of "never mind the quality, feel the length" applied. Hour upon rear-numbing hour. Any event that could be wrapped up in less than three hours, frankly, was not worth bothering the OB unit for. Interviews were to be with either normal people (the little, flag waving, ruddy-cheeked rabble whose dull lives were being illuminated by whatever pageantry it was that they were beholding) or heritage types, the woodbine chewing Stans and Teds whose heroics of yesteryear were weaved into the tapestry of the occasion.

Holding it all together was the commentator, and what a task those brave men undertook. Endlessly filling in, dryly chuckling at the antics of the aforementioned excitable rabble, laden down with 'interesting' facts, they accompanied us through these long hours of occasion-building.

"....only a little over two and a half hours till kick off now, and here now come the team coaches, police escort helpfully provided by the Cardiff Police Force; incidentally led by Sergeant Jack Evans, who it turns out is a big Manchester United fan- lets hope he doesn't divert the Arsenal bus down any cul de sacs (muted guffaw)..... now back to Garth who's found Arsenal's No.1 canine fan!......"

Great men. Heroes. Exhausted, they would weep with relief at the swelling of brass band and many thousand voices for Abide with Me, bringing closure as it did to their herculean task of navigating the soporific hours.

So we'll make do with two measly hours of build-up this year, a frankly pitiful amount of time to create the required amount of pomp and circumstance.

Maybe that's what's gone wrong with the F.A. Cup! Perhaps by screening an episode of Father Dowling Mysteries instead of old footage of Charlie George and Keith Houchen, the BBC are undermining the old trophy, starving her of the sweet sustenance of interminable pageantry. What's a top manager to think? "Father Dowling Mysteries is it? Send out the reserves!"


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not to mention the glaring omission of chas and dave's traditional fa cup sing-along. Where are children supposed to learn cockney rhyming slang now?

12:23 p.m.  
Blogger Tommy77 said...

The absence from the pop charts of the Cup Final song is another hammer blow to our culture. Who can quantify what has been lost in a world without tone-deaf footballers' choral backing to minor pop stars' reworkings of terracing favourites.

12:33 p.m.  
Anonymous Dunner said...

Recently I passed the new Wembley with it's arch, arching (predictably enough) high above the half finished stadium. The pulling down of the twin towers of the old wembley was the turning point for the F.A. Cup. when it left north London a little part of it died. Cardiff just isn't the same, it invented the craze for presenting trophies in the middle of the pitch 45 minutes after the ened of the game with fireworks. Thats just rubbish, get up those steps wipe your grubby hand on your sweaty jersey, shakes the queens hand, mumble a few words the put the lid on your head and rasie the F.A Cup

2:32 p.m.  
Blogger Tom the Tim said...

A welcome addittion to blog world.
Look forward to some upcoming, Glazer inspired conjecture.

3:16 p.m.  

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