There has been much discussion this weekend about larger clubs disrespecting the FA Cup by making significant changes to their sides ahead of ties: but it is The FA that are devaluing the competition with its poor and obtuse TV choices.
Alan Shearer was up in arms at the number of changes made by top sides for their ties. Arsenal and Southampton featured no less than 20 changes between them, and our own rivals Brighton had nine changes. Shearer claimed ‘clubs care about money, while fans care about trophies’. It’s not only the clubs that care about money.
Indeed, bigger clubs do seem to be treating the world’s premier cup competition with a mixture of contempt and complacency. Gone are the days when a tie against Arsenal ensured the world stars appeared on your humble ground, although in this day and age even their reserves are international players.
I don’t think there were many fans in Lincoln or Sutton who were lamenting the lack of first team players on show at our matches though, and whilst I can sympathise on some level with Premiership teams rotating squads, I can’t do the same with second tier sides. Aside from Knockaert I couldn’t name you many more of the Brighton first team, and Leeds have such a high turnover of players I suspect Sutton United felt the same. All we cared about was a win and historic fifth round ties.
Meanwhile, on the box this weekend fans were ‘treated’ to Manchester United on Sunday, but it was ‘only’ Match of the Day cameras that caught The Imps fine 3-1 win over the much-changed Brighton side. Whilst it is a thrill to be featured first on such an iconic programme, Gary Lineker has since admitted that the Beeb wanted to be at Sincil Bank, but the FA blocked the move.
The FA obviously want a marketable product to sell abroad, but in doing so are they not devaluing the competition domestically? If it isn’t devaluing, it is certainly a case of turning their back on the big stories in the FA Cup in a vain attempt to get the big stars live on their channel. Man Utd may be marketable in the far east, but after our heroics against Ipswich I suspect the Brighton game would have been more of a draw for the neutral. There’s also the small matter of the TV money.
Man Utd were on TV on Sunday, by Monday morning their share of the TV money had already been spent on wages. If it had been Lincoln City on the telly, our share of the TV money would have gone some way to ensuring our long term future. The FA are meant to govern football in this country, from grass roots up, but their refusal to allow the BBC to screen Lincoln does not reflect this. I appreciate we’re now in a good position anyway, but that isn’t the point. The so-called magic of the FA Cup was ignored by the FA themselves in favour of watching a Man Utd XI easily beat Wigan.
Man Utd fan Pete Summers even tweeted me to say that there wasn’t a United fan he knew that wanted their run-of-the-mill tie to be played at 4pm on a Sunday afternoon. The revenue meant nothing to them, but for £100k+ I’m sure Lincoln City would have played at midnight on Sunday. I’m sure we would have been happy to play on the moon if we got our payday.
The fact the BBC tried to change the match and were refused only takes a portion of the shine of a superb day for City fans. Money aside, to be first on Match of the Day twice in the space of a couple of weeks is phenomenal, a real fillip for the club and everyone connected with it.
However, whilst The FA continues to pick matches based on marketability abroad, and not on the appeal to the neutral and football fans in general at home, then bigger club won’t be the only one devaluing the competition.
As a Lincoln fan I can’t complain about the weakened sides anyway. Brighton centre forward Glenn Murray is still worth more than our starting eleven value combined, and then times by ten. Second string or not, Brighton should not have lost the game, and no amount of bleating about pitches and errors will change that.
In years to come when bloggers and statistic junkies (like me) look back over fixtures and results, there won’t be an asterix next to Saturday’s match with ‘Brighton fielded a weakened side’. History will show us winning 3-1 against a side top of the Championship. The same goes for Sutton, Leeds picked eleven players that should, by rights have walked their clash on Saturday. The record books won’t reflect what the media deem to be weakened sides, and I can guarantee you my memory won’t reflect that either.
The misconception is that kids, even top academy kids, should beat men from the lower leagues. There is a popular saying ‘men against boys’, and at Gander Green Lane that was certainly the case. Former Imps forward Lee Thorpe sat behind me on Saturday and he made the comment that at any level, you simply cannot pitch kids against grown men and expect them to come out on top. It is naïve, arrogant and disrespectful to the opponents. Brighton won one match to earn the right to face us, yet we’d gone through six matches to face them.
So, what offended me more about our reward for six matches of hard toil? Having a part reserve team line up and us bating them and advancing to the next stage, collecting the in bonus at the same time? Or finding out the BBC wanted to show us to the nation yet again, and the dinosaurs at The FA instead choosing to promote a banal ninety minutes from Old Trafford?
I think you know the answer to that.