Thursday, February 05, 2009

Dan Gosling’s goal for Everton last night with two minutes left on the clock was exactly what people mean when they burble vaguely about the magic of the FA Cup. Perhaps those commentators and pundits who vocally doubt whether all these foreign players and managers quite ‘get’ what the FA Cup is all about are right after all. If Rafael Benitez really ‘got’ the FA Cup then he’d have brought on a teenager who nobody had heard of too and let the Magic Of The FA Cup do the rest, wouldnt he?

Of course, many of you won’t have seen the only goal of a match that, whilst reasonably compelling, was lacking in quality. This is because ITV accidentally went to a commercial break early, and in many parts of the country the next thing viewers saw was Everton celebrating.

Even before this happened, I’d been thinking that there’s something inherently wrong about watching FA Cup coverage on ITV. You feel like you’re watching a dodgy bootleg copy of the competition, or a Tesco Value version. It’s like being a kid and getting given Mega Blox instead of proper Lego by a well-meaning relative who doesn’t know there’s a difference. It’s not just that the BBC does the coverage better, although they do: their presentation team is better, their direction is better, their their graphics are better, and when it comes to highlights packages, their editing is better. Even apart from all that, it just doesn’t quite feel like the FA Cup.

I was one of the lucky ones who got pictures back just in time to see Van der Meyde cross to Gosling. But ITV’s blunder, a momentary error which quite simply ruined three hours of coverage, moved well beyond any sense of aesthetic preference for BBC coverage. It was apparently down to an automated system which failed to take account of overruns. Well, fair enough: I mean, who could have imagined that a game of knockout football might overrun?

Will the FA take note of this? Probably not, as it simply comes down to who pays them the most money – although it’s said the BBC pundits’ tendency to criticise the England team when they were playing poorly upset the poor lambs and led them to favour ITV. (This being the case, I do wonder what they made of ’Arry Redknapp laying into England’s mildly lacklustre performance against the Czechs last August, which was not only disproportionate but plainly self-interested as ’Arry had made it plain he wanted the England manager’s job.)

This was insulting to the BBC, which put a lot of work into re-establishing the reputation of the Cup when the FA was letting it wither on the vine: making Cup weekends into big events, introducing Sunday teatime matches and trailing it across all platforms. By contrast, the FA Cup/England deal the FA made with ITV and Setanta has gone poorly thus far. Setanta’s coverage is horrible and amateurish, opening England games with some right hackneyed patriotic nonsense depicting three CGI lions roaring over the White Cliffs of Dover and then some actor reading a cod-theatrical ramble about England’s recent travails. They also embarrassed the FA by demanding silly money for the England-Croatia highlights – no terrestrial broadcaster is going to pay seven figures for second-hand content that goes out after 10:30pm.

ITV’s splitting of the FA Cup, meanwhile, gives poorer value for non-Setanta subscribers than the BBC’s did, with two matches per weekend instead of three and no Sunday-night highlights package. Last night’s cock-up was a new low. I’d suggest that
Damn! I made an absolutely killer point just there to round off my argument, sorry you missed that. Technical hitch.

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