Monday 5 January ~

On the bus into central London every day I pass a billboard for ITV’s coverage of the FA Cup, showing a picture of a milkman tackling a Premier League footballer anchored with a slogan about every man being equal; a campaign seemingly built equally on the teachings of Karl Marx and shared nostalgia for boys in parkas running on the pitch at Edgar Street after Hereford beat Newcastle. The FA Cup has a brand identity that any British company would kill for, and while many may argue that the competition lacks the excitement of previous years, this doesn’t stop the stream of sepia-toned odes to “the greatest cup competition in the world” in the papers year after year. The Cup has more friends in Fleet Street than Terry Venables.

Coverage of the Cup works on the same two levels as that of the band Oasis, on the one hand harking back to a time when it ruled all while on the other telling us that this year’s effort is the return to form we’ve all been waiting for. And on the face of it this year has not been a bad one so far, with Stoke and Manchester City losing to lower-division opposition and Chelsea being held to a draw against Southend. However, when Southend manager Steve Tilson told the post-match press conference “to be honest, next week's League One game against Crewe is more important to us than this match” you have to wonder if the publicity isn’t quite doing the trick within the game.

While for Southend’s fans the thought of drawing with Chelsea appeals far more than the visit of the Railwaymen this week, for those attempting to hold on to their jobs in an industry that rewards league position with huge sums of money there is no place for nostalgia and romance. It is no surprise that the teams in the Premier League that are looking down with fear rather than up with hope that are most willing to sacrifice the Cup; Tony Pulis and Phil Brown can put out their reserves in the Cup but as long as they maintain their Premier League status they have done their job for 2009.

For those of us who cling to the notion that the FA Cup is something special the sad truth is that the rule of market forces in football has made stories of milkmen and multi-million pound players sharing one common goal the stuff of advertising campaigns and the past. Josh Widdicombe

Comments (1)
Comment by ian.64 2009-01-05 18:21:19

It's strange that Josh declares that hacks extol the wonders of the FA Cup and the romantic elements therein as per the balancing effect of Monolithic Giants and Lowly Minnows on the same playing field when last season brought a rare instance of disapproval from Nick Townsend of the Independent, in which he sniffed mightily at the thought of a West Brom - Portsmouth FA Cup semi-final at Wembley, admitting that only a Big Four combo would stir him from his seat and prevent him from his intended plan of walking his dog that day in the course of avoiding a not-so star-studded event such as Baggies vs. Pompey.

This was a significant admission when you realise it. First off, it was some sort of creditable honesty on Townsend's part - perhaps it was better to come out and pooh-pooh it rather than attempt any lip-service in the cause of two plucky outsiders that he really didn't feel for (amazingly so, with hack pin-up Harry 'Arry' Redknapp in charge of those doughty South-Coasters).

But, dishearteningly, it points to the allegiance that some hacks have towards the great and good of the game, rather than all of football's varied characters up and down the league structure, a supposed, perhaps delusional belief that the more they write or comment on Sir Alex, Arsene, Rafa and Luis, the closer they are to them and the more acquainted and personal a link they think they possess, and should any adverse comment dare rub up against these hallowed persons, then Henry Winter, Nick Townsend or any other torch-holders will come bearing down on such upstarts who dare question their wisdom - in the end, only Holt, Winter and their ilk have the licence to criticise those they revere.

This allegiance (or toadiness, if you want it put bluntly) cuts off any other consideration for those in the lower half of the Premiership or those outside it with Fergie, Wenger, Benitez and Scolari being the only ones that matter. Townsend's admission was a surprising one, but then perhaps it shouldn't really have been so, the chummy link between adoring hack and football managerial powerhouse an almost unspoken one, borne out in weekly articles whose span of footballing subject never exceeds that of the concerns of the Big Four (or perhaps perceived big clubs who go through the bad times). The rest can go hang.

Thinking about it, perhaps it's not so bad when an advertising campaign deigns to open up common ground between the mighty and the small. There are huge elements in the media who would only be too happy to see the former triumph every time.

Like Nick Townsend.

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