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