The BBC’s FA Cup coverage of Eastleigh was full of unfair cliches
12 January ~ The BBC’s extensive coverage of the FA Cup proper should be lauded as an excellent service to the middle reaches of the football pyramid. Live match commentaries, near-instant video highlights and terrestrial television coverage, even of the Cup draws themselves, have helped bring life to the competition’s early stages.
It was a surprise that Eastleigh’s tie with Championship strugglers Bolton Wanderers didn’t tantalise the BBC enough to televise it live, but first place on Match of the Day is a second-best that Eastleigh would never have dreamt of a few years ago. However, it still hurts that the pundits and wider media portray a shrunken vision of English football; namely that anything outside the Football League is amateurish.
When any higher league team travels to play a lower side, inevitably the pitch is cited as a "great leveller". The Eastleigh pitch on the day was in a terrible state, with large muddy patches and sand-filled areas. Footage of the officials trying and failing to bounce the ball on the pitch was testament to the quality of the playing surface after days of heavy rain.
However, this is unusual – Eastleigh are not used to playing on surfaces like this any more than their visitors are, and Bolton have hardly been exponents of slick passing football this season. It’s lazy to assume, like the Match of the Day pundits did, that a non-League team will resort to long-ball tactics in order to beat higher opposition. Both teams were reduced to shadows of their usual styles – Eastleigh finding passes sticking in the mud, and Bolton only conceding once.
After Ross Flitney pulled off a number of excellent saves to deny Bolton, Trevor Sinclair wondered aloud why the Eastleigh goalkeeper was “down at that level” on the basis that he had once been a youth player at Fulham. Flitney, along with the rest of the Eastleigh team and a significant portion of National League players, is a professional footballer. He doesn’t work in a butcher’s shop and play football at the weekends “for the love of the game”.
A pitch invader, who got caught up in the Eastleigh attack and came close to affecting the outcome of a match worth many thousands of pounds to each side, should have been vilified as the moron he is. Instead it offered a cheap laugh for the studio team. If that incident had taken place at Old Trafford or Stamford Bridge, the condemnation would have been swift. It serves only to further propagate the idea of non-League as “toy football”, which somewhat detracts from the idea of the lower leagues being “real football”.
I am sticking up for Eastleigh when few of their fans probably feel they need defending. No one blamed them for the bad pitch, indeed the club were universally praised for their efforts to get the game on. Two committed teams, marshalled by superb officials, played out an exciting Cup tie in awful conditions which was capped off by two wonderfully terrible goals.
But there is a wider problem whenever a team punches above its weight (see also: Bradford City last season) which need to be addressed. The increased coverage of the lower levels is fantastic, but the unwitting patronisation of football at that level will do more harm than good. Matt Howell