Motson builds up the Cup

Cameron Carter explains that although we all know and love the FA Cup, John Motson can always be on hand to remind us of this

Spring is a time when wet-nosed lambs and weak young sitcoms stumble into the world. Yet May began and ended with the spectacle of grey-faced middle-aged footballers in sluggish pursuit of the charity pound. On May 1, the Marina Dalglish charity match on Sky One featured most of the Liverpool and Everton teams who contested the 1986 FA Cup final. Now, most charity events involve the entertainment operating at about 30 per cent below par, but these people were really trying. They just couldn’t do it any more. An injured Gary Lineker turned up briefly to kick off, like a vicar at a fete with another parish to get to, after which the 90 minutes crawled by in a pageant of zonal marking, square balls and limping, quickly regretted runs off the ball. Fortunately, a goal was scored just before the end – at least a yard offside, but hotly undisputed as its annulment would have meant extra time and, presumably, a slowing of the pace.

With just as little at stake on the last Premiership day of the season, Match of the Day on May 7 was reduced to switching between matches, as it does when relegations and championships are on the line, to build the tension in the race for fourth and fifth place between Arsenal and Spurs. It is just possible the drama was lost on those outside of north London.

Six days later John Motson again felt the need to build up the FA Cup final, just in case anyone felt it isn’t as eminent a competition as it once was. Scanning the ranks of painted faces and raised mobile phones, Motson bubbled: “There’s a real cup final, FA Cup feel about the whole occasion.” Yes, John, there was, and there’s a real lavatorial, toilety feel about my craphouse. Perhaps we could all sign a petition to say we still believe in the FA Cup and send it to the BBC. Then they might ask their boys to stop banging on about it.

ITV demonstrated its grasp of contemporary culture in its Champions League final coverage. For no reason, other than the fact that The Da Vinci Code is on general release, Gabby Logan asked if Arsenal could break the Barcelona code. There followed doomy shots of religious buildings accompanied by sinister plainsong and Arsène Wenger and Frank Rijkaard looming up like warrior-monks. I may be old-fashioned, but I’m only glad Brokeback Mountain hadn’t just come out.

It’s taken a World Cup year to come along to get a decent football documentary series on terrestrial television, but BBC2’s World Cup Stories has been worth the wait. France’s victory in 1998 was the end of 68 years of hurt, never mind 30, during which the Sixties and Seventies were as barren for the national side as we must hope the next two decades will be for McFly.

In another episode, the story of Brazil’s ascendancy was again characterised by interviews with most of the key figures but was remarkable also for displaying Garrincha’s dribbling style – akin to a cat trying to keep its dead bird from several interfering adults.

C4’s Who Stole the World Cup? had no answer to that question, but raised a few others. As hosts of the World Cup in 1966, the FA were charged with the safekeeping of the solid gold Jules Rimet cup – the most famous trophy in the world. Consequently it was placed in a glass cabinet in the middle of a stamp exhibition in Westminster and four chaps from a private security firm – reduced to three on Sundays – wandered about the place in between tea breaks. At the time the trophy was taken it hadn’t been in the same room as a security guard for more than an hour. The difficulty for the police at the time was in narrowing down the suspects: it could have been stolen by an organised gang, but just as easily by a passer-by with dyspraxia and cymbals between his knees. According to its opening credits, Who Stole the World Cup contained “dramatised scenes based on police reports of the time”. It didn’t suggest how badly dramatised the scenes were going to be. The chairman of the FA received two gruff phonecalls telling him how he could get the trophy back, after both of which he stared quizzically into the telephone’s mouthpiece. One of the security guards, on the alarm being raised, jog-trotted towards the empty cabinet, actually slapping his head in surprise. I promise you.

ITV’s Soccer Aid returned to the theme of ex-pros turning out for charity. This was the Frankenstein’s monster of populist TV, crazily fusing the separate parts of Ant & Dec, reality shows, celebs (including a TV chef), African poverty and football. Paul Gascoigne was in there, too, for the Big Brother mild-Tourette’s angle. If you don’t get ratings with a cocktail like that, you may as well get out of the game.

From WSC 233 July 2006. What was happening this month