The FA Cup is not what it used to be… but fair play to ESPN
22:00 GMT, 6 May 2012
There’s no denying it, they have been screaming it from the rooftops for years. They probably even had a bit of a yell about it from the twin towers when they still stood proud at the top of Wembley way: the FA Cup isn’t what it used to be.
Ask anyone who knew their football before the blue chip days of the Premier League and satellite games, and Cup Final Day was not just about the two teams who made it to North West London (and the lucky blighters who could get a train home afterwards!) – it was a football beano for all the fans.
Football feast: ESPN's FA Cup Final Day coverage was extensive
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And it was A DAY; broadcasts starting in the morning from team hotels and on the coaches to the ground, and including the fun and frolics of special shows like It’s A Cup Final Knockout and Question Of Sport – memories so engrained that even the most hardcore fan can still get a little misty-eyed at the thought supporters trying to score penalties past a keeper on a trampoline.
Well, they may be the new kid on the block here regarding football coverage, but that has not stopped ESPN deciding that the spirit of Cup Final Day was not only up for grabs, but worth placing both hands firmly upon, and on Saturday at 8am they launched into a marathon of FA Cup broadcasting – culminating in ad free coverage of the game itself.
For their Big Day Out, the broadcaster decided not to go for a Grandstand finish; namely base everything at an HQ and include a range of features. Instead they themed each segment, often with a version of one of their staple programmes, and like a good midfield general, left no blade of grass uncovered in the process to bring us the FA Cup Experience.
In the space of about 8 hours, ESPN were everywhere, exemplified perfectly in their Breakfast Show.
At one extreme, they were deep inside the arena with the amiable Jason MacAteer who walked us from the Chelsea dressing room to pitchside – taking in a smart ‘kitchenette’, John Terry’s tiny shin pads and some scrunched up newspaper that had apparently been inside Didier Drogba’s wet boots on the way.
Back in AVB’s days, this may also have given Frank and Fernando something to read as they warmed the bench.
Key: Frank Lampard (bottom left) might have been on the bench under AVB
Then at the other extreme, we were thousands of feet about the stadium as (if ever there was a) roving reporter Nat Coombs revealed from inside the cockpit that the pilot of the Goodyear balloon steers it with his feet. Two good one’s he had, too, it has to be said.
In the space between bowels and blimp, there was, let us not forget, lots of hours to fill before their well-honed pre-game coverage – given an impressive dry run last time they were at Wembley for the semi finals – took over proper, and I suppose it should come as no real surprise that it didn’t always necessarily ripple the back of the net.
The fact is there are just so many ex-footballers and archive clips you can see and hear, and only just so many ‘why is it so special’-style questions a presenter can ask before you start to get that dj vu feeling all over again. And after nigh on nine hours of it – and again, even!
Beaten: Viewers saw Chelsea beat Liverpool
Nevertheless, this does not preclude the fact that each programme definitely brought something to the party; and each with their own individual variation on the theme retained in spite of the unfamiliar surroundings (so that you’ll still easily recognise them when they return next season.
Aha – you see what they did there!). The only one that suffered there, I felt, was Talk Of The Terrace which was at the back end of the coverage and flitted between Mark Chapman and Kelly Cates chatting with guests (and because of the time they were on, revisiting questions and clips for the umpteenth time) high in the empty stands and a live band in a hospitality suite playing what looked like their worst gig ever to about half a dozen slightly bemused fans.
Spot on: The Brunch show with James Richardson and Robbie Savage (above) was perfect
Getting it spot on though was the Brunch show hosted by James Richardson with Robbie Savage.
This mixed a literal roundtable chat (Alex Stewart revealing he wore number 4 for England as a tribute to his football hero, John Hollins) with a bit of cooking with Wembley chef 'Cockers' and the resultant scoffing.
It was the kind of relaxed atmosphere
and jaunty jibing that sat perfectly in the day – and left you with a
real hankering for scallops marinated in lime.
of particular merit was the documentary Kings For A Day, which
beautifully analysed the magic of the Cup through the eyes of
giant-killing heroes and football minnows. Or as Fleetwood’s Micky
Mellon put it ‘if it’s David and Goliath stuff, we’re David’s little
This was a show that underlined the fact that the FA Cup is competition, institution and a special date in the calendar all in one. And well played ESPN for setting out early and going all the way on the day to remind us of that fact.
Monday Night Football and the Manchester derby provided its own little set of mini Unmissable Wedgies namely: Monday lunchtime on Sky Sports News and Jim White refereeing a battle of words between Gary Owen at the Etihad and Norman Whiteside in the city centre, rendered totally bizarre by the sound delay.
Later in the afternoon, there were more words from the streets of Manchester, this time with a fruit stall owner who while explaining why he had no red fruit on display, had an orange nicked by a passerby who raised it triumphantly like a winner’s medal.
Guest: Didier Drogba appeared on the Graham Norton show
Minutes later, Jim White was even more excited than normal as the groundsman let him paint on a penalty spot.
Friday night on BBC1 and Graham Norton welcomed Didier Drogba to the show (‘you’re surprised!’, cracked Graham) and made Julie Walters' night by doing the ‘Drogbacite’ dance with the host.