Last year, the FA Cup Third Round saw Blyth Spartans reach the highest point in their recent history, as they led Birmingham City 2-0 and at one stage were being followed on Twitter by Luis Figo. This year, who will the greatest single day in the annual football calendar be remembered by the most?
Of course, for the Spartans things went south a little too swiftly – by the final whistle at Croft Park, Birmingham had come back to win 3-2 and Figo was no longer an avid follower. It was spectacular while it lasted however, and there is every chance that this year someone will be able to take it one step further.
Not that the casual punter will be able to see it. The TV scheduling for this year’s Third Round has been abysmal. Manchester United are going to be playing in the FA Cup on TV for the 48th game in a row – that’s no random exaggerated number, it’s a cold hard stat – and for the 11th successive year, when they host Sheffield United on Saturday evening on BT Sport.
The Sunday BT game sees Chelsea host Scunthorpe, giving us all the thrilling opportunity to see Scunny get completely mullered. There is maybe some logic to these selections – Bradford winning at Stamford Bridge last year, and the Blades did win 3-0 at then-Prem QPR this time last year – but there is a feeling of wanting lightning to strike twice, and that these games have been selected for the giants rather than the minnows, which feels wrong.
The BBC Friday night game is Exeter v Liverpool. This game kicks off at 7.55pm. The final train from Exeter to Liverpool leaves at 6.25pm – an hour and a half before kick-off. Scousers better pack their sleeping bags.
The other game on BBC One is Spurs v Leicester, because two Premier League teams playing each other on a Sunday afternoon live on TV is obviously such a rare event these days. I’m not sure the argument that it rarely takes place on terrestrial television holds much water – the casual viewer won’t pay more interest, and the fans will probably go to the pub to watch it, where they would have been anyway. It makes no sense for the BBC, so self-congratulatory in its talk of returning the magic to the cup, should pick a game between two top-tier sides.
The games I can get fully behind being on TV – and in their current slots – are Wycombe v Aston Villa and Oxford United v Swansea City, on Saturday and Sunday lunchtimes respectively. It is tragic, however, that the only non-league team remaining are being snubbed.
Eastleigh had never even been in the First Round until this year, now they are in the Third Round and playing Championship cannon fodder Bolton, where one could make the dubious yet still considerable claim that Eastleigh are favourites. They have been skipped over for TV however.
While they do get the romanticism of a 3pm Saturday kick-off, I do wish the last non-league club left standing had got the recognition they deserved. I guess they’ll have to get Helder Postiga to follow them instead.