Earlier this week, apropos of nothing, really, I sat down and watched the 1979 FA Cup Final between Arsenal and Manchester United. It was like a breath of fresh air, and a reminder of how good the BBC used to be at broadcasting football. I’ve watched their recent coverage, however, with increasing dismay but they managed a new nadir last night with FA Cup coverage that lurched into the realms of farce, leaving the corporation looking like your trendy uncle at a wedding, wearing a medallion and asking the bride’s friends if they’ve seen The Blurs play lately.
More or less anyone with any nous could have told you that Manchester City vs West Ham United game was going to be terrible. Manchester City are the kings of the 1-0 win, and the first match between them at Upton Park last week was an absolute shocker. Yet again, though, the BBC failed to see the wood for the trees, ignored one of the stories of the round (in the form of Conference South Havant & Waterlooville playing Swansea City for the right to a trip to Anfield after the two sides played out a bad tempered first match at the Liberty Stadium) in order to put the names of two Premier League clubs in their Wednesday night schedules. The match kicked off in a half-empty and disinterested City Of Manchester Stadium and, my word, it stank the place out. This feeling that something altogether more interesting was going on elsewhere was further emphasised by the regular score updates coming from in from Westleigh Park, where reports were coming in that Havant were two up and that Swansea had missed a penalty. Guy Mowbray, the commentator, sighed audibly and almost expressed that he would sooner be anywhere else.
This was kind of forgiveable, considering the BBC’s record in just picking the wrong match. What was singularly unforgivable was their decision, at half-time, to ignore what was going on in Hampshire in favour of a brief look at what hadn’t happened in Manchester followed by a twelve minute long hagiography of Kevin Keegan and a thinly-veiled job application from Alan Shearer. It was at this point that I switched the television off and put the radio on to listen to the Havant vs Swansea match on BBC Radio Wales, via the awesome power of the internet. I wonder how many other people did the same thing? All you needed was an internet connection, and off you went.
I wasn’t disappointed. The second half of the Havant & Waterlooville vs Swansea City match was absolutely pulsating. It was like being there, with an insane Welsh commentator who sounded as if he was more or less on the verge of a heart attack for the whole of the second half. Swansea had shots cleared off the line, hit and post and the bar and, in the end, Havant won by four goals to two to earn (and, by that, I mean earn) a trip to Anfield in the Fourth Round. It was an absolutely magnificent match, and a credit to both teams. Not that you’d have known much about it if you’d kept the television on BBC1 all evening.
As a quick aside, I’ll be writing a weekly column about non-league football at the esteemed Pitch Invasion from now on. The first one is already up on there.