Over the last couple of years, we have been less than complimentary about ITV’s football coverage. However, I’m not one to bear a grudge, and I’m now quietly optimistic that it might be set to improve. Whisper this quietly, but… I’m starting to think that they might have put someone that cares in charge of their football coverage. The first signs of this recovery came in the new year, with the frankly genius idea to repeat editions of “The Big Match” from 1983 on Thursday afternoons and Sunday mornings. John Bourn, whose website about regional football on ITV was started, in his own words, “a spur to ITV to make more use of their massive football archive”, could finally rest easy in his bed at night.

Then, over the summer, their coverage of Euro 2008 was better than expected whilst the BBC’s was worse. It would be something of a leap of faith to say that it was better, but their half-time analysts at least tried to discuss the football rather than try to out-shout each other, and they didn’t repeat the mistake of cutting to adverts over the top of national anthems, like they did at the 2006 World Cup. If they can offer a little more intelligent analysis of the Champions League and steer clear of the patriotic nonsense (which offends many, many people, whilst offering little to the viewing experience of people that do like that sort of thing), they might just have turned a corner. ITV’s Lindsay Charlton had this to say:

“For the first time in the history of the FA Cup, dozens of preliminary and qualifying round matches will be captured on camera, thanks to ITV Local. What makes the FA Cup exciting is when small clubs manage to smash their way through from the early rounds to face Premier League giants. With a little luck ITV Local will be able to follow some of this year’s giant killers all the way.”

It goes without saying that this is A Good Thing. Of course, there are pitfalls that ITV have to avoid with their FA Cup coverage. They need to try, where possible, to steer clear from cliche and one would hope that they will have learnt from the BBC’s horrific mistake of last year, when they managed to miss the story of the Third Round in the form of the match between Havant & Waterlooville and Swansea City in favour of a snore-a-thon between Manchester City and West Ham United. What I would say is this: the world’s oldest cup competition is still a delicate flower to behold, especially in the face of the all-conquering power of the Premier League and the Champions League. ITV’s recent announcements have made me somewhat happier that they will be able to look after it.