The slow burning feeling that football is set to turn into little than a reality TV show has been growing over the last few years. Whether through Setanta invading the dressing rooms before, during and after matches or Ebbsfleet United and the ongoing row over whether their supporters should pick the team (not to mention the number of even paler imitations currently doing the rounds), one suspects that there are a number of people that simply don’t think that the traditional relationships of football – the crowd, the players, the owners and the media looking on – are quite enough any more.
Some of you may have seen The Legends series on the television. Played out during the summer, it’s something like the equivalent of pro-celebrity football, played in front of half-interested crowds on the eve of the season proper, it’s a reasonable way to pass an hour or two, providing that you don’t mistake it for proper football and turn the sound down whenever Ant & Dec appear. It’s produced by a company called Toast Media, and it’s probably safe to assume that it has been rather successful, because somebody at Toast has had a brilliant idea, if you’re a PR type that doesn’t seem to give a toss about the history and traditions of English football. They want to enter their “Legends” team into next year’s FA Cup.
Of course, the FA has rules on who can and can’t play in the FA Cup. They don’t just let any old riff-raff in, old boy. Toast Media can’t simply send in a postal order for £5 to Soho Square with a covering letter saying something like:
Deer The FA,
We wud like to put R teem in the FA Cup next season coz all the small teems at the start of it R shit N we fink R Legends Teem wud be wikkid.
Keepin’ It Real,
The FA have rules against such things. Any participating club has to be “taking part in a senior League or Competition sanctioned by The Association or an affiliated Association as determined by The Association from time to time” and, in the case of non-league clubs, it must:
“Competed in either The FA Challenge Trophy or the FA Challenge Vase Competitions in the previous season, and must be accepted into a League for the current season which is considered to be acceptable for entry into the Challenge Cup Competition”
In other words, you can’t found a team with the sole intention of playing in the FA Cup one year and for no other reason. Toast Media has already thought of this, and are said to be in consultation with several different non-league clubs with a view to “taking over” the squads for FA Cup matches next season. Toast Media have allowed their true feelings for the integrity of the competition to slip through with statements such as this:
No-one will ever have seen the like of this. A team of former winners will run onto the pitch to play a team of no-hopers who won’t know what’s hit them.
Could you imagine a more insulting statement to make about the competition that you are hoping to enter next season? Consider that said “no-hopers” are largely amateurs, who balance playing the game for a pittance (if they get paid at all) with holding down full-time work or studies. Take a moment to pause for thought and consider that Toast Media seems to want to turn the preliminary rounds of the FA Cup into a mixture of a freak show and a reality TV show, gaining valuable free advertising for its “Legends Series” under the cloak of that old catch-all, “raising a lot of money for charity”.
Paul Reaney of Toast Media appears to be positively chipper at the thought of annoying the FA. “What rule will they put into place – that over-35s cannot enter the FA Cup?”, he said, and it’s a fair question. So here’s the answer. It’s in Section 5 (Part C) of the rules of the competition:
The Council may reject the application of any Club to participate in the Competition at its entire discretion.
If that is not enough, the rules on the registration of players (Section 18a) state that:
Each team participating in a match shall represent the full available strength of each competing Club.
If the Football Association is serious about maintaining the integrity of the FA Cup, it should invoke this rule to reject the application of any club that signs a deal with Toast Media to play in next year’s FA Cup. Supporters of any club that even agrees to meet with these people should protest long and hard at the fact that their clubs will be turned into laughing stocks. The clubs that have allowed themselves to be spoken to by this company should probably appreciate that they may well be in serious breach of the competition’s own rules if it replaces its entire team with Bryan Robson, Dave Beasant, Lee Sharpe and Paul Fucking Gascoigne. Don’t think that there aren’t plenty of non-league clubs that would be happy to take part in this display of contempt for English football. Think of Leigh Genesis, Ebbsfleet United and all the rest of them. The FA should flex its muscle and kick this idea firmly into touch as soon as possible.