• Adam Stubbings

Meddling in the Magic of the F.A. Cup

Tonight marks the start of an exciting weekend for many football fans across the country – the F.A. Cup 1st Round. Salford City take on Notts County live on the BBC, whilst my own Doncaster Rovers host Stalybridge Celtic of the Vanarama North tomorrow afternoon.

However, whilst the F.A. Cup evokes many positive emotions for fans and participants alike, the stark reality of corporate dominance threatens to overshadow the beautiful game for smaller clubs. F.C. United of Manchester, a club based less than 10 miles away from Rovers’ 1st Round opponents Stalybridge and competing in the same division, have been at loggerheads with the Football Association twice this season over their F.A. Cup fixtures, namely the impacting on their games of televised media coverage.

The club were asked to move the kick-off time of their 4th Qualifying Round fixture against Sporting Khalsa in order to be the subject of a new “BBC Mobile Match of the Day Live” feature. That request was resoundingly rejected by F.C. United’s board, who issued a strongly worded statement detailing their stance and urging the BBC as a public service broadcaster, and the F.A. as the sport’s governing body, to do more to help supporters instead of inconveniencing them for all the wrong reasons. The feature instead took place at Altrincham v Chester, featuring a presenter disrupting both club’s pre-match preparations and staff management of the game whilst it was going on, all for a mere online video piece. This was exactly the reason F.C. United didn’t want to be part of it, as it would mean them enabling further interference into football at its’ most fundamental level.

Having successfully opposed this request, F.C. United were faced with another after being drawn at home to League One’s Chesterfield in the 1st Round. An understandably attractive match for T.V. providers, BT Sport wished to schedule the match on Monday evening for their live audience, as part of a weekend filled with extensive F.A. Cup coverage across various media outlets.

F.C. United’s board refused this request on the principle of it causing fans to attend the match at an unsuitable day/time, spend more in ticket prices due to the mandatory £10 minimum imposed by the F.A. for Cup fixtures, and above all, be forced to bend to the will of corporations to the detriment of the fans that are so integral to the continuation of football’s popularity and standing.

Despite that refusal, the F.A. stepped in to state that F.C. United had no choice in the matter of “accepting the invitation” to have their game televised, meaning the game will indeed be shown live on BT Sport this Monday night at 7.45pm.

This action to force the club to compromise its constitutionally-held code of conduct and operation demonstrates exactly why fans across the country and wider world need to stand up now more than ever against the continued erosion of the integrity of the sport for the benefit of the wrong people. Instead of being treated properly as clubs and fans, the powers that be care about little else than satisfying their own financial needs and the needs of the powerful corporations and national media institutions that pull the strings.

F.C. United continue to be a beacon for small clubs in the way they conduct themselves, and responded to this strong-arm tactic of the F.A. by promising to take a stand, stressing in a club statement that “on this issue we believe that we need to make a stand. Protesting at the moving of this match to a Monday is a continuation of the campaign against kick off times and ticket prices supported by fans of clubs in this country and abroad.”

To that end, they have agreed to subsidise the extra ticket cost imposed by the F.A. in the form of vouchers to be used on match day within the ground. Gestures like that prove that fan-owned clubs like F.C. United are crucial to the ongoing fight against corporate greed in football, and incidents like this demonstrate the need to continue opposing the often ludicrous restrictions placed on clubs particularly at this level. The work of clubs, as well as democratic organisations such as the Football Supporters Federation, who head up the “Twenty’s Plenty” campaign against rising ticket prices across the country, will need to be firmer now than ever before in order to stop the likes of Sky, the BBC, BT and the F.A. themselves from doing whatever suits them best at the expense of the fans.