Sport on TV: Auntie Beeb itching for a fight as old silverware is scrapped
Sunday 02 March 2008
When something is comic and tragic all at once, surely it's worth waiting for? So it may have taken three hours and 24 minutes for Middlesbrough to score the solitary goal that beat Sheffield United in the FA Cup (BBC1, Wednesday), but it was a moment of exquisite drama. If it wasn't the grand old "romance of the Cup", the tribulation of Paddy Kenny was at the very least heartbreaking.
Gary Lineker kicked off the replay coverage with the words: "Remember the first time these two teams met?" A dire, goalless Sunday 10 days before. "We'd rather you didn't."
"Who's playing again?" Alan Hansen asked. At the end, he was at his most funereal: "We're all looking forward to the News." And yet more doom and gloom.
The BBC have expended a lot of time and effort waiting for such moments. Their association with the Cup stretches back to the first televised final, Preston against Huddersfield in 1938; the first non-final tie was Charlton versus Blackburn in 1947. But after 60 years, Setanta and ITV have snatched away the rights from the BBC and Sky in a £425 million, four-year deal.
It seems the BBC have simultaneously lost interest in the most famous cup competition in the world, echoing the disenchantment which is de rigueur among Premier League clubs and even those chasing promotion from the Championship.
Why, for instance, did they not show Chasetown of the Southern League Midlands Division, the lowest-ranked side ever to reach the third round, against Cardiff? It was even a 1pm kick-off, so there was no clash with the out-of-bounds 3pm slot. Surely even John Motson has never been to the Scholars' ground before. Havant & Waterlooville forced a replay at home to Swansea but even with 11 days to work it out, the Beeb opted for the all-Premier League affair of Manchester City versus West Ham – it took them 163 minutes to be bothered to put the ball in the net – instead of witnessing the Hawks' astonishing 4-2 victory.
When the minnows then went to Anfield, surely the kick-off time could have been changed from 3pm? After all, TV is omnipotent when it comes to football.
Now it is rumoured the BBC will expend £300m on acquiring joint rights to the Champions' League, paying well over the odds due to complications with sponsors' advertising needs.
In a bid to claw back some of the sporting riches they have lost over the past decade, they are prepared to splash the cash – your cash. Amir Khan's contract to fight on ITV ends this summer and they want him to swap corners – Khan came to prominence in the BBC's coverage of the Athens Olympics. And Des Lynam, the darling of BBC Sport until he went to ITV in 1999, returns soon with a brand-new concept, 'Sport Mastermind' (actually, let's face it, it's recycled). Meanwhile the FA Cup, the oldest football competition in the world, has been reduced to its own "minnow" status.
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