The fifth-round FA Cup tie between Charlton Athletic and Brentford tomorrow is a fascinating prospect for all sorts of reasons: it's the Premiership against Coca-Cola League One, it's south-east London against west London, and not least, it's one great television mandarin against another.
Michael Grade, the chairman of the BBC, is a non-executive director of Charlton. Greg Dyke, the former director-general, is the chairman of Brentford.
They are both immensely charismatic men, and great talkers, but formidably busy. It would have been easier to find the Ark of the Covenant than an hour when both their diaries were empty, but with the help of Grade's resourceful secretary Roz, 30 minutes were eventually found. We duly assembled in Grade's office in a corner of the BBC's grandly named Governance Unit overlooking Marylebone High Street. He and Dyke have known each each other as both colleagues and adversaries since the 1970s, and there is an easy mateyness between them.
Brian Viner: "Were you both happy with the fifth-round draw?"
Michael Grade: "Yes, it's a dream tie for us. Not that it's going to be a pushover, but a London derby at home, in the fifth round of the Cup, is terrific."
Greg Dyke: "Whereas we'd have preferred to be at Old Trafford because it'd have got us a lot more money."
BV: "And because you're a United fan [and former director]."
MG (mock scornfully): "I don't know how anyone could possibly support two clubs. My dad took me to Charlton in 1950 when I was seven years old, and that was it. I saw the pitch, the crowd, the team were in the top division, Sam Bartram was in goal, and I was hooked. I had no choice in the matter."
GD: "I've always supported two clubs, since I was a kid. I got involved with Brentford because my brother was a junior there. I remember the manager, Bill Dodgin senior - that's how long ago it was, it wasn't even Bill Dodgin junior - coming round our house, when I was about seven, saying to my brother, 'We need you, son.' But my dad, who sold insurance and was the most cautious man in the world, was never going to let him be a footballer for £20 a week, without any security. So he played in the juniors. And I grew up supporting Brentford and United.
"As far as I know there's only ever been one match between them, in the League Cup, which United won. And Brentford sold Stewart Houston to United. That's all."
BV: "What about Charlton v Brentford matches?"
MG: "I can't ever remember one. We must have played them when we were in the old Third Division, but maybe they were in the Fourth at the time."
BV: "Does the FA Cup excite you as much as it ever did?"
MG: "Yes, because it's a much more even competition than the Premiership. There's actually hope in the FA Cup, because they're one-off games, whereas there's no hope in the Premiership outside the top two or three. Most football fans live on hope and despair; the hope gets you through the despair. But in the Premiership the best you can hope for is that you might get into Europe. Without writing a song, as the old joke goes."
GD: "He's right, there's always a chance in the Cup. We're in the last 16 for the second year running which is fantastic, and if we beat Charlton then we're in the last eight and for Brentford that's incredible. What we really need is promotion, but for clubs like ours the Cup can be very lucrative, especially if there's a replay. Last year we drew at Southampton, which was great, even though we lost at home. The pain this time is that the match didn't get chosen for TV, because for this round you get £260,000, and that can transform a club like Brentford. Can you believe it? You've got the chairman and the former director- general on opposite sides and nobody at the BBC chose to televise the bloody game."
MG (mock ominously): "Not a good career move."
BV: "Speaking of which, is TV the salvation or potentially the ruination of football?"
MG: "Let me tell you, in 1979 I was instrumental in a thing called Snatch of the Day, when we took Match of the Day to ITV. It's a long story. The argument at the time was that live football on TV would kill the game, absolutely kill it.
"But look now at the sheer volume of live televised games. It hasn't hurt attendances. If the product is good, people will go, because nothing matches that live experience. And all sport is about stars, the creation of stars. That's what television does. It creates Rooney, Henry, and so on. If those matches weren't on TV, those guys wouldn't be the attractions they are."
BV: "But you've still got Sky dictating 11.30am Sunday kick-offs."
GD: "So what? If football wants the money, that's the deal. People in football don't complain about it. The only people who complain are sports journalists [laughter]. It's true. The last of the Luddites. You want everyone to go at three on a Saturday afternoon. Of course, supporters occasionally complain as well. At Old Trafford we sometimes went weeks without playing on a Saturday. But, you know, the TV money is enormous, it's rebuilt stadiums, it's brought in wonderful players..."
MG: "The significant thing was [the Sky boss] Sam Chisholm's success in persuading Rupert Murdoch that sport was the way to go. Rupert had never really shown any interest in sport. But Sam saw the potential of it, and they bet the store on the Premier League."
BV: "But doesn't Sky's wealth mean inflated prices for everyone else?"
GD: "Not really. The last football deal I did at the BBC was the FA Cup deal: three games every round and all England internationals. That's a great deal because if you put even an average England friendly on BBC 1 it gets you seven, eight, nine million people. Amazing. So the current deal is really good, and whether they can sustain it we shall see. I have no doubt that Sky will keep most of the Premier League rights, but I suspect they will have to pay heavily for them, and that might stop them doing anything else. The growth of Sky is limited now. They're already in so many homes; there aren't that many homes to go."
MG: "What I worry most about the Premier League is the disparity in earnings between the top two or three clubs and the rest because of the Champions' League money. There's little or no chance of the next tier of clubs being able to compete on anything like equal terms, and that has to be addressed, because at the moment, all the interest for the last six weeks of the season is in which clubs are going down, and the climax of the season shouldn't be about failure."
GD: "It's ironic. Who'd have thought that the most profound effect on this country of the Berlin Wall coming down would be that someone [Chelsea's owner, Roman Abramovich] spends this kind of money on football?"
MG: "Why not? Good luck. I don't have a problem with that."
GD: "Yeah, but it takes something away from football, when you can spend £25m on a player and if it doesn't work you go and spend £25m on the next one."
MG: "Yes, they took Scott Parker, our best player, and he didn't get in the team. What was the point of that?"
BV: "Can we get back to the big game. Will you be sitting next to each other?"
GD: "Tell him."
MG (ruefully): "It's half-term, and we've booked a skiing holiday. I thought it was perfectly safe, because we haven't been in the fifth round since the old king died. So I'm not sure if I'm going to get there. It depends. If the weather closes in and there's no skiing, I might say to my wife that I'll go home early."
BV: "And not say why?"
MG: "Of course not. She'll never guess [laughter]."
GD: "I've lived with a woman for 20-odd years who hates football with a loathing. She thinks the fact that I've got three of our four kids captivated by football is her greatest failure as a parent. She never came to Old Trafford the whole time I was on the board, but she said to me the other week that she wouldn't mind coming to the Brentford game. So she comes along to see Brentford v Sunderland and while I'm off talking to the players, all the stuff you do as a chairman, she goes downstairs and puts a bet on. Bear in mind that this is a woman who during the game, when someone was taking a corner, said, 'Is that called a goal-kick?' Anyway, she bets on 0-0 at half-time, and Brentford to win 2-1, and she wins 90 quid. She's now got guru status in our house. We're all waiting for her to pronounce on who's going to win."
BV: "Maybe there's a lesson there, maybe you see things more clearly when you're not intimately involved. Is it dangerous for you as fans to join the boards of your clubs, in the sense that the heart might rule the head?"
GD: "At Brentford the fans have taken over the club. Is it dangerous? It's too early to know. After we'd won our first three games, three out of three, a mate phoned me and said, 'Quit now - it doesn't get any better than this' [laughter]. We'll see. We have to get across to the fans that there is no Mr Big, that you live on what you make. Charlton is probably the best example of a club that's gone from one level to another level and stayed there. When you talk to people in football they say, 'Go to Charlton and see what they've done'."
MG: "But we've done it very slowly. You know, I've just had a flashback. I remember going to a game at Brentford when I was a sportswriter at the Daily Mirror. It was midweek, the only game in London that night, Brentford v Crewe or something horrible, and it finished 0-0. At half-time we were larking about in the press box trying to make something out of this, and my chum Dennis, who worked for Hayters [news agency], said, 'How about this for an intro?' I wish I'd written it. It went, 'Cheer up,' said a wag in the crowd at half-time, 'things could get worse.' So we cheered up, and sure enough, things got worse.' [Laughter] Absolute classic. Another one was 'Gloom Park,' said the bus conductor, as we alighted to see Brentford play Crystal Palace."'
GD: "It's not Gloom Park now. It's one of the up places. And [Brentford manager] Martin Allen is one of the great characters. He's a fantastic motivator. He came to Brentford two seasons ago with about six games to go and saved us from relegation. He ran every game from the touchline. I saw him one day, shouting 'Joe! Joe! Joe! Joe! Joe!' He must have shouted Joe 30 times, and Joe, in the end, obviously pissed off, looks round, and Martin sticks his thumb up and goes, 'All right Joe?' [prolonged laughter]."
BV: "So, finally, which of you is the best loser?"
MG: "As he's a Manchester United supporter, I'd say he's the worst. I'm the best because in the old days at Charlton that was what we did. 'Who do you support?' 'Charlton-nil,' as the old gag goes."
GD: "There's no pressure on us. I remember whatsisname, Glenn Roeder, saying the thing about Charlton is that they're at their best when they're the underdog. This time, the pressure's all on them."
MG: "Absolutely. We're unbeaten at Stamford Bridge this season, but we've slipped up a few times in the last few years against lower opposition. They've got a chance against us. They've definitely got a chance."Reuse content