The Last Word: TV show sours FA Cup dream of Wembley

Dream On is just a publicity stunt that highlights the dangers of a sport selling itself to sponsors

Judging by the pseudo reality show due to be staged this afternoon in the humble surroundings of Honeycroft, home of Uxbridge Football Club, the devaluation of the FA Cup is complete. It is nothing more than a corporate trinket.

Uxbridge's first-preliminary-round tie against Wembley has been moved forward a day to accommodate live coverage on ESPN, a satellite channel who face a struggle to survive in the UK market on a diet of Russian League football and Little League baseball, following the imminent loss of live Premier League matches.

A minor indignity in an age of such concessions to TV ratings, but a damning insight into the dangers of a sport selling itself to a sponsor and allowing market forces to run unchecked. The FA's duty of care to what they blithely bill as the world's greatest cup competition has been abandoned.

The FA Cup has a strange alchemy. It crystallises dreams into enduring images: Bert Trautmann's broken neck, Stanley Matthews's medal. It softens nightmare moments such as Gordon Smith's miss and Gazza's self-destructive tackle.

We've become accustomed to the clichés, clinging to them for reassurance as times have become harsh. But the FA's implicit approval of one of the tackiest PR stunts of recent memory, the colonisation of a small club, Wembley FC, by competition sponsors Budweiser, distorts the nature of the competition.

Terry Venables, who increasingly resembles a cross between an Eldorado extra and Colonel Sanders's svelte cousin, has been recruited as Wembley's "technical advisor". This has inevitably compromised player/ manager Ian Bates, an unlikely figure with long, lank hair and the blissed-out air of a new-age traveller.

As goalkeeping coach, David Seaman is earmarked as mentor to Lee Pearce, the cabbie who has emerged as the most distinctive character in an eight-part documentary series which follows Wembley's progress and supposedly celebrates grass-roots football. He is Peter Shilton trapped inside the body of Eric Pickles.

His temporary team-mates include Claudio Cannigia, Graeme Le Saux, Brian McBride, Martin Keown and Ray Parlour. Cannigia, who scored in the extra-preliminary-round win over Langford, at least has the decency to admit: "I am not the guy I used to be". The refugees from the retirement home will be joined today by the former England defender Ugo Ehiogu.

Uxbridge, their opponents, are a proper football club. Formed on 3 February 1871, they have had difficulties sustaining the success of 1898, when they lost 2-0 to Middlesbrough in the final of the FA Amateur Cup. But they do set admirable standards. Tony Choules is only their fifth manager in 40 years.

Like many in non-League football, Choules is affronted by the circus encamped at Wembley, the club from the Cherry Red Records Combined Counties League. He resents the perception of his players as cannon fodder for a bunch of fading stars.

Lighten up, I hear you say. This is just a bit of fun. Budweiser have just announced a £1 million scheme to help grass-roots clubs. But behind the spin-doctored stories, football and so-called "celebrity content" are being used to position beer to younger drinkers. Today's tie is an exercise in what the brewer's global vice-president, Jason Warner, calls "sticky engagement marketing".

The documentary series, conceived by an advertising agency and delivered by an Emmy-winning producer, is an extension of the sponsors' "wish fulfilment" strategy. This was launched at the 2010 World Cup, where 32 fans sat around, Big Brother style, drank beer and talked football in an online reality show.

The Wembley TV series, called Dream On, is based on the principle of The Big Time, an American initiative in which contestants are "mentored, tested and challenged" by sports stars, including Budweiser- sponsored Nascar drivers.

The first thing the football club did with their windfall was build a new bar for the cameras.

Rugby league has long lived a lie

Rugby league relished one of its state occasions yesterday, the Challenge Cup final. These matches have a compelling narrative. Clubs are close to their communities, and neutrals are embraced as an integral part of "the greatest game".

The athletes are relentless, resilient and unspoiled by their status as local heroes. The sport has a complementary commitment to innovation and tradition.

Yet all is not as it appears. Rugby league remains a prisoner of the M62 corridor. Its problems are profound. It is subservient to its paymasters at Sky. It earns nothing from the title sponsor of Super League.

The fate of Bradford Bulls, which will be decided next week, is an indication of the dangers of financial mismanagement.

Participation rates have plunged, from 82,000 adults playing once a week to a baseline figure of 44,100.

Yet in the current cycle rugby league has been given £29,408,341 by Sport England, the quango who oversee grass-roots sport.

That is a grotesque waste of public money, yet the former England star Jamie Peacock is calling for a national stadium.

I was weaned on league's legends by my father, a Whitehaven supporter. But it has lived a lie for too long.

Lance verdict

This column recently addressed the Lance Armstrong case with a single question: martyr or monster? I've made my mind up. If he really is guilty, then he is the most manipulative, mendacious cheat sport has produced.

News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
Voices
Hunted: A stag lies dead on Jura, where David Cameron holidays and has himself stalked deer
voicesThe Scotland I know is becoming a playground for the rich
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
News
Shami Chakrabarti
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites Star Wars 7 rumours
Sport
football
News
news
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker