The FA Cup is back. How do I know? Because Sam Allardyce told me. The former Blackburn manager, who made up one quarter of a stellar panel (more of which later) on ESPN's all-day coverage of the Cup final, is not known for talking good sense but on Saturday he hit the nail on the head.
Responding to Ray Stubbs' suggestion that finishing fourth in the league had become more valuable, the big man bristled. "An FA Cup medal is something you will have for the rest of your life," he pointed out. "You might get knocked out in the first round of the Champions League."
Few could argue with that, although Robbie Savage, another of ESPN's analysts, probably wanted to. Dressed in a white suit, snazzy navy waistcoat and pointy white shoes, Savage was undoubtedly the D'Artagnan to Allardyce, Kevin Keegan and Frank Leboeuf's Three Musketeers. If Savage had the look, though, it was Allardyce who had the muscle. After Savage had suggested at half-time that a penalty was rightly not given for City defender Aleksandar Kolarov's handball, Sam's top lip curled. "You're having a laugh," he said. He might have been talking about Robbie's suit, actually.
ESPN's admirable effort to recreate the FA Cup finals of old by going on air at 11am did lead to some strange moments. Stuart Hall wittered on in his annoying way at one point, but the weirdest moment came with the appearance of pop star Stacey Solomon, who later sang the national anthem in that American accent so beloved of stage-school types. Stacey claimed to feel privileged to be invited into the presence of Stubbs and co, but Ray didn't really seem to take to the cockney chanteuse. "Nice to see you. See you later," he told her curtly at the end of her segment.
All the time, there was a countdown to kick-off icon in the corner of the screen, in case we forgot that it started at 3pm. The greatest excitement came with the news that Manchester City's coach was still four miles from the ground at about quarter to two. "They need to get here!" exclaimed a clearly concerned Stubbs. Two minutes later, it was panic over as ESPN brought us footage of the City coach pulling into Wembley.
ESPN, of course, weren't the only broadcaster showing the final. ITV had Peter Reid, Andy Townsend and Gareth Southgate on their panel, but it wasn't quite as boring as that sounds. Reid told a tale in the grand style of the "footballers always used to be pissed" school about the '85 final. Apparently Graham Sharpe and Andy Gray were puffed out after five minutes because the Everton boys had been drinking non-stop since their Cup Winners' Cup triumph on the Wednesday. Great days.
Reid's tale and the presence of the actual Cup in the ITV studio notwithstanding, it was the satellite broadcasters' day. An interview with Stoke chairman Peter Coates included the revelation that he was one of 14 children, although commentator Jon Champion said later that it was 17. Whichever, that's a lot.
By contrast, the national anthem was sung by what sounded like about 127 people, one of whom, ESPN showed us, was our pudgy PM David Cameron. Champion didn't sing the anthem – to be fair to him, he was working – but he had a decent game, although he should really cut out the Partridge-style whimsy. "It takes a certain sort to support City," he said at the end. Yes, Jon, it does. Mancunians. All of whom – just like ESPN – had something to celebrate on Saturday.Reuse content