"On third-round weekend," declared Matt Smith at the beginning of ITV's FA Cup round-up on Saturday evening, "the footballing stories come thick and fast." And if you thought that a slightly meaningless remark, a montage (people peering out of their bedroom windows into tiny non-league grounds, excited fans, mascots goofing about) quickly made it clear what he was driving at: the third round is all about upsets, about the little guys getting one over on the big boys. Except, of course, that it isn't.
The truth is that genuine, 24-carat upsets are rare. That became clear as soon as the first game came on: Swindon v Wigan. Now I suppose this was an upset in the sense that Wigan are in a higher division than Swindon, but in terms of the historic sizes of the clubs, it seemed about right. Before the game, the sides had played each other 10 times, resulting in three wins each and four draws. If this is the best "upset" Saturday's action could provide, they were clearly thin on the ground.
Of course, Swindon's prominence wasn't just about the result: their manager is Paolo Di Canio, the sort of character television cherishes. Sporting a bar scarf tied in the Italian manner, he gave ITV what it was looking for with a slightly strange comment about "bruises in the eyes". "Thanks, Paolo," said Smith, smirking – although about what wasn't clear, since it was far from the dopiest thing said on the programme.
Take the statement addressed by ITV's man at the ground to Di Canio: "To see you at the final whistle was to understand what it meant to you on so many levels today." Er, quite. Putting aside the bit about "so many levels" – because I can't fathom it – this translates as "you looked quite excited; the Cup is still really, really important, isn't it?" Paolo, happily, does think the Cup is still really, really important. "When you beat a team like Wigan," he said, "well, this is the best moment in my life."
Which was more interesting than Roberto Martinez's excuse. "They had that little bit of luck that you need," he claimed. "That little bit of luck," is turning into a little bit of a managerial cliché, but ITV clearly wasn't running scared of clichés on Saturday. Paul Ince, one of the summarisers, got in on the action. "He is a very emotional guy," he said of Di Canio. These Italians, eh, Incey?
Gordon Strachan didn't think it was such a bad day for Martinez. "You are talking to someone," he told Smith, "who once got beat by Clyde in a cup tie. It does'nae get any worse than that. People ask you afterwards: 'How do you feel?'" It's a silly question, Gordon, but it's still a few notches above that line about "so many levels" put to Di Canio, not least because it is, at least, brief.
ITV's problem with regard to the paucity of genuine upsets was brought into even sharper relief when the second match to be featured was Liverpool v Oldham, a game which took place on Friday evening and which resulted in a 5-1 victory for the Premier League side. What ITV was more interested in, of course, was the alleged racist abuse shouted at Oldham Athletic's Tom Adeyemi by a spectator during the game. That put the Cup in its place: less important than the ongoing racist furore surrounding Liverpool FC. Which, when you think about it, is depressing "on so many levels".Reuse content