The media coverage of the first round of the FA Cup last weekend has reaffirmed our need to re-evaluate our idea of what constitutes an FA Cup ‘shock’, says Tom Simmonds.
Chesham United won 1-0 at League Two high flyers Bristol Rovers. National League part-timers Altrincham overcame League One’s Barnsley by the same score at their Moss Lane ground. Crisis-engulfed Northampton Town’s unpaid players beat Coventry City at the Ricoh Arena. All three of these were genuine upsets, due to the disparity in standing and resources between the two teams pitted against one another. Yet they received curiously little attention in comparison to other instances of teams from lower leagues claiming more illustrious scalps.
Friday night’s televised encounter between the latest non-league club in Manchester United’s vicinity to attract a following, Salford City and Notts County, the oldest league club in England, was a perfect TV set piece on paper. Owing to Salford’s five former ‘Class of 92’ United players who now joint-own the club, they have benefitted from a boost in profile, aided by the two part BBC documentary shown on BBC1 in the fortnight before the cup -tie.
What Salford have also received from the involvement of the Neville brothers, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Nicky Butt is a financial rocket which is enabling them to hold down a play-off place in the Northern Premier League.
Friday’s game was not the usual cliché of the non-league club dragging a relatively aristocratic visitor to their level for 90 minutes. It was rather a game where an ascendant team owned by five multi-millionaires played at home to a struggling League Two side who have had 12 permanent managers in the last decade, and who have lived on a diet of almost perpetual misery and stolen dreams throughout that time. Salford’s win doesn’t look like so much like the fairytale the BBC and the rest of football’s commentary teams were desperate to portray it as.
If we look at some other ‘shocks’from the round a similar, if less overblown trend emerges; that of the wealthy non-league club beating impecunious league counterparts. Eastleigh, who beat Crewe 1-0 at Gresty Road, are one of the wealthier National League sides whose squad contains a number of players who could still play in the league, should they choose to. Crewe, whose manager Steve Davis has performed miracles in getting Crewe to League One and keeping them there since assuming control four years ago, are embroiled in another struggle at the foot of League One.
Likewise, National League table-toppers Forest Green’s 2-1 victory at AFC Wimbledon, a club who currently sit 15 places above them in the league pyramid, can hardly be called a surprise given the amount of money FGR’s owner, Dale Vince, continues to throw at the Nailsworth-based outfit’s bid to join the 92.
Two depressing conclusions can be drawn from the coverage of this weekend’s cup games. The first is another sharp reminder of how money and celebrity has desensitised the football-watching public to footballing romance. Salford’s win garnered a disproportionate amount of coverage, not just because of the team’s (notable) deeds, but because of the focus on the generosity/entrepreneurship of five graduates of the biggest Salford Lad’s Club of the lot towards the club.
Secondly, the media’s reaction to Salford’s win over the weekend, particularly after the results elsewhere rolled in was one which lacked nuance. This seeming refusal to look more deeply at the factors underlying that game, and those games which produced results more worthy of coverage, made certain outlets look both partial and ignorant in its coverage of one of the highlights of the English football calendar.
Do you agree that the coverage Salford’s win over Notts County received was excessive in light of other results? What was your highlight of the first round?
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