There's no such thing as a free lunch.
The FA are offering children the opportunity to watch FA Cup games in the Third Round for £1. When I first read about this last week, my initial reaction was positive. A noble effort to get more kids along to games, and what better games than the ones the FA Cup has to offer. To use the FA's own words:
"...to encourage parents to introduce their children to the magic and excitement of the FA Cup – for just £1 a ticket."
I know many clubs have done this for league games as well, and it is to be applauded. Dartford charged only £1 for the football fans of the future for their Second Qualifying Round tie against Camberley Town back in September. And my son loved it (as you may recall).
But hold on a minute. This £1 deal applies to only six of the thirty two ties:
Blackburn Rovers v Coventry City
Bolton Wanderers v Sheffield United
Huddersfield Town v Birmingham City
Plymouth Argyle v Hull City
Sunderland v Wigan Athletic
Wolverhampton Wanderers v Cambridge United
Why is that then?
Well, the FA say that they have made that selection based on a fair mix of geographical location and of ties involving teams from a variety of different leagues. Fair enough, most leagues are represented in that selection; Premiership (5 teams), Championship (5), League One (1) and Conference (1). But geographical location? Four of the six ties are "up North" - two in the North West, one in the North East and one in Yorkshire. Throw in a couple more from the South West and the Midlands, and that is not what I'd call an even geographical distribution.
No games from London. No games from the South East.
But then, I shouldn't be surprised. Looking at those six games selected, with the possible exception of Sunderland, none will be sold out to capacity. On the day, there will be empty seats in most of those stadiums, including my venue of fate, Molineux. And it comes as no surprise that some of the bigger clubs are not partaking. I would have thought Chelsea v QPR would have been an ideal choice; an opportunity to get kids along to see a team that continues to price many people out of the market. Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United are noticeable by their absence.
So the real deal slogan should be "bring your child for £1, with a full paying adult, so that we can get some bums on those otherwise empty seats and, as a result, makes for a financially better deal for the clubs." Doesn't really roll off the tongue, does it?
Am I'm being too cynical? Probably. Go on, take your kids along to a game that weekend. They'll love it. But you'll still have to buy them lunch.