I need to get this off my chest. It is something that annoys me this time every year. Each and every year it's the same. Please bear with me, this won't take long.
In an early post, I bemoaned the fact that, as the FA Cup progresses through the rounds, it will inevitably lose some of the "romance" as smaller clubs and the non-league outfits fall by the wayside. One of my comments (back in early November) was this:
"the BBC always chose to televise a dull all-Premier League tie in the Third Round"
And, low and behold, the BBC's choice for the first live game of the Third Round Proper is Aston Villa v Manchester United.
Now, don't get me wrong, I have nothing against either club. Both are playing good football this season, and it should be a most entertaining game. But why? Why, BBC, why?
The FA Cup has so much to offer. The real appeal, surely, is the prospect of a team punching above their weight. Villa v United just doesn't do that for me. It doesn't scream out "FA Cup" to me, not just yet anyway. It may do if it were a semi-final tie, but not at this stage of the competition.
The BBC will position themselves well to defend this selection. They will argue based on the amount of support there is for both clubs. But don't we already see enough of these teams on TV? Match of the Day (or Match of the Day 2) every week shows, as a minimum, their goals. If not, then highlights. Both feature heavily in Sky live games. And now also on Setanta. Not too mention ITV's coverage of United's Champions League games.
As a child, the FA Cup final on TV was the only live game that you could watch from the comfort of the living room. It was the occasion of the season, the highlight of the football calendar. It was the rarest of treats. FA Cup final day viewing would start around nine or ten o'clock on the Saturday morning; I would fight, with my brother and friends, for the best vantage point on the sofa, from a very early hour. And sit mesmerised in the same position, all day. For one simple reason; a live game on TV was a novelty. It didn't really matter who was playing.
Now, we are spoilt for choice. And I hate to say this, but for me the FA Cup final as a televisual spectacle has lost that attraction that it once held. It may still be a big fish, but it has been engulfed in a big pond with many other big fish to swim against.
How many times have Villa met United in the FA Cup? This will be the fourth time in seven seasons, all in the Third Round Proper. And it is not the first time the BBC have chosen the exact same tie to beam into our front rooms.
So go on BBC, be brave. There are so many interesting Third Round games that could be screened instead. Games that really do scream "FA Cup" at me. OK, BBC will also be screening Burnley v Arsenal and Stoke City v Newcastle United, which isn't too bad. But what is wrong with getting Havant & Waterlooville on the box instead? It would be great for the club. Or Bury at Norwich City? Colchester United v Peterborough United? Or (dare I say it) Cambridge United at Wolves? The later rounds will no doubt be packed with all Premiership ties, so why not wait until then?
This is why there is a commonly held view that the FA Cup has lost some of it's old sparkle and shine. If the BBC keep offering up live matches that involve clubs that the armchair fans are used to watching week in, week out, then those same fans become immune to them.
Lets have a bit of variety, and a bit of imagination.
Bring back the romance. Give the smaller clubs a little limelight. Isn't that what the FA Cup is all about? Or am I totally missing the point? I know the BBC will never change, and each season I will find myself asking the same question.