Melton Times sports editor’s blog: Magic of the FA Cup? Time to change the record

Portsmouth celebrate FA Cup glory ion 2008 EMN-150130-165410002
Portsmouth celebrate FA Cup glory ion 2008 EMN-150130-165410002
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As hard as it is, perhaps, for younger viewers to imagine today, Paul Daniels was box office gold in the 1980s.

Daniels was the nation’s most recognisable illusionist and rabbit-out-of-the hat merchant. The man was BBC Saturday night primetime.

That was until the magic carpet was pulled from beneath his feet when David Copperfield came along and made the Statue of Liberty disappear.

Decades on the BBC, it seems, is still trying to flog us questionable magic - now it’s the FA Cup.

I can only guess at the number of times the phrase “magic of the cup” has been repeated across the BBC’s media platforms so far this season. Boy are they pleased to have it back.

But magic, just like romance and emotion, doesn’t need explaining or emphasising.

If it does, it fails the test.

Often we’re reminded “that’s the magic of the cup” as another Goliath is rumbled by plucky David.

Or the pundits and presenters bristle against imaginary detractors as if they’re arguing with themselves in the mirror, “and they say the magic of the cup is dead”.

When it comes to sport I’m a bluff old traditionalist of the worst sentimental kind.

I appreciate the twee, romanticised image of big matches played in tiny ramshackle grounds on pitches little more evolved from their potato patch origins.

For many of us, our earliest and fondest sporting memories are dominated by FA Cup finals.

Whole days camped in front of the TV while the BBC ramped up the excitement to fever pitch with a series of increasingly bizarre preview pieces.

A favourite pre-final curiosity was Gary Lineker’s snooker match with Mark Lawrenson in an odd Pot Black spin-off before the 1986 Liverpool-Everton final.

The game itself could sometimes be the least enjoyable part of the day.

For me it was always channel one, never the commercial interlopers over on ITV.

The Beeb were the grand old men of sports broadcasting – they had cast-iron authority and weighty provenance on their side. ITV had the wrestling and World of Sport.

We trusted the BBC to hit the right tone, to do the right thing by the cup.

So who decided to park the latest eagerly-anticipated draw within The One Show?

Fair play to the Beeb for bringing the cup to a primetime audience, but using the show’s presenter Alex King to conduct the draw?

The choices made were incongruous and hardly befit the FA Cup-as-holy-grail mantra the corporation has fought hard to portray.

Maybe Chris Evans could referee the cup final for a hoot?

Or instead of a penalty shoot-out, Len Goodman could judge a dance-off.

Maybe such tactics tell us BBC producers of a certain generation are like me, worried the lustre of the cup will soon disappear for good unless we broaden its appeal.

League football has long since outstripped cup and even international formats, barring World Cups and European Championships.

I was outraged the first time commentators dared to suggest fans cared more for their domestic clubs than England, until I came to realise they were dead right.

The cup still retains that wonderful, mythical essence for non-league teams, a passport to the impossible for part-time players to take on the aristos of professional football.

But even in the bottom rungs of the league, knockout competitions are an unwanted distraction from their chief revenue source of league football, at least until you reach the quarter-finals. Attendances bear out this sad fact.

Football clubs and fans, it would appear, like the cup, but not a lot.