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It’s a long time since I saw my first ever FA Cup tie. It was a 1-0 3rd round win against Bournemouth & Boscombe Athletic in 1961. John Connelly scored the goal and, for what it’s worth, the game kicked off at 3 o’clock on Saturday afternoon, 7th January.

When the FA Cup games were played on a Saturday afternoon
When the FA Cup games were played on a Saturday afternoon

There were almost 25,000 there to see the game against a team hovering close to the bottom of the Third Division while two weeks later there were just over 15,000 at the Turf to see the current league champions lose 1-0 against West Brom in a Division One game

It’s almost 58 years ago and it was a time when winning the FA Cup carried more prestige than winning the league. We reached the semi-finals that year and went one round further in the next season, losing out both times to Spurs. Having beaten Bournemouth, we travelled to Brighton in the next round while Spurs had home games against Charlton and Crewe, and all those games, significantly, kicked off at 3 p.m. on Saturday afternoon.

We know the competition is nothing like it was and was never likely to be with football on television now having reached saturation point. Back in those two seasons mentioned, the only domestic games shown live on television were the two FA Cup finals, Leicester v Spurs and Burnley v Spurs. Cup final day, even for supporters of other clubs, was a day to look forward to. We all sat in front of our small, black and white television sets, probably from around 10 a.m. until after the winning captain had lifted the trophy and his team had gone on what was then the traditional lap of honour.

We can’t go back to those days and probably wouldn’t want to. I can’t imagine football supporters, for instance, turning up at Wembley on final day now and taking part in the community signing with Arthur Caiger. I can’t imagine, as we did then, sneaking old transistor radios into school on a Monday to listen to the lunchtime draw.

So, for all but a few clubs, the magic of the cup really is no more. It’s brilliant for the finalists, although that’s been ruined by them having already played at Wembley in the semi-finals and then getting some daft kick off time, and it is brilliant for the clubs who go on unexpected cup runs as we found out to our cost with Lincoln two seasons ago.

When the 3rd round draw was made just over a week ago, it was described during the BBC programme as being one of the highlights of the football calendar. In some ways it still is, as is FA Cup third round day, or so it should be.

There are 32 ties, as always, in this round, but the FA have sold their soul to overseas broadcasters which means 22 of those ties will NOT be played on Saturday afternoon at 3 p.m.

It all starts with Tranmere or Southport v Spurs. What a tie that is, the sort the FA Cup is all about. For the supporters and people involved at whichever club stages the tie, be it Tranmere or Southport, it will, or should, be a very special occasion. For the Spurs’ fans, there’s also probably some ground ticking to do. It’s always fun visiting a new ground.

Sadly, the spectacle has been diminished somewhat with BT Sport grabbing it and showing it on Friday night, but then the whole round, the whole competition, becomes a farce. Of 22 ties played on the Saturday, seven kick off at 12:30 p.m. and five at 5:30 p.m. leaving just ten to kick off at the traditional time. That leaves eight ties to be played on the Sunday, seven of them at 2 p.m. and one at 4:30 p.m. with the final tie, that between Wolves and Liverpool, to be played on the Monday.

When we drew Barnsley I was certain that we would have a Saturday afternoon kick off at 3 p.m. There was no way this game was going to be selected by the likes of the BBC who get so confused with the two clubs they often refer to one when they mean the other. I didn’t think they would be interested even if it was billed as Burnsley v Barnley.

So, I was amazed when our club revealed that it was a 12:30 p.m. kick off and then I remembered the deal the FA struck with overseas broadcasters that allows them to select 14 ties on top of the six being shown domestically. It’s the first year of a six year deal so get used to it, this will continue right into 2024.

Don’t worry though, for all the inconvenience to supporters, we will, I’m told, pocket the grand total of £50,000 from this deal.

The FA Cup used to have its magic, it had lessened significantly. Now, it has all but gone. Did football ever really care about its fans?

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