Charms of the Cup are missed on TV

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport - By Daniel Ze­qiri

The first thing to note about tele­vi­sion cov­er­age of this year’s FA Cup fi­nal is the 90,000 ad­di­tional view­ers. The fans, fam­i­lies and well­re­freshed cor­po­rate guests who would have made the trip to Wem­b­ley – be­fore 2020 took over and en­cap­su­lated Philip

Roth’s de­scrip­tion of his­tory as the “re­lent­less un­fore­seen” – but had to be con­tent with a view from their sofa.

The task of recre­at­ing a Cup fi­nal day out for those de­nied its plea­sures is an im­pos­si­ble one for broad­cast­ers. A trip to Wem­b­ley is a many-lay­ered thing, al­though not with­out its drags. The sta­dium’s de­sign flaws guar­an­tee turn­stile log­jams, the choice of public houses in the vicin­ity re­mains truly dire, and the DJ’s pre-match in­sis­tence on play­ing land­fill pop mu­sic at a vol­ume which could rouse the vic­tims of the Black Death never gets less grat­ing.

Nev­er­the­less, it is a rare col­lec­tive ex­pe­ri­ence which binds us to the past: to the throngs of fans who walked up Wem­b­ley Way with their scarves and rosettes, paral­ysed with nerves just like us, but now long for­got­ten.

It is a folk­ish gath­er­ing of the peo­ple, not un­like the Ep­som Derby in its hey­day, with a cer­tain spir­i­tual res­o­nance: a pil­grim­age across the me­trop­o­lis to English foot­ball’s tem­ple on the hill. Un­like the Derby though, at­tend­ing the FA Cup fi­nal is con­tin­gent on your team get­ting there and thus out of one’s con­trol. For Wi­gan Ath­letic fans, it may be a once-in-a-life­time ex­pe­ri­ence. Manch­ester City sup­port­ers must be wear­ing out the train tracks to Eus­ton sta­tion.

At least Arse­nal and Chelsea’s fans had fa­mil­iar faces to greet them: BT Sport as­sem­bled a lineup of Rio Fer­di­nand, pun­ditry’s break­out star of the sea­son Joe Cole and Robin van Per­sie, while the BBC had Alan Shearer, Ash­ley Cole and Ian Wright safely dis­tanced on a Wem­b­ley bal­cony along­side Gary Lineker. This viewer opted to take in the ac­tion on the BBC, clearly a pop­u­lar choice be­cause its peak au­di­ence of 8.2 mil­lion made this the most watched game of the sea­son.

The FA Cup fi­nal is pos­si­bly the only fix­ture to re­ceive less tele­vi­sion cov­er­age and scru­tiny over time. Gone are the days of 8.30am starts, with cam­eras pok­ing around the team ho­tels as play­ers munch on their corn­flakes.

Cup fi­nal-themed edi­tions of BBC sta­ples such as Mas­ter­mind and It’s A Knock­out are but a mem­ory and their loss much lamented among fans of a cer­tain

BBC’s Cup fi­nal cov­er­age at­tracted 8.2m view­ers, mak­ing it the most watched game of the sea­son

vin­tage. As co­me­dian Tim Vine pleaded on Twit­ter: “Please cover this event prop­erly like you used to. Re­gards, Every sin­gle liv­ing foot­ball fan.”

It has been sur­pris­ing through­out Pro­ject Restart that tele­vi­sion com­pa­nies – who af­ter all are the ones pay­ing to keep this show on the road – have not lever­aged their im­mense power to de­mand greater ac­cess.

Ex­per­i­men­ta­tion has been in short sup­ply, de­spite pro­pos­als for on-pitch mi­cro­phones and footage of half-time team talks. Clubs have stood their ground and pro­tected the dress­ing-room oath of omerta.

So we had more of the old clas­sics in­stead: Lineker teas­ing Shearer about never win­ning the FA Cup, Wright’s ec­static cel­e­bra­tions in his splendid caramel suit, and Cole rooted to his chair when Pierre-Em­er­ick Aubameyang’s goals went in. The tra­di­tional Cup fi­nal hymn Abide

With Me was sung by Emeli Sande, who took so­cial dis­tanc­ing mea­sures to ex­treme lengths by stand­ing on the roof.

A homage to Lon­don took us on a tube jour­ney from the Emi­rates to Stam­ford Bridge and then Wem­b­ley, with West End Girls by the Pet Shop Boys and The Smiths’

Panic among a well-cu­rated sound­track.

This was also the Heads Up FA Cup fi­nal, a nod to the campaign en­cour­ag­ing peo­ple to talk about their men­tal health. Prince Wil­liam, the campaign’s fig­ure­head, watched the fi­nal on a big screen in a park along­side for­mer Arse­nal cap­tain Tony Adams, who en­dured many dark nights of the soul him­self and is some­one whose coun­sel should al­ways be sought on the sub­ject.

For Arse­nal fans, de­lighted though they were with the out­come, this fi­nal will al­ways be the miss­ing pho­to­graph in the al­bum. At least Chelsea fans were spared the silent jour­ney home.

Win­ning team: Gary Lineker hosted the BBC’s Cup fi­nal cov­er­age, joined by pun­dits Alan Shearer, Ash­ley Cole and Ian Wright

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