When I was growing up, the FA Cup Final was a really big thing. For football supporters, like me, it was the pinnacle of the season, and, even for non-football followers, it was probably the one time of the year when they took an interest in the sport.
In the days leading up to the final, at school, groups would be formed around allegiances to the two different teams due to play in the final. Football matches in the playground would be played out between the competing sides, non-monetary bets would be taken, and the normal playground rivalries would re-arrange themselves around new loyalties.
And then, on the day, both the major TV channels (we had a lot less choice in those days), would devote hours of coverage to the big game. There would be celebrity supporters taking on challenges, Celebrity “It’s a Knockout“, and football matches between sets of supporters of the two teams. If you happened to be out and about, the streets and shops would be especially busy up until about 2pm, and then they would be deserted as everyone rushed home to catch the build-up to kick off.
All this has gradually been eroded, overtaken by the concerns of sponsors and Pay TV providers. It’s a process which, for me, culminated in this year’s final being moved to a 5:15pm kick off to meet the needs of the broadcasters. And it took place on a day when there was lots of other football going on. In the past there would be no other matches on Cup Final Day.
So, have we lost something in all this? I think we have lost something in terms of the community spirit and shared experience that use to be part of the Cup Final extravaganza. Now, it’s just another football match, and I think the sponsors and TV companies have missed the point in doing what they have done with it.
And so, as you might expect, I have an idea. In a similar spirit to the Alternative Boat Race proposal that I “floated” a few weeks ago, I am proposing the Community Cup Final. Is there a community out there up for the idea of running a day (a Saturday, of course) of events themed on the old approach to the FA Cup Final? So, we’d have “It’s a Knockout”-style events, school kids playing football matches and producing art and creative work based around their favourite teams, community singing (including, of course, “Abide with Me”), and all sorts of crazy hilarity, leading up till 3pm. Then, at 3pm, if the broadcasters have seen the errors of their ways, we’ll repair to the village hall, community centre, or local pub, to watch the match, but, if they’ve not, then 3pm will see the kick off of a major #twicket-style football match between two local teams of bitter rivals. Oh, and it will all be live-streamed to the internet.
The broadcasters and advertisers can’t be allowed to take our community spirit away from us. Who’s in the for the fightback?