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Monday, November 09, 2009

ITV's FA Cup upset

ITV chose a song by indie band The Enemy for their theme to the FA Cup this season.

It seemed an appropriate choice, after all, the broadcaster has made a few of them over the years with their coverage.

As one of them, it was with a heavy heart and the feeling I was making a huge sacrifice - the game was on BBC 5 Live Sports Xtra too - that I decided to tune in for the entire coverage. What did ITV have to offer?

Their choice of the game pitting the lowest ranked side Paulton Rovers against League One highflyers Norwich always appeared flawed.

The former mining village is just down the road from a place called Midsomer Norton, which sounds like the kind of quaint place where half the population are wiped out by a vengeful maniac in one of ITV's flagship dramas.

There was no giant-killing for John Nettles to investigate here though. The chances of the Westcountry side, 119 places below their in-form opponents, always seemed less than remote.

Instead
Norwich's 7-0 routing of the Non-League nobodies make a mockery of presenter Matt Smith's claim that the cameras had come to see an upset. Still, I "lived the dream," as the Paulton mantra went, and sat down to see whether my scepticism of ITV and their choice of game could be proved wrong.

"It's their X Factor moment," roared Smith as Paulton's collection of kitchen fitters and mechanics introduced themselves to the camera.

Only the talent show's impressario Simon Cowell could have been pleased with the free plug considering the nausea-inducing parade of players telling us which position they'd be exposed in. Does anyone know the point of ITV doing these?

A couple of minutes later, and, relief - they were over, with Smith handing over to commentator and everyone's favourite closet-Manchester United fan, Clive Tyldesley. Well, perhaps 'relief' was the wrong word.

There's a well known game amongst football fans to observe just how long it takes our Clive to mention his beloved Red Devils despite them having no relevance in the commentary.

Perhaps he's begun to realise, although I couldn't help but smile at the image of him bursting to get out their name but desperately trying to restrain himself. (For the record, he finally cracked 10 seconds into the second half.)

Neverthless, it was standard Tyldesley fare - the comparisons about the side's next two games, and observing he was fortunate enough to be watching football in Rome and Lyon in midweek before his journey to the outskirts of Bristol.

The first half was horribly one sided. Norwich racing into a 3-0 lead by the break, with two goals from striker Grant Holt, roundly booed by the home support presumably for just being talented.

Shouts from the Paulton fans centred around his weight and birth circumstances, before they began tucking into their pasties and pies to console themselves that, for all their effort, their team were being comfortably outplayed by a side in top form under Paul Lambert.

Striker Rob Claridge with the home side's best chance when a mis-kick from Canaries keeper Declan Rudd presented him with an open goal. His wild blast over as way off as namesake Steve's punditry.

Half-time came and back to Smith and Andy Townsend whose pearls of wisdom included declaring, "This isn't cricket," and undermining the career of League One hitman Holt who he described as having "scored a lot of goals at this level."

Like the fat child who surrounds himself with even bigger children just to look slightly less plump, ITV wheeled out Norwich owner Delia Smith to cover Townsend's blushes.

Delia professed to having been "biting her nails" on the way down and described Paulton as having played "really well." It was either the most insincere interview in history or she had been on the sherry a bit earlier.

Her reluctance therefore, despite the coaxing of reporter Gabriel Clarke, to tuck into a slice of the club's complimentary coffee cake was probably ill-advised.

As the second half resumed,
Tyldesley was almost apologetic, knowing that the game was over as a spectacle.

Norwich striker Chris Martin celebrates yet another goal against Paulton

The home crowd, most of whom were attending their first ever game judging by the ignorance of their chants (at one stage "4-0 to the referee!" Really?) proudly displayed a 'Village Army' banner. The Village People would have offered greater resistance.

3-0 became 4, then 5, 6, and 7 as the East Anglians ran riot. Still, Tyldesley enjoyed regaling us with anecdotes about the Paulton players, including nippy winger and Argos sales-assistant Ben Lacey. "Give him your ticket and your goods come back in double time," he quipped. Presumably someone was amused.

The songs of "Paulton 'til I die" (or at least until the end of the game) soon gave way to the strains of the Norwich fans, looking forward to their long trip back to Norfolk after this Somerset stroll.

The biggest game in the home side's 128-year history had turned into a big defeat. For Rovers and ITV talk of an upset had, like the playing of bagpipes that greeted the players on their way onto the pitch, simply been a lot of hot air.

Nobes.

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