FA Cup Third Round: Has One of Football's Showpiece Weekends Lost Its Appeal?

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FA Cup Third Round: Has One of Football's Showpiece Weekends Lost Its Appeal?
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Tony Rains and Matthew Hanlan scored for Sutton United in the shock 2-1 win over top-flight club Coventry City in 1989.

To those of a certain vintage, the FA Cup third round and its preceding draw are highlights of the football calendar.

Sixty-four teams of all shapes and sizes thrown together in a velvet bag with no seedings to foul up the chances of a small club seizing their moment on the first weekend of every year.

However, in more recent years, the FA Cup has been diluted by the long shadow of television and the Football Association’s desire to meddle with the tournament.

Previously, the FA Cup draws took place on a Monday lunchtime with many crowding around a radio at work or school waiting to hear the outcome.

To their credit, ITV have made the third-round draw something of a programme in its own right, although the sight of Noel Gallagher and Kasabian guitarist Serge Pizzorno pulling out the balls in 2011 made a mockery of the sense of occasion.

Gone also are the six-match long ties of previous years, games are settled at the first replay stage, and don’t get us started on the FA decision to switch the FA Cup final kickoff to 5 p.m. in 2012.

Before the arrival of saturated live football, the FA Cup always offered slightly more for the armchair supporter.

Saturday evening’s Match of the Day was bounded previously by the terms and conditions of the football authorities, which deemed that no game could be advertised as being televised until after its completion.

But we all knew the FA Cup third round allowed highlights from an additional match to follow the usual two-match format.

Hereford United, Sutton United, Colchester and Blyth Spartans all wrote their names into our consciousness with FA Cup appearances on MOTD.

Similarly, ITV’s The Big Match and its regional variations would show further highlights on a Sunday lunchtime.

But it was the emergence of supplementary BBC commentator Alan Weeks from the TV hibernation of swimming and ice skating to cover the extra MOTD game, alongside John Motson and Barry Davies, which mattered most to those of us longing for more football.

So is this rose-tinted nostalgia or is the FA Cup third round still as relevant to football supporters? Let us know below.

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