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TV Wrap: BBC struggle to liven up another boring Manchester City triumph

Gary Lineker would have been better off saying ‘another win for the bloodless and efficient use of capital’ and cutting straight to the Eurovision.

THE BBC’S COVERAGE of the FA Cup has been easy prey for the bottom-feeding sports-on-television columns of Ireland for decades. 

It has been a kind of selection box of Brexitesque British delusion, what with its romantacising of a long-lost past and the wrongheaded belief it can be pressed onto the present; seen in the ceaseless grafting of Liverpool’s losing to Wimbledon in 1988 onto whichever Premier League team happens to have a third-round tie away to Rotherham. 

Manchester City v Watford - FA Cup Final - Wembley Stadium The Magic of the Cup. Source: Nick Potts

The Cup stopped mattering as a serious competition when Manchester United didn’t bother to enter it in 1999, yet the Beeb are still talking fondly of it and taking up the cudgels against the latest manager to “disrespect it.”

‘The Magic of the Cup’ has been so mocked and derided over the years it is now among a select few phrases which signify the opposite of what is supposed to stand for, like ‘Strong and Stable’, or ‘Jones and Smalling.’ 

On Saturday afternoon’s broadcast of the Cup final, however, the Beeb kept this twee shtick to a minimum. 

We got all of the affected habit, alright – the needlessly long build-up, the fantastically dull Abide With Me, the sharper suits, the balding English prince, the folksy Gary Lineker dig at Alan Shearer’s record of losing cup finals – but otherwise they dutifully laid the narrative groundwork on the off-chance they would be splattered with the blood of a giant-killing. 

Lineker stressed the monstrous gap between the two sides; “It’s David and Goliath for me”, sagely confirmed Ian Wright. 

Wright ended up predicting Watford would win, on the principle that if you wish hard enough, it might just happen.  

The closing stages were sound-tracked by commentator Guy Mowbray roaring, “Gomes stops City from breaking the record!” as the Watford ‘keeper prevented John Stones from making it 7(SEVEN)-0. 

It wasn’t David against Goliath; this was Goliath against himself, with all the tension of a Gospel reading. 

“Well, another win for the bloodless and efficient use of capital!”, Lineker didn’t say afterward. 

He might as well have said it as there wasn’t a whole lot more to add.

“What more can we say about Manchester City?”, wondered Mowbray aloud as Shearer admitted that he was “losing words” to describe City’s brilliance. 

Manchester City v Watford - FA Cup Final - Wembley Stadium Kevin De Bruyne with Alexander Zinchenko. Source: Nigel French

Jermaine Jenas deployed the rich vocabulary of the higher-end Done Deal ad in deference to the winners: “ruthless, a machine”, enthused the man who had earlier picked substitute Kevin De Bruyne as man of the match, presumably just for something to talk about. 

There are, of course, some things to say about Manchester City, but the Beeb were happy to treat them as an Irish family might treat a major trauma. They were briefly eluded to and then nudged into the background upon shared understanding. 

Lineker made oblique reference to “controversial investment” during the game’s prelude, and after the game the trio agreed that City’s potential Champions League ban was a “shadow hanging over them.”

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Ian Wright said that “a lot of people will dig them out about what’s going on”, in that if-you-don’t-know-what’s-going-on-we’re-not-going-to-tell-you style that football punditry has been forced to pioneer at the World Cups that have fallen into the hands of autocrats and bastards.

Wright, however, assured us that he won’t begrudge them all of this success, given how “incredible” their football is, later adding that City “are innocent unless they are proven guilty.”

There was a bit of idle chatter about whether City are the dominant force at the moment – everyone agreed that they are – and whether they are the best English team ever – Shearer said yes, Wright said he still fancies Arsenal’s Invincibles as Hey! It’s something to say.

At one point, Lineker responded to Bernardo Silva’s promising that City would improve next season by praising the player’s command of English. Again – something to say. 

They dutifully ran through the goals and the incidents in the game, amid an atmosphere about as charged as a provincial Accountants’. 

On the Beeb’s highlights show later that night, Alex Scott foretold further City dominance, while Homes Under the Hammer host Dion Dublin – ever the fixer-upper – reckoned that Pep has already identified the couple of places in this squad that needed improving.

As the pundits yammered their identical platitudes, a City fan burst into the press box to put flesh on the phenomenon of fans tweeting reporters in complaint at their supposed “Liverpool wankfest.” 

“We’ve done the domestic treble, no one’s done it before”, he roared, “and you’ll all have Mo Salah on the back of the fucking papers tomorrow.”

Even Pep Guardiola was annoyed about a supposed lack of media celebration of their title win, saying that “If Liverpool had won the Premier League it would have been an “incredible” achievement, when City win it is, “oh, it’s OK. It’s an achievement”, going on to add that City fans are “incredibly satisfied.”

But as the BBC proved on Saturday, what else is there to say?

Aside from talking about the off-field achievements of interesting men like Vincent Kompany and Raheem Sterling, their on-field achievements are so routine as to have become boring; the only really interesting thing about City about the moment is that they seem to lack the corrective decadence of the ultra-powerful. 

Instead, they have become another algorithm of our age, coldly and constantly perfecting itself to stay ahead of everybody else, all orchestrated by a power so enormous as to be difficult to comprehend.

The richest team in the competition winning comprehensively, regardless of how they do it, is a pretty uninteresting storyline, hence why City are not getting the lengthy tributes they feel they deserve. Danny Blanchflower’s enduring summary of football states that the game is about “glory”, rather than “winning.”

There’s a subtle difference there, and it is heard in the silences and repetitions of television pundits. 

The FA Cup at the moment finds itself subject to the wider stasis in popular culture, and its thirsty demand for nostalgia, reboots and sequels amid precious little originality and invention. 

With the present subject to the natural end of enormous inequality, why wouldn’t the BBC obsess over the FA Cup’s hazy past? It’s a heck of a lot more interesting than what’s going on now.  

So this column has been wrong all along: the death of the FA Cup will not be brought by its biggest club ignoring it, but by their taking it seriously. 

About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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