Blyth Spartans doesn’t often grab the attention of the BBC cameras. The northeast football club have had more than their fair share of giant killings in their FA Cup history, but once the broadcast vans have packed up then life tends to return to normal, with captain Robbie Dale going back to juggling bar work, sports massage and the weekly grind of the Northern Premier League.
But on Sunday, they’ll be in the spotlight once again. Final Score presenter Jason Mohammad will be throwing from the studio in Salford to a rocking Croft Park, after the BBC bought back the rights to show live FA Cup matches again for the first time in six years.
“I watched the FA Cup on the BBC and it just felt right,” Mohammad says. “I suppose I would say that as a BBC guy, but when you think what we’ll do with it now it is pretty incredible.”
Final Score will be on air from 1.55pm to 4.20pm, with live cameras at all nine 2pm kick-offs. BBC2 will take over with highlights from 6.30pm until 8pm. “Final Score is big. Football Focus and Match of the Day are doing what they usually do, but for us this is entirely different, playing the goals as they go in. It will be a real test of nerve and skill.”
The Welsh presenter has covered everything from rugby and football to the Commonwealth and Olympic Games. Talk of the good old days of FA Cup football inevitably leads back to that other nostalgic sporting throwback: Grandstand.
“The problem with that is whether there’s enough sport for a show like that,” Mohammad says. “There’s such a concentration on the football, that I think if you haven’t got Sky or anything else, people can’t wait for Match of the Day.”
But if the BBC is buying back into football, isn’t there enough airtime to use football as the backbone and then throw to other less high-profile sports?
The Welsh presenter says that on Welsh channel S4C they had started a show with exactly that premise, only with rugby rather than football as the bedrock. “On S4C they’ve just started a show called Clwb, and they’re on for three or four hours reflecting on the breaking stories in football, rugby and everything else. It feels like a throwback to the great days of Grandstand and World of Sport.”
However, he added, “I’m not sure whether that type of programme would work anymore, because there is such a huge concentration on the football.”
And even with the resources and time of the BBC, and all that football focus, there still isn’t enough time to keep every fan in the football pyramid happy.
“When I’m on the train coming back from Manchester to Cardiff on a Saturday night quite often I get fans complaining, ‘You never mention us!’” he says. “I had a Walsall fan on Twitter to say, ‘Why do you keep saying the Banks Stadium? It’s the Banks’s Stadium.’ I apologised to him, and he said, ‘No problem, I was watching at the ground.’ This programme has changed!”
The FA Cup will mean plenty more ground names to memories and fans to placate, not least the boys of Blyth Spartans, who play Altrincham in the first round this Sunday.
“The FA Cup was getting lost in the madness of the Champions League and the Premier League. The hope is everyone will now know when the draw is on, when the first and second rounds are playing. Plus it means another live match and a new show on the Sunday, so that can’t be bad can it?”