Mark Carruthers: The magic of the FA Cup under the spotlight as clubs - including Hartlepool United - wait for TV picks

The weekend of the FA Cup third round is always one of the most exciting dates in any football season.

Thursday, 13th January 2022, 1:17 pm

A moment when the perceived lesser lights mix it with the giants of the game and have a chance to make national headlines and write themselves into club folklore.

The memories of giant-killings gone past are easily recalled with the likes of Hereford, Yeovil Town and Stevenage all sending shivers down the spine for North East supporters.

A whole host of non-league clubs have created reputations as fearsome giant-killers in the competition after producing a series of shock wins down the years.

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Mark Carruthers' non-league verdict.

Our very own Blyth Spartans are right at the top of any list when it comes to discussing non-league clubs to be feared in the FA Cup after racking up a list of notable scalps throughout their long and proud history.

Altrincham, Woking and Kidderminster Harriers have also surprised a few - and the latter continued to do so over the weekend.

The National League North club progressed into the fourth round of the competition with a stunning 2-1 win against a Reading containing former Premier League title winner Danny Drinkwater and Alen Halilovic - once of Barcelona, no less!

They were not the only non-league club to spring a shock as National League side Boreham Wood - led by the impressive Luke Garrard - saw off AFC Wimbledon to reach the fourth round for the first time in their history.

There were two other non-league clubs in action with Yeovil Town putting up a dogged and determined show in a 3-1 defeat against Championship title challengers AFC Bournemouth.

And National League title favourites Chesterfield enjoyed a memorable away day at Chelsea, despite going down to a 5-1 defeat at the home of the reigning Champions League winners.

Despite seeing their side heavily beaten by a Blues side full of international players, it seems unlikely that Spirerites supporters will ever forget the moments that followed Awasi Asante’s consolation goal.

There is, sadly, a common theme when it comes to all four fixtures - they were incredibly ignored by broadcasting companies across the country.

ITV and the BBC have produced exceptional coverage of the competitions in the past but they seem to have lost some sense of the magic created on third round weekend.

The non-league quartet saw their moment in the sun snubbed in favour of some fixtures that did little to inspire.

Incredibly, two of the six ties selected for live coverage were what would be considered as run-of-the-mill games had the been Premier League fixtures.

West Ham’s home clash with Leeds and Aston Villa’s visit to Manchester United hardly ooze with the magic of the world’s greatest domestic cup competition.

There is a chance of a reprieve for the broadcasting companies after both Kiddy and Boreham Wood were handed eye-catching draws in the fourth round.

The latter will face a significant challenge as they visit Bournemouth and there will be Premier League opposition for Harriers as they welcome West Ham to Aggborough, almost 30 years after the two sides met in a fifth round tie.

And although this column is primarily focused on non-league football, it seems almost unthinkable that Hartlepool United - a National League club as recently as May last year - will not receive live coverage of their visit to Crystal Palace.

Certainly the history of the tie suggests a live broadcast would be worthwhile given Pools claimed a 1-0 against a Palace containing the likes of Nigel Martyn, Chris Coleman and Geoff Thomas In a third round tie in 1993.

Pools have enjoyed a remarkable run in this season’s competitions by continually defying the odds against higher-level opposition as their supporters are already dreaming of what should be another memorable night in the capital.

Earlier wins against League One opposition in Wycombe Wanderers and Lincoln City caught the eye - but Graeme Lee and Michael Nelson’s men hit a new high at the weekend with a fine 2-1 win against Championship side Blackpool.

Palace, with their mix of established Premier League players and promising youngsters, will provide a different level of challenge - but it is a tie that should capture the imagination of supporters around the country and the broadcasting companies.

The FA Cup has a legacy of underdog stories that is almost unrivalled in any cup competition around the globe.

But far too often, broadcasting companies that laud the magic of the cup in the early rounds become starry eyed over Premier League giants when third round weekend arrives.

It is wonderful to see the BBC and ITV return coverage of the FA Cup to terrestrial television after Sky and BT Sport both live broadcast of ties behind their subscription service.

But the decision to snub clubs that have gone above and beyond and created lifelong memories for supporters, managers and players alike is one that baffles me.

There have been many clear indicators of the increasingly cynical world of modern football but foregoing the romantic side of the FA Cup in favour of routine fixtures between top tier sides ranks at the very top of them.

They have a chance for a reprieve when fourth round weekend arrives - Pools, Harriers and Boreham Wood all deserve the opportunity to show what they can do in front of a live television audience.

Their story, after all, is what the FA Cup is truly all about.

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