David Jones: Why lower league sides groaned when Sunderland were drawn at Arsenal

Sunderland face a quick return to Arsenal in the FA Cup
Sunderland face a quick return to Arsenal in the FA Cup
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Sorcery of the highest order may be required if there’s to be any magic for Sunderland in the cup this season.

An away tie at the Emirates is one of the toughest that could have befallen Big Sam – especially given Arsenal are striving to win the trophy for the third successive season.

Ironically, as Sunderland fans groaned at the draw, so too did the chairmen of every club lower down the pyramid still in the draw.

In those circles an FA Cup tie at the Emirates is the perfect scenario; it offers the possibility of much more than the unlikely prospect of an upset of biblical proportions.

It’s a plum tie because of the guarantee of a full stadium, enormous shared gate receipts and the possibility of extra television revenue on top.

All told, for a small club in Round Three it could add up to a payment of hundreds of thousands of pounds.

For Sunderland, already fattened by Premier League money, it’s small change but for a club in the third tier or lower it could transform their entire fortunes.

At that level – and I speak with experience here as a director of League Two Oxford United – making a profit is almost unheard of.

Conversations at boardroom level tend to revolve around how to reduce the debt year upon year; how to make progress as a football club while continuing to move towards the dream of sustainability.

It’s not impossible but it’s certainly out of reach for most.

Most clubs will not budget beyond the first round of the FA Cup so any extra income will be considered as a bonus.

It’s up to you then how you spend it.

Cambridge United hit the jackpot last season when they were drawn against Manchester United in Round Four, and then managed to take them to a replay at Old Trafford where they were beaten 3-0.

Both ties were televised and Cambridge pocketed well over £1m quid for their troubles.

Their manager Richard Money was handed much of the windfall in an inflated football budget at the start of this season and the club went on a shopping spree aimed at getting them out of League Two.

What happened? Possibly they lost a bit of that intangible spirit which took them so far the previous season, the new players didn’t gel into a team and Money was sacked before the end of November.

But you can use the money in many different ways to improve your football club: build new stands, enhance your facilities, invest in your academy or indeed to try and attract better players.

Previously I had argued we should do away with FA Cup replays, especially given how much football is already played over the congested festive period.

Now I realise this is the least Premier League clubs can do for their Football League cousins given how tough it already is to stay above water.

There is even an argument for seeding the competition at the third round stage to keep Premier League clubs apart and in the same stroke increasing the chances of a plum tie for lower league clubs.

Why not go further and pre draw the 20 PL teams away from home?

Instantly the FA Cup would become more exciting, increasing the chances of an upset and offering the reward of a money-spinning replay for those clubs who can hold on for 90 minutes.

I will watch with interest which games are chosen for live television coverage this time round.

It’s my hope that the TV companies ignore the all Premier League ties and instead try and find some romance, maybe somewhere other than Salford City who’ve been blessed with two live matches already and probably need the money less than anyone other non league side.

The dream for me would be to see Sunderland and Oxford pull off an upset – we’ve been drawn at home to Swansea – and then for us to meet in the next round, I’m not even sure Merlin could conjure that!