Last weekend saw the prestigious First Round of the Emirates FA Cup, where little-known non-league sides like Westfields, Curzon Ashton, Merstham, Spennymoor United and Harrow Borough locked horns with established Football League sides like Sheffield United, Portsmouth and Bolton Wanderers.
As usual, there were one or two surprises, with National League side Macclesfield Town’s win at League One Walsall probably the headline grabber. Elsewhere, Brackley Town of the National League North gave Gillingham a fright before settling for a 2-2 draw, while Maidstone United were just seconds away from ousting a Rochdale side from two divisions above them. Any of these results, you might think, could put these non-league sides in with a shout of winning the Emirates FA Cup Club of the Round award.
Or could they? In the last round, which was the Fourth Qualifying Round and the final stage before the bigger clubs enter, the competition organisers surprised many by awarding Club of the Round to National League North side Altrincham following an unremarkable 3-1 win against seventh-tier Matlock Town. This was despite the likes of Westfields, Merstham and Stamford beating clubs several leagues above them in the football pyramid.
When quizzed about this via Twitter, The Emirates FA Cup explained that the award recognises marketing efforts. It seems that those designating the award have decided that innovative and committed efforts to social media promotion of games should trump FA Cup results, at least in these early stages.
Hi Liam. The Club of the Round award recognises sides' marketing of their #EmiratesFACup fixtures.
— Emirates FA Cup (@EmiratesFACup) October 24, 2016
At Engage Web, we’re certainly not ones to play down the importance of social media marketing, and the Robins did indeed go the extra mile in the run-up to their game, promoting their Alty Ale and even baking and tweeting a pie in honour of the fixture. However, to reward the business and administrative side of football ahead of the achievements of part-time footballers on the pitch seems a little cold to me. While Twitter can more than play a role in the excitement of the competition, isn’t it really all about 22 men on a pitch over 90 minutes rather than what clubs are doing with their social media accounts?
— Altrincham FC (@altrinchamfc) October 15, 2016
Also, since it’s difficult to market an away fixture, it means that only clubs drawn at home can realistically win the award. How can a club like Barrow, who undertook a 600-mile trip to Taunton Town on Sunday, promote that fixture effectively?
A separate award for online marketing would be a great introduction, but really online marketing should be its own reward, because it works! Clubs who go out of their way to sell their fixtures in clever and wholehearted ways are likely to benefit from more supporters at the game, so clubs shouldn’t need an incentive to do this as though it’s some sort of novelty.
What Twitter and Facebook can’t do is gain non-league clubs the on-the-pitch memories for which the FA Cup is famous. That job is down to the postmen, plasterers and taxi drivers turning out for their local sides and striving to make the sports headlines the following day.