Message from Chichester City makes it loud and clear - the FA Cup is alive and kicking

Just for a few seconds, a couple of minutes before 7pm, Mark Chapman couldn’t hear in his ear-piece whatever he should have been hearing.

Friday, 15th November 2019, 11:00 am
Updated Friday, 15th November 2019, 12:02 pm
Mark Bright and Dion Dublin do the honours / Picture by Neil Holmes

A lady was summoned. She fiddled with a connection at the back of the presenter’s jacket and all was well again.

Next thing we knew, Chapman was making his way through the crowded Oaklands Park clubhouse, talking to a camera and to all the viewers in their front rooms, insulting Dion Dublin on the way, and we were off and running.

And if Chapman had been having difficulty hearing something a few minutes earlier, neither he nor anyone in the immediate vicinity had any trouble hearing the cheer that went up when he announced he and his TV team were at Chichester City.

And the noise was even louder halfway through the programme when Dublin pulled out Chi’s ball, No 40, immediately after Mark Bright had given Tranmere or Wycombe a home tie.

This was the latest chapter of Chichester City’s remarkable – and at times frankly surreal – FA Cup adventure.

As Chapman said at the top of the show, which was screened live on BBC2, City are the first team for 70 years to start out in the extra preliminary round and get all the way to the second round.

That’s why the Beeb’s football frontmen and their army of technical and support staff, plus enough cameras, monitors and cables to film a Hollywood blockbuster, were in town.

And didn’t the Chi City contingent enjoy their visit.

City’s players, staff and management, plus relatives and some of their junior teams’ players, were there early enough to see the draw and other aspects of the programme rehearsed. By the time the clubhouse was being beamed live to the nation, the place was packed. The beer was flowing and the buffet was being demolished as brutally as Leyton Orient’s FA Cup hopes had been a day earlier by Maldon & Tiptree, the other eighth-tier club still in the Cup with Chi.

When you’ve lived through as many FA Cup seasons as I have (my first tie seen live was Pompey v Hereford, round one, 1982) and tuned into as many draws as I have, it’s quite something to see it live.

It’s impressive stuff.

You can see why Chapman has risen to become one of BBC Sport’s top presenters.

With chaos all around him and non-league chairmen and secretaries being moved around like chess pieces so he could interview them in the right order, he made the whole thing look easy.

Dublin and Bright played their part too, conducting the draw with good humour and, in Bright’s case, without leaving a ball in the bag and causing Cup confusion.

Chapman found time to interview Chi’s manager, captain, chairman and surfer.

It was the latter, Scott Jones, master of the surf as well as the Oaklands Park turf, who provided more laughs than a BBC2 sitcom, insisting that riding a big wave was better than scoring a big goal. Even a big Cup goal.

City’s previous cup draw ended in rapturous scenes when they got a first-round bye. And while that wasn’t going to happen again, they were happy enough to be paired with the winners of a replay between two League One teams. A brief chant of ‘Dion, Dion’ from some of the City players confirmed that.

When it was all over and BBC2 had moved on to Saving Lives At Sea, our visitors from the Beeb took time to chat to all and sundry and pose for pictures. “I’m a Palace fan and I’d like a photo,” one said to Bright. I was going to add “I’m not a Palace and wouldn’t like a photo,” but I didn’t want to cause a scene.

With that, key figures in the Chi City story gave interviews to whoever wanted them and others drifted away.

Later Chapman tweeted to say how much he’d enjoyed the Oaklands Park hospitality.

Some have claimed in recent years the FA Cup is dying. Had they been at the Chi clubhouse on Monday night, they’d have got the message that it isn’t. It really isn’t. They'd have got the message loud and clear.