Belfast Telegraph

Billy on the box: We get our Phil as Cup runneth over

By Billy Weir

They always used to say that the race for the league title is a marathon and not a sprint but it seems that the FA Cup Third Round is looking to give it a run for its money.

In the old days it used to be an action-packed, nail-biting, giant-killing Saturday and then crowding round a tranny (that's a radio to younger readers, how times have changed) to hear the draw on Monday afternoon. Not now.

The Third Round, the most cliché-ridden round of any football tournament, now takes five days, with a myriad of build-up and spin-off programmes on more channels than Jimmy Bullard has buttons on his shirt.

So who was over the moon and who was as ill as one of Jimmy's jungle-dwelling feathered friends by Tuesday evening? All of us, if we're being honest, but the thing that got me was that there wasn't a live game on telly until Sunday.

Not that there was nothing to keep us occupied, with A Question of Sport kicking things off with an FA Cup 'special' with Matt Dawson and Phil Tufnell joined by four players with a clutch of medals from the big day. Well, three if we're being totally honest, as Phil Neville (3) brought along Alan Shearer (0), Trevor Sinclair (0) and Jason Roberts (behave yourself).

It wasn't the last we were to see of Phil. Or Alan, or Trevor for that matter as while the Beeb may be accused of ripping the backside out of the coverage at least they were giving the licence-payer value for money by recycling their guests.

And so it was that less than 24 hours later, Phil and Trevor popped up again on Pointless Celebrities and that phrase has never been more appropriate with a team featuring Robbie Savage and Gabby Logan together.

Also there were Mark Chapman and new BBC footballing darling Jermaine Jenas and surprise, surprise, the pair were back again on Sunday night for Match of the Day Two. With Phil, obviously.

He even popped up on the FA Cup 50 Greatest Moments on BBC3 presented by Helen Skelton and Rio Ferdinand - that reminds me, I must go and see Dumb and Dumber To - whose participation in an expletive-inducing piece of garbage lasted just a little less longer than QPR's in the cup this season.

Neville was one of a plethora of former players and celebrity fans inflicted upon us as Helen spelt out what the show was all about.

"We're going to show you 50 of the greatest moments from the most magical competition in domestic football - the FA Cup," she said although, to be honest, I had guessed that from the title of the show. I got as far as 48 when Russell Brand appeared but I am reliably informed No.1 was Ryan Giggs' goal against Arsenal in the 1999 semi-final.

Football Focus popped up at the FA Cup too, there was even a show called FA Cup Rewind Classics featuring Third Round goals from yesteryear and the obligatory showing of Ronnie Radford's goal for Hereford against Newcastle in 1972.

By now I was frothing at the mouth for some live footy, and BT Sport finally obliged by bringing us Crystal Palace's visit to Dover Athletic and naturally presenter Lynsey Hipgrave was perched on top of the white cliffs like an overgrown lemming who was on the verge of ending it all if subjected to Radford's goal just one more time.

"One of the most iconic sites in Britain, the white cliffs of Dover, a dramatic setting for the most British of footballing days, where the elite teams spread themselves across this green and pleasant land," she began, forgetting that it had actually all started two nights previously. In Wales.

No-one noticed that the Bluebirds of Cardiff were playing though, probably distracted by Ian Wright's hat in Dover that he'd clearly stolen from an ailing passing Hovis delivery boy.

It was a precarious trip, fans even taking to climbing trees around the ground, commentator Darren Fletcher insisting this was so they could get a better view but the cruel amongst us would suggest that they were BT Sport subscribers trying to get away from listening to Robbie Savage and Ian Wright.

It was a busy day for BT Sport going from the demise of one potential giant-killing to another when Man Utd got the better of Yeovil Town thanks to goals from a Spaniard and an Argentinean with a combined value of £78.5m. Ah, the magic of the cup. They'll need to splash more cash to see off Cambridge United in Round Four.

Just what Bullard had been splashing is a little less clear as he appeared to have been shovelled into his clothes, what there were of them, and then tossed like a Guy on a bonfire onto a seat beside Shearer as BBC finally got in on the live act on Sunday evening.

We were at the Emirates as Arsenal took on Hull City Tigers Reserves in a repeat of last year's final but all eyes were on Bullard, fresh from the jungle, hair slicked back, in a shirt open at the navel and looking like the unwanted offspring of Worzel Gummidge and Barry Venison.

Three days in and no shocks of note, but surely Monday would offer us hopeless cup romantics some solace with AFC Wimbledon against Stevie G meaning countless references to the biggest cup final shock in history when plain old Wimbledon defeated Liverpool in 1988.

I've always had a soft spot for Wimbledon, although that has more to do with a strange fixation with Madame Cholet from The Wombles, but in his foraging on Wimbledon Common, Mark Chapman had picked up Lawrie Sanchez - remember him? - to help out with the Fourth Round draw.

Are you mad, there's at least two more days of the Third Round to go, before replays.

Job done, it was over to another hero of 88, Dave Beasant, to see if the new Dons could provide that missing piece of magic. No. Nearly, but not quite, even unleashing the Beast, Adebayo Akinfenwa - a man named after two Countdown conundrums - but to no avail.

He scored one but some departing player scored two, allowing commentator Guy Mowbray to rewind to 1988 and paraphrase John Motson's famous 'The Crazy Gang has beaten the culture club' quote.

"It's the captain of the culture club who has done it for them this time," said Guy on a night when the referee was a Jon Moss, who, pop fans will know, was the drummer from Culture Club, a popular beat combo from the Eighties I used to listen to on my tranny.

But while the boy Gerrard is leaving Liverpool we were destined to go there on our final halt, as BT Sport, mercifully, brought the curtain down on the Third Round with Everton's game with West Ham on Tuesday night.

And it was as rubbish as we all expected it to be, even though they had managed to give Phil Neville some much-needed air time as we see so little of him these days.

So, in Jerry Springer style, what have we learned?

Liverpool remain a one-man team, Man Utd are now marginally better than Yeovil, Jimmy Bullard is as mad as a wombat and Phil Neville is available for bookings. Roll on Round Four.

The good, the bad and the ugly

The good: What a climax to the PDC World Darts Championship as Gary Anderson defeated Phil Taylor in a classic final played out on Sky Sports, the best drama on Sunday evening since Downton Abbey, although I don’t remember seeing Hugh Bonneville dressed as the Cookie Monster at any stage.

The bad: With the real darts out of the way, the BDO World Championships are under way with Colin Murray kicking things off by welcoming Bobby George along to Frimley Green. “He returns to the Lakeside with as much gold as ever but minus one hip.” And they say it isn’t a sport.

The ugly: “A New Year, same season, the usual suspects at the top of the tree, no change in the Final Score format,” said Mark Sidebottom as one of my hopes for 2015 crashed without trace. Still, at least he promised us all the goals. And he delivered, apart from the ones they didn’t show. Yep, no change in the Final Score format…

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