FA Cup fifth round: The 'hot ball rigging' conspiracy exposed and extinguished

Hot to the touch? Those balls contain warmth, say some people
Hot to the touch? Those balls contain warmth, say some people

Laying Down the Lawford – Yahoo Sport’s Mark Lawford on the ‘scandal’ enveloping the world’s ‘greatest cup competition’

For many years conspiracy theorists have said the FA Cup draw is rigged, citing ‘hot balls’ as marking out the big teams to ensure we don’t get too many heavyweight clashes in the early rounds.

These balls are to be touched but not harvested if the likes of Chelsea, Manchester United or Liverpool have already been drawn at home. The theorists argue that it’s all about great TV in the latter stages and nobody wants to screen or watch Boston United v Wrexham for a place in the last eight of the world’s oldest cup competition.

I have always poured scorn over these theorists but this weekend’s fifth round draw might suggest they could have a point. All eight Premier League teams have been drawn against lower-league opposition – was this a ploy to create an all top-flight quarter-final line-up?

[FA CUP: HISTORY SUGGESTS LINCOLN AND MILLWALL ARE WHERE THE SHOCKS WILL BE]  

Some would say so and imply that England manager Gareth Southgate and outspoken pundit Robbie Savage were somehow in on the swindle given they performed the fifth round draw.

FA chiefs showed Gareth Southgate a sack in a sort of veiled warning if he did not comply - apparently
FA chiefs showed Gareth Southgate a sack in a sort of veiled warning if he did not comply – apparently

As much I would love to think of those two being given ‘their orders’ from FA chief Martin Glenn in a quiet back room ahead of the live TV draw and threatened with repercussions, that really is a load of coloured, numbered balls.

But let’s assume it is true for one minute. Have they not gone too far this weekend? Because although we could end up with eight Premier League teams through – we could end up with none.

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The BBC and BT Sport will then have to big up Blackburn v Oxford for a place in the last four while the ever-popular Millwall – whose match this weekend against Leicester has been completely overlooked by all broadcasters – could line up against Lincoln City in the semi-finals ‘in a repeat of their epic 1983 Football League Trophy Final clash.’

A last eight of Millwall, Lincoln, Blackburn, Huddersfield, Sutton, Wolves, Fulham and Oxford might be great for the ‘romance of the cup’ and re-establish it as ‘the people’s cup’ but it will make for biggest TV turn-off since El Dorado.

A load of balls sums up the great FA conspiracy theory
A load of balls sums up the great FA conspiracy theory

And one of that motley crew will be in the Europa League, fielding their reserves against Fram of Reykjavík in early June in the ultra extra hyper preliminary round. Even better TV ‘opportunities’.

The TV chiefs might yet get their last eight of Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham, Middlesbrough, Burnley and Leicester but the odds are at least one if not two of them will bite the dust.

But agents Southgate and Savage can sleep soundly knowing they did their best to preserve top-quality TV and ensure the big boys get the extra exposure and cash their ‘big boy’ status fully merits.

Lincoln, Huddersfield, Wolves et al – it’s down to you to raise your game now before a ‘rigged’ sixth round draw where United avoid City, Chelsea avoid Arsenal, etc etc and etc.

As if anyone really cares…

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