Stephen Cleeve: Why the FA Cup holds our futures in its hands

Stephen Cleeve & (L) Mark Hearle watching on Picture: Ian Burt

King's Lynn Town owner Stephen Cleeve - Credit: Ian Burt

King's Lynn Town owner Stephen Cleeve gives his view of life in the National League...


Our FA Cup dream sadly ended with our recent visit to Fratton Park. While we put up a spirited performance, it was not to be our day and Portsmouth ran out deserved 6-1 winners. 

The FA Cup retains its glory as the number one domestic football cup competition in the world. I accept the prize money is now dwarfed by that on offer from European competitions and maybe this has rubbed off some of its gloss for the bigger clubs, but it is still every player’s dream to walk out on to the hallowed Wembley turf in May with the eyes of the country upon him. 

 The biggest own goal the competition ever scored was in 1999 when the then holders, Manchester United, withdrew from the 2000 FA Cup so that they could compete in Brazil at the FIFA Club World Championship. This was done in conjunction with the FA because it was felt that if United did not participate in the inaugural tournament in South America it would hurt England’s chances of hosting the 2006 World Cup. Hindsight can be a cruel master. 

 My only gripes with the FA Cup are that the draws for the early rounds are not televised, and that they are regionalised. While this saves travelling costs, the flip side is that we have drawn Alfreton in two out of the last five seasons and will play them again in the FA Trophy in December if they manage to overcome ex-Lynn supremo Gary Setchell’s Bedford Town. If they don’t, that promises to be one huge game for the Linnets with several ex-Linnets playing now for The Eagles. 

The FA Cup is box office for so many clubs, even with the prize money reduced this season. As a club we have generated £76,347 from prize and TV money this year. Against that there are some travel and hotel costs and bonuses to be paid, but at our level it is a very nice sum indeed. 

Marine's Josh Hmami and James Barrigan (right) celebrate their win after extra time of the Emirates

Marine celebrate FA Cup success - now they have a massive pay day against Tottenham - Credit: PA

Marine FC won their second-round game and have been rewarded with a dream tie against Tottenham Hotspur. The media have been concentrating on the £75,000 that they will pick up for being on national TV at 5.30pm on the Sunday, but that only tells half the story. An additional £36,000 will be brought in for displaying the FA’s sponsorship boards, then there are the international TV rights which bring in at least another £50,000. A famous billionaire who once played for the club called out of the blue and gifted them £10,000 (my lips have been sworn to secrecy as to his identity). Advertising boards are being sold and Marine are being super-smart selling them for not only this game but also the rest of this season and the next, so that’s tens more thousands of pounds - then there are the gate receipts, dug-out sponsors, not to mention the 70 sponsorship inquiries received within the first 24 hours of the fixture being drawn out of the glass bowl by Robbie Savage. Cadbury has offered the club £10,000 if they beat Spurs, shirt sponsorship, shorts and back of the shirt will bring in another £50,000. 

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It is of course a quintessential English cup tie, just what broadcasters desire; one side of the ground backs on to houses, each is numbered on the netting that covers the back walls to their gardens, so that the club knows where to retrieve their lost balls at the end of each game. The last round saw the cameras picking up mothers making Sunday lunch, one lady drinking a glass of champagne from a treehouse, two fans waving scarves while trying to repair a broken foghorn, an assortment of fans eating their lunch al fresco and a whole host of other characters kept us glued to our sets. Frankly, the viewing off the pitch was far better than the entertainment on it – but we all know the old adage that it’s the result that counts and in Marine’s case there is never a truer word said. 

I estimate Marine from that one game will make at least £500,000 (often Premier League visitors comp all the gate receipts to their hosts) and when added to the income already received from previous games it will probably set them up for the next decade. 

The FA Cup can have a huge and lasting legacy for many teams that compete in it every year - it really can be a game-changer for clubs and their local communities. 

Referees have a tough time of it, and I have been careful not to criticise them - their job is hard enough as it is. However, when we visited Hartlepool earlier this week, at 0-0 the referee turned down what I believed to be a certain penalty. The man with the whistle was Adam Herczeg from Durham, which is just 18 miles from Hartlepool. Surely this cannot be right; imagine Norwich having a referee from Diss at Carrow Road. I think there should be a rule that officials must live a certain distance from competing clubs. I am not suggesting that his proximity to Hartlepool influenced his decision but why put the question there in the first place? 

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