Their average crowd was below a hundred but a fizzy lager-induced rush of interest guesstimated maybe 400-500 would turn up. So imagine how our timbers shivered when 1149 people turned up as Ascot United FC and smashed their attendance record on their FA Cup debut against Wembley! This was no ordinary FA Cup Extra Preliminary Round game.
Readers of this site will probably be aware that this game was the first in England to be ‘broadcast’ live on Facebook by the sponsors of this year’s FA Cup competition. It’s fair to say that we aren’t the biggest fans of the glitz and schnitz that accompanies top flight football, a reaction to that was the reason we do this, so when the first rumblings of this gimmick (for want of a better word) surfaced we raised an eyebrow and wondered what tomfoolery we’d have to endure.
We needn’t have worried. I can hear it now, “sell outs”, “suckers”, “burger whores”. Possibly all fair points. However. ‘Budweiser’. There, we’ve said it. ‘Budweiser’ kept it simple, pondered what football fans do most at football. Drink. Eat. Watch football. Then they provided them. Simply. A voucher for £1 off a pint of Bud. Free burger. No messing about with the performance area. Three big ticks. Budweiser logos aside, what do you expect, they paid for the party so they have every right tell the world about it, they pitched this very well indeed. So well, nearly 30,000 people watched it on Facebook.
Even so, I am not sure even Annheuser Busch expected over 1100 people turning up. Or did they? They didn’t seem to run out of either vouchers or burgers. Or beer. That’s planning. But what does it all mean? Why did so many people turn up, why did so many people log on, ‘like’ and watch the game?
Well, it’s novelty, for sure. Football in a leafy ‘burb on a Friday, buzz about the game, Ascot’s first ever FA Cup game, the dreamy name of ‘Wembley’ the opposition, cheap booze promised, free burger guaranteed and telly cameras. And it was sunny and clement.
Does it show you what a big budget can do for non-league football? Possibly. Bud certainly spent heavy in-ground, although in the grand scheme of things, it was peanuts to them. They presumably funded the outside broadcast unit though and used some social media expertise to sell the Facebook idea. But they didn’t have to convince a broadcaster to carry it or worry about advertising.
Also, maybe people are actually so disillusioned with the upper echelons of the game that this idea simply hit a zeitgeist (yay, obligatory use of ‘zeitgeist’)? Maybe the interest is actually there and it just needs tempting out from in front of it’s television screen. Hmmmm …
But 20,000 people watched it on Facebook, so the ‘TV’ audience was there too. 20,000 isn’t a very large figure for a traditional broadcaster but for a new media narrowcaster, it’s a decent amount of folk to be drawing through your product’s social media channel. Canny. This could work. I am pretty sure Premier TV didn’t always match those figures with their Blue Square Prem coverage last season. Maybe they haven’t pitched it right? Or thrown enough money at it.
In truth, I think the relative success of this event was down to a mixture of all three, all conspired to give a measure of success more than the sum of its parts. Was the game good enough to bring the people back? Well, yes, probably. It was pretty open, Ascot flew out of the blocks and had a couple of chances to take the lead but, once the storm was weathered, Wembley looked the better side. Daryl Atkins was giving Phil Boddy a chasing down Ascot’s left flank and he fired in a few warning shots that dipped over the bar. One of them flew past the keeper, over the bar, sailed over the fans behind the goal and smashed into a bloke not paying attention to the game and talking on his phone. Ho ho.
Then Wembley hit the bar and the post while former Wimbledon defender Rob Gier was getting a going over on the other side of the defence by the strangely bequiffed Hector Guttierez. 0-0 at half time but god knows how. With Wembley’s manager Ian Bates pulling the strings in the middle of the park, assistant boss George Green was lording it up on the touchline in silver suit with a pink tie. I think the TV moment brought the beast out of his wardrobe. Top class kit.
The half time fayre even stuck to football’s rules. Penalty shoot out competition. Dave Beasant was called on to net mind and five lucky punters got to step up and do what John Aldridge failed to do in 1988. And four of the five did. The big lad laced, the lady tucked it in the corner, two others followed suit. I hope Aldo was watching. Only the cocky youth failed to beat the big man.
The second half was not as all action as the first until Wembley scored from a scramble and then they took control. They appeared to be trying to stifle the game and play out time when a rush of blood from keeper Ini Amaegbe got him a booking and Ascot a penalty after he brought down a forward. Bennett scored to level it and a few minutes later blazed past the post when he should have score.
Ascot would rue that when Chris Korten popped up for his second and the tie was won. Ascot 1 – 2 Wembley. Seeing 1149 fans at an Extra Preliminary round game was odd. The atmosphere was bubbly but with so few regular fans it was difficult to build some singing or noise. The boos, whether sarcastic or not, when Wembley scored were redolent of people not at home or familiar with the football atmosphere, which might indicate there was a large contingent of non-football fans who came down to see what it’s all about. Though, the atmosphere in the bar was good and friendly and the volunteer staff coped brilliantly with the influx.
Is this the future for such sporting events? Well, Budweiser did themselves, the FA Cup, the FA and football a power of good tonight, much to the very surprise of this website. I hope they keep it up because with this level of effort it could invigorate grass roots football, people could see that there is something in their community worth supporting. We are putting our cynicism on hold for a while to take stock. We could go on but Gary Andrews has already got there on twofootedtackle
So off into the dark night we go with plenty to ponder. And my god it was dark out there. Seeing nothing but endless black beyond the glare of the floodlights was odd. That’s what the countryside does, I guess.
Photos to follow …