The decision to televise Wrexham’s FA Cup First Round tie with Oldham Athletic has sparked controversy, but is it really something worth getting frustrated over?
Let’s face it, the Wrexham story is great. A former EFL side rotting away in non-league, marooned with little hope of returning to the big time and a stadium beginning to fall apart at the seams.
Having battled financial insecurities in the past, the Wrexham Supporters’ Trust eventually took over the day-to-day running of the football club in 2021, where they remained until Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney bought Wrexham in November 2020.
Stalling in the National League and slipping out of contention, the deal was approved by 98.1% of the Wrexham supporters who voted, providing a clear mandate for Reynolds and McElhenney to take charge.
From thereon in, their journey has been frantic, emotional, and as the recent ‘Welcome to Wrexham’ documentary highlighted, incredibly entertaining.
It’s no secret Reynolds and McElhenney have invested heavily in the football club, from plans to revamp the crumbling Racecourse Ground, to assembling one of the National League’s most expensive ever squads.
During their first season in charge, the pair would be left disappointed, with the Red Dragons finishing second to 2021/22 National League champions Stockport County, before crashing out of the playoffs in dramatic fashion to eventual winners Grimsby Town.
Despite the disappointment, the buzz around Wrexham continued to grow. Alongside regular 9,000+ attendances at the Racecourse, as a result of the well-received Disney+ documentary, Wrexham has widened its supporter base, attracting fans from across the globe.
Whether you’re in favour of their methods or not, the story is entirely unique to non-league and the unprecedented level of attention brought to the National League, as a result, has already led to sweeping changes to the way the division operates.
After pushing hard for the National League to allow match streams for international viewers, co-owner Reynolds’ wish was granted last month, when news broke that a streaming platform would be released in the new year.
Of course, there was still some discontent from Wrexham, who accused the National League of dragging their heels and not allowing clubs with the existing infrastructure to push on with their own streaming services.
While that rumbles on in the background, Wrexham are once again at the heart of another storm, this time surrounding the decision to televise their FA Cup First Round tie with Oldham.
The pair are two of six non-league sides across five FA Cup matches selected for broadcast, with Torquay United, South Shields, Hereford and Bracknell Town also being covered across the First Round weekend.
It sparked controversy as some believed the all-National League tie was not worthy of TV selection, with sides like Needham Market, Coalville Town and Alvechurch snubbed in their place.
With £50,0000 on offer to each side selected for coverage, it’s difficult to make the case for already-wealthy Wrexham to be awarded that cash ahead of a team lower down the pyramid.
For the likes of Needham Market, Coalville and Alvechurch, who travel to League One opponents Burton Albion, Charlton Athletic and Cheltenham Town respectively, the disappointment of missing out on television coverage will no doubt sting.
Coalville, who play in the Southern League Premier Division Central and progressed beyond Notts County to reach the First Round, took to Twitter to voice their frustration:
“Confirmation that we haven’t been selected for tele(vision) coverage,” the Tweet read, “Wrexham needed the £50k more than us anyway.”
However, from a broadcast point of view, while the Coalville tie would obviously represent a romantic pick, ‘smaller’ clubs going away to ‘bigger’ clubs in the FA Cup hasn’t always created the perfect formula for a cup upset.
Instead, traditionally it’s been when the smaller side has hosted EFL opposition at home the cameras have descended on a non-league ground, capturing the true magic of the FA Cup.
As for this year’s First Round, that privilege will be afforded to Southern League Premier Division South outfit Bracknell Town, who host League One challengers Ipswich Town at Bottom Meadow on Monday 7th September.
But where do Wrexham fall into all of this? Well, broadcasters have been accused of favouritism towards the Welsh side, for what some don’t believe is a tie worthy of television coverage.
The Wrexham story has whipped frenzy not only within non-league circles but in the wider football environment too, with worldwide attention afforded to the National League side on the back of their takeover.
In the last round alone, both of Wrexham’s matches against National League North side Blyth Spartans were broadcast on American television station ESPN – a truly inconceivable move prior to Reynolds and McElhenney’s arrival.
Like it or not, people want to watch Wrexham and that’s something domestic broadcasters have picked up on. Eventually the novelty of their ownership may run out, but until that point, it really shouldn’t be a shock Wrexham’s games are picked for television.
It’s also important to remember there is another side in the discussion here too, with Oldham, who up until last season had been a Football League club for the majority of their existence, hold a significant reputation of their own.
Less than three decades ago Oldham were competing in the Premier League, with the Latics enduring a well-documented descent through the pyramid and eventually into non-league this season.
Granted, an all-National League tie may not offer the greatest variety across the First Round weekend, but it’s still a match between two household names competing for a place in the FA Cup Second Round and the decision to pick it for television coverage shouldn’t be deemed controversial at all.
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