When I received my first call from the BBC saying they were intending to hold the draw for the first round of the FA Cup at the home of the winners of the Hitchin Town v Leatherhead tie I was really taken aback. Why choose this particular game when in all honesty it was not the most glamorous game in the fourth qualifying round? When I asked, the answer was that the game ensured a step 3 side a place in the first round proper while our participation in the very first FA Cup in 1871 also helped. As you can imagine I was very excited at the thought of a live draw going out on BBC2 and BT Sport from our very own Canary Club.
There were obviously hurdles to overcome. Firstly, we needed to beat Leatherhead although I had been told if we drew it was likely we would still host the draw. Then the BBC had to inspect the facilities at both Hitchin and Leatherhead to see if either venue was capable of hosting the draw. We were visited last Tuesday and Leatherhead on Thursday and we both passed the test. There were nine BBC staff involved in this appraisal and they were very thorough.
At the final whistle on Saturday I phoned my contact at the BBC to get the final verdict on where the draw would take place and I was so delighted to have it confirmed it would be at Hitchin. We were able to publicise the fact and then had to compile our own guest list which was quite restricted in numbers.. The BBC lorries arrived at the ground on Sunday morning and the staff worked through the day setting up. The work continued on Monday and through the day more BBC staff kept turning up. Overall the number of personnel exceeded 50 and we had to provide a hot meal on Monday afternoon.
Our ground chairman Len Leroux had taken Monday off work so he could liaise with the BBC staff and I arrived at 1:30pm. I felt a real buzz and I found my excitement level rising throughout the afternoon. The BBC staff were very professional and easy to deal with. A few of them told me they preferred going to non league grounds rather than Premier League grounds as it presented them with more challenges and they liked taking the draw on the road.
Rehearsals took place as Mark Chapman, Dion Dublin and Denis Wise arrived. All three were really approachable. In one of the practice draws we were the first number drawn and were paired at home to Forest Green Rovers. In the afternoon I had to do interviews for the Daily Express and Independent as the publicity bandwagon kept on rolling.
As transmission time neared the floor managers made their plans and more guests continued to arrive.
I really had to pinch myself – Hitchin Town really were going to be live on BBC2 hosting the FA Cup First Round draw. I felt we must be the envy of every other non league team in the country. 7:00pm eventually arrived and I found the atmosphere electric. I did not realise I would be the first person Mark Chapman interviewed and I hope I made some sense with my answers! He was a brilliant host and put everyone at ease, as did Dion Dublin.
Then the draw started and where was ball number 63? The tension was unbearable and I kept thinking Luton’s number was also still to be drawn. Eventually our number was picked out and it is fair to say Solihull Moors was not our preferred option but IF we beat Leatherhead – and it will be a very difficult game – we would have home advantage.
The programme was soon over and the BBC staff quickly got in to action to dismantle the set. What a great night it had been and Hitchin Town were well and truly on the map both in this country and all over the world. Over 140 countries show the FA Cup but the BBC did not know how may took the draw live. We did however receive social media notes from supporters in locations as far flung as New Zealand confirming they had seen the draw live.
The great news for us is that my BBC contact told me the TV audience was 1.6 million viewers on BBC2, which is the highest audience since the rights returned to the BBC in 2014. WOW! 1.6 million watching a live event from Hitchin Town!
The BBC thanked us for our assistance and said they enjoyed the experience. There is no doubt we have had greater exposure than we could ever dream of and I think we can be proud of how we handled the situation. I would like to particularly thank Len Leroux for his help and also Rose and Steve from the social club. It has been a great experience and I am so pleased for our wonderful football club.
Finally, a huge thank you to the BBC for selecting us to host the draw. It was a huge honour for our club.