Tag Archives: ESPN

Praise Be To Our Premier League Overlords…

A couple of pieces of news today. Firstly, after rushing to get my ESPN viewing card (well, BT are posting it to me…) we today found out their deal with the Conference has fallen through. Oh well. I have to say I always thought Setanta had put together their live sport portfolio in a scatter gun manner. Someone at the Conference saw them coming when they signed them up for a five year stint visiting Ebbsfleet, Grays and other illustrious venues, for a fee stretching into the millions.

Yet faced with a group with experience operating in perhaps the toughest rights market on the planet, in other words US sports, and the backing of Disney themselves, the Conference seem to have made a mistake by trying to play hardball with them. Also, you have to bear in mind that no matter how good a product the Conference thought they had, there was competition in the form of better quality football on the continent and beyond.

So rather than taking whatever was put on the table and being grateful, the Conference have left the table… or perhaps found the chair pulled from under them? I think the mysticism of the Conference had vanished somewhat in the last decade or so due to the increase in ex-League clubs that make up its number. Over the last ten years the Conference has had much more exposure in terms of live games than the division above it. Lets face it, watching Oxford v Luton play in front of 10,000 doesn’t actually scream ‘Non-League’ at your average punter. An intriguing fixture it may have been, but the Conference really lost its magical feel when Sky started showing games.

In the previous decade, Woking played Stevenage, two teams even football anoraks didn’t know much about. It was a top of the table game, and 4000 were in attendance. This seemed like a ridiculous crowd under the circumstances in a division where the average was barely into four figures. Up and down the country fans started to pay attention to this strange division where unheard of clubs battled for a guaranteed place in the Football League (stadium quality excepted…). It was new, it was unknown, and it was exciting.

Fast forward to a decade where you can literally watch a game every day of the week, and maybe watch six or seven on even the quietest weekends thanks to the games global nature, the Conference isn’t looking too attractive. Show a few League rejects hoof the ball back and forth for an hour and a half? Or, for a fraction of the price, show a Bundesliga game or one from Ligue 1, Serie A, even Holland or Portugal? In terms of what the average punter will chose to watch, it’s not even a choice. As for football geeks (and I include myself in that category), they have long left the Conference behind for the minor European Leagues, South America, or even MLS.

The Conference will have great difficulty finding anyone to show even a highlights package thanks to the costs involved of sending an outside broadcast unit down… unless of course thats a price the Conference are willing to foot themselves, Early signs suggest the league may go it alone, with talks of games being streamed online, and perhaps that will be a face-saving exercise more than anything.

A bad day turned surreal later in the afternoon when The Premier League (the actual real one, not the Scottish/rugby namesakes…) decided they would delve into their deep pockets and fish out some spare change (£1 million of it) and throw it in the direction of their poorer relations further down the English League system. I like to think it happened that way, someone like Phil Gartside turning up at Conference HQ with a big sack of used fivers, emptying it outside and watching the Conference officials scamper round chasing them in the wind, picking them out of bushes and puddles.

It’s not that I think Conference clubs don’t need the money. In fact for a few it will just be a drop in the ocean, barely enough to pay the wage bill for another month. Some clubs will find it extremely useful of course. I’m just wondering where their motives lie. The Premier League is a power hungry organisation, who have already made moves to take over the organization of the England National Team, and crucially, The FA Cup from the FA.

Of course it’s unthinkable that The FA would just give these up without a fight, as that would leave The Premier League as the de facto governing body with the FA left with no money to give to all other areas of the game. I’m wondering whether payments such as these are designed to soften up the lower levels. The Premier League have fought the Football League in the past over how much of its television money it should pass on, so this move comes as a surprising shift in policy.

The Premier League has got involved in charity and benevolent activities before, but this is a whole new direction for them. But it shouldn’t be seen as a guarantee that this behaviour will continue in future. Basically, what do they want from us? Do they want our TV rights? They can have them…

Seriously though, for all the vague suggestions of conspiracy above, I can think of no other reason why the PL (NOTE: NO ‘E’ THIS TIME!) would give this money except for a few lines of publicity, and a little goodwill, from what I presume must be a pot of spare money they use for good causes. Of course, the money is mostly going to end up in the back pockets of what I like to call ‘career footballers’, but at least the wage bills are in the thousands rather than the millions (mostly…).

Yet for anyone thinking this will be the start of a new dawn where money is channelled to the grass roots, forget it. If, when the first Premier League started, the clubs would have sat down and said ‘This is big money, we need to put some of it back in the game’, we would have a vastly different national game right now. No youth team in the country would have had to close. The incentive of new kit or funding could have been given to ensure sides at all levels behaved themselves on the pitch. There would be no need for ‘Respect’ campaigns, as kids would have learned that at a very early age.

The biggest irony of all, one that I failed to appreciate during my playing days, was that for the fifteen years I played I had all along been helping this League to dominate world football by paying my subscription fees. Football was never richer than when I played the game. Yet what did I see of it? What was my return? I have a few horror stories of trips to grounds where not only was the playing surface less than perfect, but the facilities were worse than even countries with the worst human rights record wouldn’t dream of holding their prisoners in. Perhaps if the Premier League really wants to make a difference, they could make sure that anyone who plays the game in a Sunday has to put up with cold showers ever again…

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The General Specific (Thursday 2nd July ’09)

Phew, what scorching weather we are having! The Anonymous Don is now almost bronze after a few days in the sun, including a very enjoyable evening in Hyde Park on Tuesday catching the rays, listening to music, hanging around the misting tent (we might need one of those at Kingsmeadow if the weather stays like this) and finding if you drink too much Gaymers cider your mouth tastes like raw meat in the morning.

I won’t give a report of Bon Ivers headlining set because (a) this isn’t a music blog and (b) your probably not that interested anyway, suffice to say I had an enjoyable time, and you should all rush out and buy his album. Its at this point I would also like to fulfill contractual obligations by saying ‘happy birthday’ to my sister, and sorry we didn’t get you a card – we’re too busy moving right now. In fact tomorrow may be my last posting for a while until I get my new office (i.e. the closet) set up in my new flat, providing ample comedic opportunities for my wife to shout ‘Isn’t it about time you came out the closet?’ every time she considers me spending too much time writing this blog.

blue sqI will be around tomorrow to give my full reaction to the new fixtures released tomorrow. It will indeed be an exciting moment for all of us, not just because it’s our first season in the Conference Premier, but whatever division we are in I always find the releasing of fixtures to be the closest I can get to Xmas eve as a kid. Guaranteed I’ll be lying awake tonight, dreaming of unlikely victories at Oxford and Luton, celebrating last minute winners at Altrincham or hammering sorry Grays.

No offence to those clubs. Tomorrow it will be even worse, as I know where I’ll be on the 8th of August, on Christmas Eve or New Years Day. Having said that I know for a fact we will be at Kingsmeadow for one of those festive dates, and I’m 80% certain one of the others will be spent in the company of Hayes and Yeading (you heard it here first – as far as I’m aware). The point being I will be able to visualise it more, as I’ll actually know where we will be, even if in reality I will actually be spending New Year in the States as is the current plan.

When I was a kid, the reality of Xmas Eve did not always live up to the expectations of the night before. If I were to sit down tomorrow and predict the scores to every game we will probably end up winning the league by about twenty points. For that reason I’m not going to, but right now I would like to remind everyone that I predicted Eastbourne Borough at home would be our first game a good two weeks ago.

And lets hope the announcement of fixtures heralds some news on a TV deal. Right now I would have thought ESPN would have been the leading, if not only, takers for anything like serious money. Plus I really want to see Sky taken down a peg or two by a serious competitor, they charge too much for me to justify shelling out for Premier League games, half a Champions League and a few League Cup fixtures just to see the likes of Jamie Redknapp tell everyone how good his cousin is. ESPN could help drive the costs down for casual subscribers like myself who feel we have a right to watch top level football for free. In fact why don’t the monopoly people make sure one of the Premier League packages goes to a free-to-air station? Maybe that’s too sensible?

In fact I wouldn’t mind the Conference rights going to a Five or a Dave so long as the games are played at a reasonable time. After all, what do Dave show at 1730 on a Saturday? Plus they wouldn’t want to offend those of us who want to watch QI repeats in the evening so will be unlikely to show games on Monday/Thursday nights… although if any of them want Paul Parker as a studio expert perhaps its best if we stay off the nations screens after all…

In other news, apparently Mr Brown is going to sacrifice any chance of entertainment during the Wycombe and Brighton games by playing two entirely different XI’s in each half. Hurray. I suppose that will give us the chance to see all of our squad being tested to the limit by League 1 opposition, and presuming the squads are balanced we should be able to field reasonably strong sides in both halves, so speculation you may have read elsewhere that we could lose 0-7 will be wide of the mark. Plus, with four home games, the contrast between that and us giving those Bucheon-stealing Bury-touchers FCUM and Fulham’s Non-Europa League Match Squad Select XI a darn good spanking will probably be quite enjoyable.

Plus we still don’t know who, if anyone, we are playing on the Tuesday after Wycombe. Is it North Greenford? Are we playing a training game, and if so will it be at the training ground? Because I like the idea of supping a pint while watching from Woodies car park… Plus whats all this about Godalming? I missed out on both during the CCL days so wouldn’t mind catching up…

Finally, whats happened to The Big Tissue? (I appreciate this is normally where you would come to get answers to questions, so apologies for posing so many myself this evening). I have heard rumour that Rivals has closed for good, which I sincerely hope is not true. The guy that writes Big Tissue, who seems to keep his identity quiet (perhaps we should swap roles?), was probably the best Wimbledon related writer out there, so I hope he bounces back quickly. Preferably at the Wimbledon Mad site, which they seem to have insisted on giving the worst name imaginable (they won’t be in the wider interest of my fist if I ever catch up with them). Anyway, my appeal to Mr Big Tissue, whoever you may be, if Rivals is gone for good, get yourself over there now!

So bed down, fellow Wombles, for in the morning all will be revealed. Plus we have the Andy Murray Semi-Final to look forward to later. Wouldn’t it be great if he won? A British player in the final at Wimbledon? Plus if he loses we can all go on about how he isn’t good enough and never will be. Besides, fuck him, he is Scottish after all…

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