Tag Archives: Setanta Sports

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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Forward Thinking

For all the randomness in football, some things are relatively easy to predict. One of the big four was always going to win the Premier League last season, as will one of them next season. Plus it seemed obvious Setanta were wobbling atop a tightrope with no safety net towards the end of last season, and having the Premier League pelt them with rotten tomatoes has only sped up their death plunge rather than causing it.

In that respect, I was pleased to read the board had planned for the TV companies eventual splat into the sawdust of the circus floor, even if it meant planning for a loss. Back in April/May when the budget was drawn up, Setanta looked doomed, but there still seemed plenty of hope that a knight in shining armour might gallop in and catch their fall, thus safeguarding all TV contracts, be they EPL, SLP or BSP. And the clubs £85,000 would be safe.

Now the worst case scenario has happened, clubs will need to re-budget quickly. It was only last month that Lutons MD (or CEO, whatever he calls himself…) admitted to have spent their TV money already. Now I have no idea what sort of crowds Luton are expecting this term, but having taken 40,000 to Wembley last season I suspect they are quietly confident they will remain around 6-7,000. Setanta’s collapse won’t affect the Luton’s, Oxford’s or AFC Wimbledon’s of this division.

special one tvAs the statement reasures us (well, at least you should feel reasured…) the club have once again budgetted cautiously in other areas – getting knocked out of all competitions away in the first round and only averaging 3,000 for example. So unless we get the FA draws from hell we should do better than that. Plus we have effectively sold 2,250 tickets for every league game already next year, I think we can expect a good 500 paying punters through the gates more on average than the clubs original estimate.

If you are still worried please bear in mind – would you rather support a club that makes a small manageable loss or a club that makes a small profit only down to a fortunate cup run, or selling players?

Its the smaller clubs the Setanta collapse will affect the most. All those clubs who just cannot afford to lose £85,000 a year, or even worse, those who were pushing the boat out with their budget even if the extra £85 grand is included. We could be seeing an extremely polarised division next season. The big clubs will fight out at the top, whereas at the bottom anyone could go down, and a number of places will be decided by 10 point deductions.

With the budget decided we won’t have to worry about emergency cutbacks that could affect a lot of teams in our division this year. As a Dons fan I obviously feel sorry for the people who lost their jobs, but the whole Setanta debacle could well work in our favour come August and beyond.

Finally, I have noticed a few people commenting that they don’t think promotion from the Conference will do us any good in the long term, citing factors including the cost of turning full time, and upgrading the stadium. Well surely those are the sort of problems a football club wants?! Lets not fear success. Even if by some miracle we do gain promotion this year then surely we could compete with the deadwood floating around the bottom of League 2 until we found our feet?

Even though I think we will do well, I’m in no hurry to change my vote on the pre-season poll from ‘6th-9th’ to ‘playoffs’ – which actually I couldn’t do even if I wanted to (and if you haven’t voted yet why not??? Get voting now…). There are still only two places available for teams heading upwards, and there are some stronger, more experienced clubs than us in this division. At least we can be sure that off the pitch we have the security and stability required to return us to the promised land.

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Some Idle Speculation

As I write, there are but thirty-four days until a Wimbledon team take the field in something resembling a proper game of football. Who we play is anyones guess – although it should be announced this week – but I think that’s besides the point, we want to see our team and we can’t bear to wait any longer.

I can’t decide whether its down to the nature of signing players and arranging friendlies as a Conference club or extremely clever marketing by AFC Wimbledon, but this drip feedingof information has kept The Dons at the forefront of my mind this summer. I seem to remember last season that a whole host of signings were made pretty early along with pre-season games, and then nothing happened for weeks on end. I ended up getting distracted by Euro 2008, then finding other things to do with my summer Saturdays.

In fact I was so distracted I arranged to visit my old Nan bless ‘er, over in New Addington on the day we played Croydon, which was weird, as we virtually passed the ground on the tram and saw loads of Wimbledon fans milling around. I never felt like I was missing out though (these being the days before I spent most of my free time blogging about the club). In fact last summer must have been the most unappealing pre-season I can ever remember as a Wimbledon fan, perhaps excluding the Brentford game.

The only other friendly I bothered with was Salisbury at home, a mind numbing 90 minutes where the only entertainment was provided by a leaky home defense that pretty much made my mind up that we were due a ‘season of consolidation’. This year, things are different. For one the signing of players seems to be in waves. I know the ‘Whats Going Down At The Meadow’ newsletter (or whatever its called) told us to expect this, and I know I need to be patient, but its not quite happening.

If we had done as we had last year, we would have signed a load of decent young players, then watched open-mouthed as rivals started cherry-picking the cream of the Football League released players list, and realised maybe what we had wasn’t all that after all. Its not as if its not hard enough already to work out our relative strength. Terry’s policy of only signing younger players means we have to place a little bit of trust in him. Its all too easy to get carried away that players like Stephen Gregory and Luke Moore are going to turn into world beaters because the gaffer said so, despite Terry’s attempts to put together the basis of the team that will go on to win us promotion, experience tells us that perhaps three or four of our strongest starting lineup next year won’t make it, no matter how hard they try to develop.

And its impossible to tell now who will and who won’t. For example, two young players who really made the shirt their own last season, Chris Hussey and Sam Hatton, faced a lot of criticism from some of our supporters last year. Hussey made mistakes last year, but how many of them actually cost us goals? This from a player who is five or six years away from peaking as a footballer.

And Hatton seemed to get it in the neck quite often not for what he had done, but for what people perceived he should have been doing more of. Once more, Hatton featured in a lot of the moves that lead to goals last year for doing exactly what he was put on the pitch to do; move the ball on quickly and retain possession. Now I can’t be sure that either player has it in them to be a Conference winner, but then neither can anyone else.

Don’t get me wrong, those players have areas of their game they really need to work on. For example, Hatton isn’t strong enough in the tackle, and Hussey can’t pick a simple pass when its needed. Plus they are really going to get taught a lesson by a few experienced hands in that division. But that’s not something we should be afraid of as a team, learning from players who are, quite simply, better than they are is the only way younger players can learn.

Next season will tell us a lot more about these boys characters, but in the mean time and for the good of the club, one or two of us are going to have to button it a bit, these youngsters need our support, so all those knob-heads who boo and call on the manager to bring in experienced heads, you have to understand we are going to lose points at home through inexperience, but for each time that happens we will probably see them take points they had no right to on paper, just through being a young and fearless side.

We have to accept the inconsistency that a young side will experience, and if we do that for a couple of seasons we will see the results blossom into something spectacular. If that’s something you think you can’t handle and feel the need to spout of about it during games, just remember for a lot of matches next year there will be Dons fans locked out who are prepared to be positive, or at least just shut up and watch the game. Plus if you are the sort of person who likes to shout abuse, have a look round at the dozens of punters surrounding you who don’t feel the need to be so outspoken – and remember, all those people know a lot more about football than you do.

As it happens I’m relishing going to a game and watching just a game, a battle for three points rather than a minor part of some larger war – and spending half the game checking rivals scores on your mobile or what the implications of that late equaliser will be. I’m pretty confident we have the quality to avoid relegation easily next year, so everything else is just a learning curve as far as I’m concerned. And I’m bloody looking forward to it.

I think we are half way there as far as player recruitment is concerned. I think we could name a pretty decent 1-11 at the moment, one that will certainly put us mid-table, we just need a few extra faces to add competition, so we have that 17-18 man squad where the manager won’t be afraid to field any of them. No more of these Aitouakrim type players who are in the first team squad but aren’t getting anywhere near the starting lineup.

Back to pre-season, and I’m going to stick my neck out and say I think the first game on the 11th will be home to Brighton. I don’t know whether we will see any midweek visits from league clubs, although a Fulham XI rumour was doing the rounds it seemed to die out. Put it this way, if we were playing a Fulham or an Arsenal, even a Charlton, someone would have leaked it by now. After ‘Brighton’ we normally take on a couple of local-ish sides in split squad matches on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Saturday after is Ramsey, perhaps another away game (Tonbridge) in the week before FC United on the 25th. One other game before we visit Farnborough then a weeks hard training before kickoff. You see, it all puts itself together really, and you should be expecting a full coverage from The Anonymous Don for all Saturday games except Ramsey (unless someone is driving… I don’t mind hiding in the boot on the ferry…).

Whoever we play on the 11th you can guarantee I’ll be standing there grinning like a fool at the pleasure of paying entry to attend what is effectively a practice match. It won’t be until I’ve travelled half way across Surrey on the Wednesday night and walked four miles down country tracks, sweating like a pig as its so humid despite the fact its pissing down and having been stung, bitten or generally molested by every flying insect known to man (plus a few that have been hiding from us) to find my way to an ex Surrey League turned CCL club, only to find I had misread the O/S and it was a reserve game, and I appreciate this has already been an extremely long sentence so perhaps I shouldn’t waste your time further by pointing it out, in fact now I’ve forgotten what I was talking about, oh no, its coming back now, until I start getting a little fed up with pre-season games.

While I’m on the subject of that game on the 11th, the week before Anonymous Don HQ will be moving across town to a flat over looking the river on the Portsmouth Road. Ok, that’s a lie, its overlooking the reservoirwith the river just beyond that. Plus its so small the bedroom turned out to be a cupboard just off the hall (otherwise known as the living room). In fact the bathroom is just about the biggest room in the place, or it would be if it didn’t double up as the kitchen.

Still, its great to know I’m moving up in the world! Next stop a mile down the road to one of those penthouse jobs in Charter Quay… The point being there may be a service delay as far as this blog is concerned depending on how quickly I can get Virgin Media out to sort my broadband/TV. So don’t say you haven’t been warned. And before anyone tries to give me advice, Tiscali are bollocks, they still haven’t sorted out my refund from when I cancelled in January. Plus I still haven’t fully forgiven Sky for all those times it went off just because there was a thunderstorm… and I’m not allowed a dish…

The number we should really be focusing on is 61. This is the magic number of days that as of Sunday 7th June we have to wait until our first ever Conference Proper game. That is unless by some miracle Setanta are still broadcasting and select us for their first live game, which could be on the Friday (urgh…) or more likely Sunday. There is a chance another television company could come in and nab the rights on the cheap, however I’m not sure quite how appealing 5th level English football is compared to German football or example, which will also be up for grabs. I think we can kiss goodbye to that £85 grand, the good news being so can everyone else in this league, and we won’t have to worry about making arangements to travel to Tamworth on a Thursday evening.

All that is for the future however. We still have a tournament free summer to get through. Ok, I know the BBC are showing Confederations Cup on red button, and its an important tournament for world ranking and stuff like that, but by the time I’ve seen these famous brown shorts that Italia are supposed to be wearing with their sky blue shirts (http://www.whoateallthepies.tv/2009/06/italy_national.html) I think I’ll lose interest.

Of course England are in a major tournament this year, the Under 21 Championship, which I would normally follow but the Under 21’s are full of bling loaded idiots wearing headphones who think they’ve made it because they were earning twice as much as the rest of the players at the Championship side they were loaned to last year, the true England contenders at that age group are probably already in the national side. Plus its easy enough to ignore as its on Sky, which of course I don’t have.

Aide from the national team I get more satisfaction watching the ladies national sides, performing miracles when you consider apart from the lucky ones who got a move to the US Pro League, they probably think they’re quite lucky to be earning the pittance of £16k or so from a central contract from the FA.

You could try watching another sport I suppose. If you get in quick enough, and have a Dutch granny, you might be able to leap on the Netherlands bandwagon in the 20/20 World Cup. The short version of the game reminds me of baseball in a way, in theory the best side should win, but on the night anything can happen. They should play the final as a best of even series, but I suppose that’s missing the point a little. When that’s finished you could support our very own Surrey Brown Caps of course (stop laughing at the back please…).

Or in the classic words of the theme to Why Don’t You?, you could switch off your TV set and find something less boring instead… and if the worse comes to the worse I’m still here writing my blog, trying not to show any desperation that there’s still nothing worth talking about. Coming soon the Conference Files for Gateshead and Forest Green, plus Marcus Gayle get the Dons Icon treatment. Stay tuned.

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