This afternoon I’m off to watch a staggeringly glamorous cup tie in the Sussex County Football Association’s Royal Ulster Rifles Charity (they donated it, rather than it being a fundraiser, incidentally) Cup. As with the majority of these hearty, russet-cheeked British autumnal sporting treats, it kicks off at 3 p.m.
It’s a growing football bugbear for an increasingly vocal number of supporters, therefore, that the growing influence of the great god television dictates that the majority of league teams will spend at least part of the year kicking off at silly o’clock. Those of you (un?)lucky enough to follow Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal or Liverpool will probably have pretty much forgotten what the inside of a football ground looks like at three in the afternoon on a Saturday, thanks to new social advances such as SKY SUPER SUNDAYS and the like. I’ve got nothing against a Sunday afternoon televised game – I grew up in the 1980s watching The Big Match – Live on ITV, and it’s arguable it was as responsible as anything else for stirring my interest in the game. However, back then it was a special thing, an out of the ordinary thing, a break from the norm. The modern day blanket TV coverage is, almost certainly, the cause of the statistic – reported on in the latest When Saturday Comes magazine – that the average age of a fan at a Premiership game is 43. 43 would seem to be the age where watching football is still something you DO, rather than something which just HAPPENS.
It reaches a head on October 6th this year, where, as was widely reported, only two top-flight games kick off on the Saturday, and only one – Aston Villa v. West Ham – kicking off at 3 p.m. These supporters who grumble, but then turn up, bleary-eyed and grizzled for a Sunday lunchtime kick-off, have only themselves to blame. The time for words alone has never existed within football, only action has ever or will ever change anything. The answer, of course, is a boycott. Boycott games which needlessly kick off on Monday night. Boycott pubs that proudly boast blanket Sky coverage. Boycott Sky Sports packages. Only by making needless non-Saturday kick-offs unprofitable, in other words, is anything going to get done.
Now, assuming these words have struck such a chord within you that you are going to act on them, it would be irresponsible of me not to offer you some alternative activities to keep you entertained on Saturday afternoons if your club doesn’t happen to be kicking off then. Here they are:
1. Support Brighton and Hove Albion
They play in a shed, but my club has one major advantage over a lot of the other league outfits in this country. Due to their tenancy agreement at the Withdean Stadium, they have to keep noise and disruption to a minimum. Part of this is based on a predictable, regimented timetable of Saturday afternoon kick-offs. Well, until we get the new stadium and everything goes hogshit crazy. Monday morning, 10 a.m., Brighton v. Hartlepool. Whatever happened to our attendances?
2. Non-league football
Regular readers will be well-aware of the Twohundredpercent line on non-league football, and I’m of an identical opinion. Out there, probably within walking distance of your house, there’ll be a semi-pro team kicking off at three in the afternoon. Go and check them out. OK, they’ll not be quite as hot as Arsenal, but I guarantee you’ll enjoy it. For different reasons, perhaps, but enjoy it all the same. I’d not be surprised if, when people do this, they just never go back.
3. The wife
That woman you live with when you’re not wearing a replica shirt and fretting about your perky number 23 shirt’s knee injury. Talk to her about stuff.
Take that hundred quid you set aside every week for your ticket, a programme, a pie and two pints of £7.80 Spurs™ Lager, and donate it to a charity. Then bask in your warm feeling of generosity as you sit in your pants and watch Carlton Palmer and Garth Crooks mug their way through another agonising 3 hours of BBC Score Interactive.
5. Dogs on the pitch
Invest your normal entrance fee in rescue dogs, and then release them onto the field of play when your team finally DOES kick off. You should be able to get quite a few dogs together for that money, whilst a coordinated assault should see a pyramid of canines to rival Ancient Egypt.
Whether or not you’re going to a game today, you can always benefit from a bit of Baker and Kelly. Crane your lugs in this direction: