Terrace Thoughts 1, 19/10/18

Few will argue that it was a great result for Pools at Orient last Saturday: and I’m sure that many of my fellow supporters still have nightmares about that match at Brisbane Road on 17 April 2017 – and will also recall the delight when Louis Laing scored against them on 17 April 2018 to keep us in the National League! Louis has now left the club – by ‘mutual consent’ (whatever that means!) – and many have talked about his various howlers but I’d like to thank him for that goal against Orient – as otherwise……..well, it doesn’t bear thinking about.

Like Pools, Leyton Orient came close to disappearing – an Italian owner with a rather interesting backstory and some strange management practices, slowly strangling the club until luckily a saviour was found. The club survived but has seen a fall through the leagues that now sees them in the National League. Again, the local Trust, Leyton Orient Fans’ Trust (LOFT), have been active in ousting the old owner and finding a new one. Off the pitch at least things are now on the turn, with the appointment of a Supporters’ Liaison Officer and owners who wish to engage with their fans rather than disenfranchise them. LOFT works in tandem with other supporter groups and, being one of the first of the now nearly 200 Supporters Trusts in the UK, their website is certainly worth a visit.

 

www.leytonorientfanstrust.com/about.asp.

 

Going back to that match on 17 April 2017; remember that ridiculous sending off? Well, on Saturday, when we were back at Orient, Liam Donnelly was turning out for Motherwell, alongside Poolie-old-boy Peter Hartley, against Livingston. Funny Old World?

Our game against Barnet has been moved from Saturday 17 November to Sunday the 18th to accommodate a visit from BT Sports cameras: an inconvenient change to my Sunday lunch arrangements or an opportunity to show the viewing hordes just how much Hartlepool United has progressed since our last televised home game? Well it got me thinking about a recent article by Nicola Hudson of Supporters Direct. I’ll summarise her article but recommend that folk access the Supporters Direct site for her full words of wisdom…

 

In 1955, avid Burnley FC supporter and son of a local barber, Bob Lord, rose to the position of Chairman of Burnley FC.  The early days of his chairmanship oversaw the most successful period in the club’s history, seeing them become league winners in 1960 and FA Cup finalists in 1962. Two years later, 1964 saw the first broadcast of Match of the Day, a weekly programme showing football highlights from across the league.

 

A vocal critic of televised football, citing that it would “damage and undermine attendances” Lord not only banned the BBC cameras from Turf Moor for five years, he successfully convinced fellow league chairmen that televised matches on a Saturday afternoon would negatively impact the attendance and income of those clubs not televised.

 

As a result of Lord’s actions, the broadcasting “blackout” was introduced.  An agreement made by the governing bodies and leagues in English Football that no matches would be permitted to be televised live between 2:45pm and 5:15pm on a Saturday within the United Kingdom.

 

Today in 2018 football, at all levels of the domestic game and from across the globe graces our screens almost seven days a week.  You can flick through the vast array of Sky Sports channels and guarantee you can find a match to watch at almost any given time of day or night.  Despite this accessibility the one thing that remains sacred is that if you want to watch 90 minutes of football from 3pm on a Saturday it will be from the terraces not from behind a screen. That was until last month. 

 

UEFA Article 48 is the section which covers the rules on football broadcast across its members.

 

It states that each member association may decide on two and a half hours on a Saturday or a Sunday during which any transmission of football may be prohibited within the territory of the relevant member association.

 

The two and a half hours period must be decided on by the member association fourteen days, at the latest, before the beginning of its domestic season, at which time they will enter into force and apply for the whole season.

 

The present regulations are designed to ensure that spectators are not deterred from attending local football matches of any kind and/or participating in matches at amateur and/or youth level, on account of transmissions of football matches which may create competition with these matches.

 

Last season the EFL launched its own subscription package, ifollow.  For £110 a season it allowed non-domestic residents to watch English Football League matches live on a Saturday afternoon.  This season the service was extended to domestic residents, offering the chance to stream live matches that fell outside the 3pm blackout times following a new broadcast agreement with Sky.

 

Last month, the EFL invoked exceptions, made due to the international break, to broadcast a full schedule of League One and Two matches live at 3pm on Saturday via iFollow. Is it purely coincidence that Northampton Town, Exeter City, Morecambe, Accrington Stanley, Portsmouth and Sunderland all suffered their lowest league attendances of the season that day?

 

It isn’t just the attendances at the televised games which suffer, how many chose to sit on the couch and watch a game from behind a screen this weekend than attend a local non-league or amateur match? 

 

There is much talk of “growing the game” “increasing participation” and ensuring future generations engage with live football, but when the vast majority of youngsters have already been priced out of attending matches at the top flight is scrapping the blackout going to encourage them to attend and cheer on their local teams?  Or will this create a generation who chose convenience over feeling the exhilaration of celebrating wildly on the side-lines with their friends as the ball hits the back of the net? Are fans for life made behind screens or on the terraces?

 

The overriding design behind article 48 is to ensure that spectators are not deterred from attending local football matches.

 

As a supporter of my local tier five team, I can unequivocally state that attendances are affected on those midweek games where the local Premier League or Football League teams are being shown on the box.  Non-league has been engaged in this battle for many years and the consequences are clear to see with falling attendances and the number of clubs suffering financial depravity, unable to entice fans from the grip of broadcasters.

 

We have a football pyramid envied the whole world over.  We do what no other country does in sustaining regular competitive football leagues across multiple levels, from the highest echelons of the game right down to the most amateur.

 

Every game matters, isn’t that right EFL?

 

There is only one reason for this decision.  The one overriding reason behind all the bad decisions that have thwarted the modern game. Money.  Money for the broadcasters, money for the leagues, money for the clubs? Maybe. But the one thing that is guaranteed is it will do what money always does; float to the top.  

 

Some might not agree with everything that Nicola writes – I think that she is pretty much bang on – but, whatever, her views are interesting and illustrate the tremendous work of Supporters Direct. And now there is talk about live broadcasting of Spanish matches, into British homes and pubs, on Saturday afternoons! Surely this is madness?

 

Next week I hope to be talking about our opponents in the First Round Proper of the FA Cup – please let it be Sunderland so we can reminisce about the injury to Jack Ross! I’ll also start looking at the recent problems at Bolton Wanderers and how there are interesting parallels to the challenges which we have been facing – and to the root causes of their – and our – problems.

 

Cheers, John

PS You can read Nicola Hudson’s excellent article in full here: https://supporters-direct.org/articles/another-nail-in-the-coffin-for-live-football

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