The Football League No-Show
In the past 24 hours, I have seen an extraordinary sight. There was nothing unusual in the outpouring of negativity towards the BBC’s Football League Show on Twitter. I’m used to that. But this time it was different.
Instead of the usual sniping, groaning, whinging and moaning about the omission of a debatable penalty decision in the 37th minute of a game between two mid-table League One teams, there was sniping, groaning, whinging and moaning about something entirely more understandable: the complete absence of any highlights, debatable or otherwise. In fact, there was no show at all.
Given the whines that usually accompany each programme, it would be forgivable to think that some people would be pleased by this news. But that would be to miss the point. To whinge about the Football League Show, you generally have to watch it. And to watch highlights of Football League games without access to broadband internet or pay television, you generally have to watch the Football League Show.
The BBC’s decision not to broadcast the Football League Show on Boxing Day (nor, perhaps more accurately, the early hours of the following day), was attributed to “a budget decision” by its presenter Manish Bhasin. There followed a back-and-forth on social media about whether the show had been cancelled permanently (it hasn’t) and when it would next arrive on our screens (Saturday 14th January, missing the previous weekend due to the FA Cup).
There was also some confusion over whether the BBC had rights to show midweek highlights, but a statement, albeit ambiguous, given by the BBC’s press office to the journalist Lizzy Ammon seemed to rule out this possibility, reading: “The Boxing Day fixtures are outside our contractual obligations, and many factors come into play when planning Christmas schedules”.
Various people began to draw parallels between this budget decision and another budget decision – the decision to spend £1.5million per year on employing Alan Hansen. Of course, this is all down to supply and demand. Even the most ardent Football League fanatic understands that the Premier League takes precedence and accounts for the vast majority of interest levels in this country’s football.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t say anything at all. In bidding for the rights to show Football League highlights, the BBC took on a certain amount of responsibility and it is entirely understandable that some fans feel let down by its decision. The BBC is clearly not the main catalyst for the proliferation of televised football but by bidding for rights such as Football League highlights, it is part of the picture. And that overall picture depicts supporters driven away from grounds by price hikes as a result of the game being swamped by money from television companies.
So while the BBC may be providing a public service by broadcasting Football League highlights on terrestrial television, it is also shooting itself in the foot by withdrawing coverage unnecessarily. The parallels drawn with Hansen’s salary, along with those of Gary Lineker or Alan Shearer, are the result of frustration rather than some notion that Match of the Day presenters and analysts (for want of a better word) should donate part of their fees towards the continued broadcast of the Football League Show.
People make their voices heard because if we don’t, they won’t know how much we care. The Premier League has been so successful in separating itself from the Football League as a “product” that it scarcely feels like football sometimes. The soap opera plots are so elaborate, the quality of football at the very top so superior and there seems so many people who appear to prefer what goes on off the pitch to what happens on it that the top flight can often feel like a completely different sport.
That is why it is worth re-iterating how important the Football League Show is. Just because we might have minor gripes about the way it is offered doesn’t mean we don’t view it as vitally important. The reaction to the news that it would not be broadcast on Boxing Day proved that. Without it, terrestrial coverage of the Football League is almost non-existent.
NB – The BBC’s communication on this decision has been fairly low-key. If anything else comes to light, it will be included here.
More coverage of the Football League No-Show
- No Nay Never Net, Burnley FC