Television Review: The Football League Show (NZ)
Mondays, 6.30pm (New Zealand time), Sky Sport 2
A few pre-Tuition fee hike years ago, I was fortunate enough to spend a year in New Zealand. Basing myself in Timaru, one of Aoteoroa’s less pluggable destinations, I had the year of my life familiarising myself with the nearby lakes, ski fields and rugged bush, and over the course of twelve months I gradually came to reinvent myself as a Southern Man, Kiwi style. I’m not proud to admit it, but part of that assimilation involved putting football to one side. Taking up the oval ball, if only as a supporter, many a weekend was instead spent cheering on the Highlanders and joining the whole country in deriding the All Blacks selectors for persisting with Carlos Spencer at first five-eighth (yes, I hate my 18-year old self).
Such a revelation outs me for what I was, a slippery Changeling, ready to sell his soul to any one who’d give him a second look. But, more appropriate to the subject of this piece, these actions were triggered by a wider issue in that coverage of the Football League was non-existent in this, a country infatuated with chasing the egg. Premier League games were, as they are now, available pretty regularly given Sky’s ready EPL access, but there just wasn’t an appetite for news and updates relating to the 72. Indeed, when explaining my allegiance, more than a few New Zealanders would respond by pondering whether I’d played for this team, Plymouth Argyle. For, in this slight country whose sports are dominated by US-style Franchises, the thought of four (and a half) Professional Leagues was usually a stretch too far to imagine.
Unfortunately for me, that year in New Zealand coincided with my team’s best ever season in recent years, but even though I was missing all of the action, the Sunday morning routine of checking Football 365’s results page became a ritual that I enjoyed greatly and now associate with all that’s good in the world. So, upon recently returning to the country for the first time since I left in 2004, I expected to reengage with tradition given that coverage was likely to be as sparse as it was during my year away.
So imagine my pleasant surprise upon checking in to a motel to discover the appearance of an hour-long Football League Show on the Sky Sport listings. Essentially a rip-off from the steadily popular BBC version, this goals fest cuts Manish, Greenwood-Hughes and Claridge out, instead opting for ITV’s now long-defunct format of blitzing through as many games in as short a time possible. The Championship is central to the programme, with Leagues One and Two making only brief appearances through one Game of the Week apiece as well as latest tables, but there is enough here for any football supporter to find solace in the shadow of wall-to-wall Tri-Nations, Super-14 and NPC rugby.
It’s difficult to say whether the arrival of the Football League on these shores marks a watershed in this, a country where there was widespread ill-feeling towards Rory Fallon & co for pipping the All Blacks to NZ’s 2010 team of the year. Football League affectionados musn’t get carried away; there’s four sport channels to fill in a country of only four million people, but shows such as these remind us that our 72 is as progressive and marketable as many other sport leagues. Greg Clarke take note.