Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Joy Of Text

It is, I guess, a sign of how successful your team is. If you support Manchester United, Arsenal or Chelsea, the majority of your matches will probably be shown on live television. If you support another Premiership side, you'll still be on live every once in a while, and the BBC will carry your highlights on "Match Of The Day" every Saturday or Sunday night.

If your team is in the Football League, you'll still appear on Sky (especially if you used to be in the Premiership), and you may or more not be featured on "The Championship", although this is on at the altogether more inconvenient time of 11.00 on a Sunday morning on ITV. You might have the inconvenience of a match or two on Friday nights, but most papers will carry a detailed match report every Sunday morning. This goes on down through the leagues to the very bottom of the footballing food chain. Even at the foot of the Sunday Leagues, where referees are not guaranteed to turn up and somebody running off the pitch five minutes into the match in order to vomit is de rigeur, you might well get your results listed in the local rag. In other words, it's one of the big advantages of promotion: more access to your team in the media.

One of the biggest jumps of all comes with promotion into the Nationwide Conference. It's the lowest level at which football is televised in the UK, and it's live on Sky (though there is no guarantee that your team will be picked, as Sky don't have to show everybody in the course of a season, as they do in the Premiership). You get your scores read out every week on on the results section of BBC1's "Final Score", rather than only when your team happens to be on the Littlewoods Coupon. Some of the national papers carry match reports, and all of them carry the results (the tabloids, to this day, still miss out the Conference North & South results from time to time). The BBC's website devotes a (erratically updated) web page, and... they carry minute-by-minute updates of your team's matches there too. I'm watching St Albans City vs Cambridge United using it tonight, and... it's agony.

At the exact time of writing, they've been playing exactly 38 minutes at Clarence Park, and it's goal-less. Cambridge appear to be on top, but I know that Dave Theobald hit the crossbar early on for The Saints. Having said all of that, it is (perhaps unsurprisingly) an empty experience. The descriptions are somewhat less than satisfactory, and... what if the person transcribing it all is getting it wrong? What if someone has scored and I don't know anything about it? Until 9.30 this evening, I am at the beck and call of the BBC, rooted to this spot on the sofa, unable to move. It's considerably more nerve-wracking than actually being there. I know that there has been a booking each. I even know which way the teams are shooting (peculiarly, St Albans always, whether they win the toss or not, shoot downhill in the first half), but I'm not there. It's horrible.

...And exhale. Half-time. Still 0-0. I'm going to have a lot of this to put up with this season. Some of the away trips are too far away to be able to get to from my bunker down here on the South Coast. Sometimes, I won't be able to afford the cost of travelling all that way. Sometimes, like tonight, I'll have to work until not long before kick-off. So this will have to do. On normal match days, I am blissfully non-caring about the result. A half-bottle of gin usually helps with this, but mostly, it's because I'm with people that I know, and it's a shared experience. We shout and scream and sing for ninety minutes, but within ten minutes of the end of the match, we're in the bar, and it's largely forgotten about. Here, though, I'm on my own, sober, and hating it.

A quick look around the rest of the football hemisphere shows that there are plenty more interesting things going on this evening than St Albans City 0-0 Cambridge United. Theo Walcott scored in three minutes for England Under 21s against Moldova. East Stirlingshire have contrived to find themselves 5-0 down ten minutes into the second half against Queen's Park. For now, though, there's only one match that really matters... isn't there?


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