You Can't Take Carlisle From the Boy


So the 39th game went down like a lead brick. I can't say that greatly surprised me or that I can add much more to the scorn that's been poured on the whole idea. It smacked of money taking precedence over common sense. It suggested those in charge weren't too bothered about football being a fair sport.

In fact, it suggests that those pushing the 39th game already KNOW the Premier League is more a case of a few high profile brands trying to maximise their income than twenty football teams fighting over honours to which they could all lay some claim. If you were going to be totally cynical you might regard these 'brand' teams as companies who happen to make a substantial part of their income from the live performance of football.

It won't happen of course. Enough people have come down hard on this stupid idea to kill it for the foreseeable future. What does strike me is that as a marketing exercise it shows how remote the Premier League have become from any concept of football as 'the peoples game.'

If they are serious about expanding their support and profile and if they have any real sense of how people around the world might see them there might be better ways of taking their show on the road. I'll admit that what follows has the feel of a pub conversation involving putting the world to rights but I'd also suggest it's more sensible and realistic than the 39th game.

What about:

Game Zero

Basically, the game before the first of the season. In the pre-season friendly period it is the norm that Premier League teams play high profile tournaments and entertain high profile foreign opposition. If they play lower ranked teams these games typically involve Premier League reserve players. Suppose on the Saturday before the likes of Carlisle United kicked off in League One there was national day of games given high profile local media coverage all of them giving a goodly proportion of the gate money to charity. Suppose these games involved top teams hosting lower teams in the Premier League grounds and fielding first teams.

The chances are the top teams would win, the lower league teams would treat the whole thing like a cup tie and loads of people would have a good day out. Football could sell itself in a way that brought in charities, the local public and the local media. When Manchester United host Bayern Munich two top outfits go through the motions, it gets some fleeting press attention and nobody else cares. If the whole day were marketed as an annual Sport Relief event and Accrington Stanley were the visitors to Old Trafford and the profits donated to concerns local to Cheshire and Lancashire it would look and feel like a celebration of what football can do.

It would also look like top end football was thinking further than the balance sheet and by doing that, oddly, it would help Premier League level football to sell itself to a public that has grown more cynical about the incomes of top teams and top players. More to the point, if an annual round of Premier League vs League One/Two friendly games were a calendar obligation it would be a once a year reminder of those trying to play games in Singapore about where their 'product' came from and where it might return if they make the mistake of thinking that football history started in 1992.

Of course it won't happen. Then again loads of unlikely things do happen. Things like Carlisle United breaking the record for the number of home wins in a row. I don't know about you but I never find myself envying supporters of the top teams. What feels so damn good at the moment is that we're watching a club that's rebuilt itself from a desperate position, earned two recent promotions on merit and is currently chasing promotion on the back of performances that entertain.

I know it's not all brilliant but when Westwood throws out to Livesey, who punts up to Bridge-Wilkinson, who considers the ball out to Taylor before opting for the flying Hackney, who whips it in fast and accurate with Graham and Garner charging down the chance…….great days eh? The way football should be. We might whinge once in a while, but I appreciate the chance to clap these players off the pitch, and - most of all - I appreciate the way they come close enough for us to see their faces at the end of a game.

And finally, thanks for the e-mails about the novel 'Workington Dynamo' as some of you already know the press launch is now rescheduled for the first weekend in May, around the same time we'll be showing Bournemouth little mercy as we secure the points needed for that top two finish.