Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Go the distance

Ahead of Saturday's journey to the South Coast, I have travelled a total distance of 587 miles. Which is less than a return trip between Torquay (Devon) and York (erm, Yorkshire...).

So what?

Well, on Sunday evening I watched, courtesy of Setanta (or is it Sultana?), the Blue Square Premier League contest between York City and Torquay United. My first reaction was simply this; why on earth is this fixture between two teams that are physically distanced by a total of 314.5 miles being played on a Sunday evening? That is a round trip of 629 miles for the Devon faithful. On a Sunday evening. Who in their right mind would schedule that?

Setanta, that's who.

It will come of little surprise that this caused some upset at Torquay. When the league fixtures were announced in the summer, this game was scheduled for a normal Saturday afternoon slot. Actually, scratch that. Nowadays Saturday afternoon slots are becoming less and less the norm. Anyway, good news for the travelling Torquay contingent. A 3pm kick-off on a Saturday. No problem.

Enter stage left Setanta. Game moved to a Tuesday evening. Displeasure amongst the Torquay fans; plans rearranged, weekend trips cancelled. New plans made. Exit stage right Setanta.

But hold on; enter back onto stage Setanta. A comedy entrance. The kind of "funny-if-it-wasn't-so-true" comedy entrance. They've changed their minds. The game will no longer be on that Tuesday, but now on a Sunday at 7pm. Yes, that's it, 7pm. Perfect. No one will mind. Rearranged plans rearranged again. Cancelled weekend trips now become cancelled Tuesday evening trips. More disgruntled Torquay fans. Many cannot now travel to historic York. A Torquay fan from Sheffield cannot even make it across the county because the last train from York to Sheffield on a Sunday evening leaves just before the game ends.

During the game Setanta even have the audacity to step in amongst the Torquay fans to interview them during the game. Needless to say one of the questions was not "What time do you think you will get back home tomorrow morning?"

TV schedules are controlling the game to such an extent that kick-off times are barely recognisable anymore. Friday evening, Saturday morning, Saturday teatime, Sunday lunchtime, Sunday afternoon, Monday evening, Thursday evening. But a Sunday evening? That is a new one on me. Fans will (and do) find it harder to travel to games at obscure times, particularly where long distances are involved. And when the nation's public transport system just isn't up to scratch it can be virtually impossible.

My trip to Eastbourne Borough on Saturday will be my furthest single trip so far, but will still take under 90 minutes, traffic permitting. I know that from the First Round Proper onwards I could have some big distances to travel as the regionalisation disappears. I am prepared to go the distance.

I just hope my First Round Proper game will not be covered by Setanta.

1 comment:

The Punter's Friend - The Bookies Enemy! said...

Couldn't agree more. I was happy when Setanta took over the upper reaches of non-league football, with increased television coverage and more publicity for the game. However, the down-side has more than negated the advantages, in my opinion.
Not just ridiculous timings of games to suit TV listings (and even in the Blue Square Premier, there are many geunuinely amateur clubs, with payers who have other jobs and commitments to fulfill, and may well have to be home the following day!).
But also this moronic tiddly-wink cup, the Setanta Shield. All Level two and three clubs have to play in it, and, as it is seen simply as congesting the season for no real reason (apart from TV coverage) nobody takes it seriously. So Setanta tell us that teams must include ten of the players who were named in the last league match played, to stop teams resting players who need rest and playing eleven twelve-year-olds to get knocked out so they can concentrate on proper games that matter, without the worry of additional injuries and suspensions.
Quite a few teams at this level have very thin squads, not much more than turn up on the team sheet each week. With a few games postponed for the weather, a few games missed as the opponents are in the FA Cup or whatever, league games, FA Cup, FA Trophy, the Setanta Tiddly-Wink Shield, local cup competitions (Boro are in the Sussex Senior Cup), plus I'm sure I've missed one or two others, the end of the season could well see the ridiculous situation last year where Boro and Newport County were playing two or three games every week, travelling half way accross England to do it, and all with minimal squads made up of players who also hold down full-time jobs. A rumour has it that one or two of them also try to have a family life!
When Liverpool and Chelsea tell us that their full-time players, spending six hours a day with physios and masseuse, have to rest so that they are fit to play once a week (often once a fortnight), and that the strain is too much for them to bear on their meagre £100,000 a week salaries, you only have to look at the non-league Pyramid to see how much more effort our players have to put in, for how little return.