Smaller leagues and a winter break – the secret to a happier non-league game
Posted on March 13, 2013
There’s too much football. How often have you heard that from people who complain about an over-indulgence on our TV screens? The fact is, there’s too much football, full stop. Especially at the level that struggles to win public support at the best of times. And when the weather’s bad, crowds dip and pitches become unplayable – there’s no undersoil heating at West Ham & Egg Sandwich Albion of the Middle England Building Society Premier Division. Look at how many games have been postponed this season.
The answer is obvious and plain to see, but the non-league world seems to ignore the problem. Their view is, more games mean revenue, however small it might be on occasion, and basically, “sod the pitch”. Cup competitions have become meaningless because the leagues are all that matter – apart from the FA Cup, which still has gravitas at non-league level. But with less football, the Bedfordshire Senior Cup might just become a little more important.
There’s nothing more miserable than non-league football on a January midweek, or December, or February come to think of it. Empty terraces and stands, small crowds hunched up against the elements, disinterested teams and [mostly] poor playing surfaces. Meanwhile, there’s footie on the box and a warm home to go to. Little wonder that midweek crowds, notably in mid-winter, are dire.
Given that non-league football is mostly the sport of the elderly – just consider how many minutes’ silence are held at Ryman or Evo-Stik games in memory or a deceased long-term fan – and it’s not difficult to see why crowds slump with the winter solstice. It’s just too damned cold.
The demographics of non-league are one thing, but it makes sense to cater for the crowds that do currently come along. So, break-up the campaign and have an interval after Christmas. Four to six weeks after the festive season, restarting in March. Just as people smile at the thought of spring, they will look forward to the restart of the football season. It works in other countries, so why not the UK?
The leagues will undoubtedly complain that this encourages fixture pile-ups. The response is simple: make the leagues smaller. Twenty-two clubs is too many, so goodness knows why the leagues think 24 is acceptable. Take the divisions down to 16 or even 18. Smaller leagues can facilitate a better regional split than is currently in place – no more Devon to Bedfordshire trips! And Truro may become popular again!
Non-league is a wonderful advertisement for small-town football and for those who want to support their local sporting entities. It’s currently over-blown and swollen. It’s time to change to a more realistic, practical and affordable narrative.