Standard pre-season fare- multiple subs. Photo: Jon Candy CC BY-SA 2.0

IT SEEMS to get earlier every year. Pre-season games in the first week of July? Haven’t these people got a life? Does football have to fill every day?

How anyone can get too excited about a pre-season friendly I will never know. Aside from the obvious fund-raisers against Football League opposition, the prospect of watching glorified training games does nothing for me. And on July 1? Crazy.

Give people a break from football week-in, week-out. Sharpen that appetite, that longing for football. Let’s not let one season end and the next one start almost immediately. Let the grass grow, the administrators have a break and yes, let the players have a summer – they are not full-time professionals, after all.

And let that break be a decent one. Start later than the pro game, there’s no real requirement to begin in early August. The non-league audience will not dwindle because of big-time football getting in the way. Indeed, it could be the opposite. Launch non-league after the big kick-off, allow it to have its own big start and allow the public to get tired of Wayne Rooney’s return, John Terry’s Villa debut, Lazacette’s first goals and Lukaku’s United bow.

Non-league players are entitled to a more prolonged break than their monied cousins in the Premier. Why? Because they have jobs and families to balance. Some work in professions where holidays have to be accommodated at specific times of year. It’s bad enough for some to get time off to travel ridiculous distances in midweek, so let them have some breathing space.

It used to be that mid-July was considered too early for pre-season fixtures. When you think about it, one month before the start is more than enough. But now, it is barely July and teams are already playing friendlies. What do groundsmen think of that? If all pitches were 3G, it wouldn’t be an issue, but they’re not.

Managing the public appetite is another thing. We all love football, but it is 24 x 7 x 365 these days and in the end, people will become tired of it. If it is always there, there’s no compulsion or urgency to watch it. If you participate in your hobby every day of your life, it is not a hobby anymore, it’s an occupation. It no longer becomes special. And football is often in danger of going down that road.

We’ve advocated smaller, more local leagues for some time on Game of the People, and this is all part of the same argument. Playing 46 league games means the leagues have to kick-off earlier than ever before. Make them more compact, cut-out some of the long distance runarounds and shorten the season – surely there is an economic as well as social reason for doing so?

Report by Neil Jensen, GOTP Editorial