It’s time to face the final curtain, of the football season that is. Although the poor weak little wretches of the Premier League have a few extra weeks of league games to play (38 games in as many weeks too much of a stretch for these pampered millionaires), most of the rest of the English football world is entering play off and cup final season.
There are a few wishes I would still like to come true this season: Newcastle to get relegated and take their messianic/big club shtick to the bright lights of Peterborough, Plymouth, Doncaster and Barnsley next season, Torquay to win promotion back to the League, and Sheffield United to win the Championship playoffs, if only to thwart Reading and set up a mouth watering revenge tie with West Ham next season.
But it’s in the lower leagues that football is real and interesting. The Premier League is a foregone conclusion, and the Championship a qualifying tournament for who is to be humiliated by the big boys the following season. Lower down the players are generally ordinary joes, with even the professionals of League One and League Two not earning enough to avoid having to seek work when their short, limited playing days are over.
Fairytales this season have been Exeter and Burton’s promotions, Bournemouth and Rotherham’s amazing overturning of a 17 point deduction to avoid relegation, and the fact that so many clubs are just about riding the economic storm to survive. Deep into the non-league game, the magic of the FA Cup and County Cups remain, with the preliminary and qualifying rounds draws in June eagerly awaited by followers of their small home town teams.
I know I am at risk of entering Ron Manager territory with his misty eyed invokations of ‘boys in the park, jumpers for goalposts’, but I have certainly enjoyed this season far more for going to grounds of teams entirely run by volunteers and first eleven’s stocked with amateurs playing for the love of the game, and abandoning the Sky Sports dominated and suffocatingly corporate world of the Premier League and the Champions League.
It is entirely true that only an abolition of capitalism can rescue the game from the profit-seeking nightmare it has become at the top level, but lower down a world of mixed fans, drinking with players in the bar after the game, and sport for sports sake still exists. Many survive barely, and gates for many are dwindling, with younger fans content to walk about B&Q on a Saturday afternoon in a Manchester United or Liverpool shirt rather than follow their local team.
My appeal to you for next season is find out your local non-league team, go there, maybe for a cup game, get there half an hour before kick off, go into the social club for a few before and after the game (don’t forget and pasty or pie at half time), and see if you get bitten by the bug. Let me know if you do, and of course let me know of any particularly good nosh, can the pasties and burgers of Clyst Rovers of the South West Peninsula League be beaten?