Back to the Future

BILL THE BIRO wonders where it will all end

I was reading the other day about the fall in attendances at lower-league clubs. Across the board they are losing out to televised football.

Virgin is asking the government to investigate the television rights market in football, but really all it's saying is "we want a slice of the action". The Premiership does its own thing, makes its millions in collusion with television, and the rest of the world has to just get on with it as best it can.

How can the likes of Pools compete when fans are faced with a choice of watching Lionel Messi for free in a warm pub, or standing in a freezing ground watching dross - and paying £20 for the privilege? What attraction is there for youngsters to start supporting Pools? A few diehard Poolies brainwashing their offspring may help, but won't stem the tide. Eventually as the old Pools and Scunthorpe fans pop their clogs, there won't be anyone to replace them, and their clubs will simply die through lack of support.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the football world, I can't see the powers that be, the TV companies, being content to show the likes of Swansea playing Stoke. The European Super League and then the World Super League will surely at some point replace the Premiership. There may then be a market for a Premiership leftovers / Championship League, but by then the trapdoor between them will have been closed."A few diehard Poolies brainwashing their offspring may help, but won't stem the tide"

So I was wondering if that really is the fate of many old clubs. Could Darlo for instance, be trendsetters for the future. Will that future be much slimmed-down but famous clubs playing in very regional leagues? That could take us back to the future, full circle, back a century to the old North Eastern League, where Pools and Darlo came from.

It could be that football eventually splits into two different sports. One is a game played on recs, in schools, and by local teams in local leagues in small stadiums, while the other is the television version, completely separate, watched in the pub unless you're a rich millionaire in Madrid or Manchester who can actually afford to watch it live through the window of your hospitality box.

Of course, that parting of the football ways may lead to new generations of fans evolving who don't regard watching football as an outdoor experience at all, but a flat-screen experience inside a warm room. The idea of standing on a terrace for two hours in January will then be looked on as bizarre, a bit like those old Cadbury's Smash ads from years ago when the spacemen laughed at people on earth who peeled potatoes.

And then, as with Rugby Union and Rugby League, in time the TV version would be able to change the rules, to eliminate for example the unacceptable problem of 45 minutes of television without any adverts.

It may even be that the recent phenomenon of showing live events at cinemas, such as operas, stage plays and concerts - the recent Monty Python show being one - may give an opportunity for making yet more money out of football by taking it away from pubs and into cinemas.

Who knows what will really happen? But whatever it is, I don't think it will end happily for the likes of Pools, certainly for Pools as we know it. Greg Dyke's ideas on Premiership reserve leagues may have not gone down well in 2014, but I fear that they were just the first shots in a long campaign with an inevitable result.