Alan Biggs at Large: Can the Football League buck the ‘trend’?

Alan Bigg Telegraph Web Tile
Alan Bigg Telegraph Web Tile

If the Premier League is the only show in town - as too many would have you believe - how come 17,000 turned out at Bramall Lane last Saturday?

Has to be said it’s not much of a show for fans of Sheffield United right now, but that’s a wonderful measure of support for a club toiling in League One. And it’s one more sign, among many, of the warped perception that

football begins and ends with the top tier.

This is a culture perpetuated by many of us in the media, of course. Sky effectively owns the game with its bountiful bankrolling of the Premiership so it follows that the rest of the communications industry – and not just football – will be

tweaked by the nose. But that doesn’t mean you can fool the public.

In a rare moment of lucidity last Saturday morning, I just happened to tweet what a great many people were evidently thinking. It was amid the build up to the opening of the Premiership season, billed as THE start

of the season by some misguided individuals.

My response was: “Anyone who thinks today is the start of the season isn’t a real football fan, just one of those who wears a Prem team as a fashion accessory.”

I imagined there might be a few knowing nods and that would be that. Instead, retweet followed retweet until I found myself near the top of a national poll of local Twitter trends – with #premierleague trailing in my wake! All too briefly, I hasten to add,

but the point was made.

You see, a popular tweet isn’t necessarily an original thought. Often it’s only a putting into words of the simultaneous thoughts of others – and if I caught the mood of many then I am delighted. The media at large needs reminding that the game is alive and kicking outside of the elite. It may not have the money or the biggest stars but the Football League is as strongly supported as ever.

Look at the Championship where I count Sheffield Wednesday among a dozen clubs who would get regular gates of 25,000 plus if/ when restored to the top flight. Look at League One where Wolves and the Blades

continue to be hugely supported, and where Bradford v United will be a big attraction on Saturday. Look at League Two where a record 18.000 watched Portsmouth’s first home game and where Chesterfield hope for a 7,000 gate against Southend this weekend.

The fixation with the Premiership is fuelled by finance and fashion. It’s pure showbiz commanding huge global appeal. It’s where we all want to be, of course, so don’t take this as jealousy. It can be a great spectacle, as it

should be for the money lavished.

But the disparity in income is unhealthy. It feels wrong because it is wrong. Is it really that much better? Clubs have gone bankrupt trying to bridge the gap; clubs have gone bankrupt falling through the gap. Yes, Portsmouth!

Even the spending controls now rightly in place can’t correct this imbalance. . . or that parachute payments for relegated clubs have been obscenely increased to £59m over four years. . .or that that match ticket prices are too high in some places. Take the £36 for Owls fans to watch at Elland Road last Saturday. They did and voted with their feet.

Let’s bring the game back together somehow; increase the emphasis on getting fans inside stadiums. Interest at all levels is surging. We just need to ensure that this is more accurately reflected.

The rough and the smooth for Sheffield star Matt

Sheffield golfing sensation Matthew Fitzpatrick continues to rejoice in being below par – except in his A level results!

I hear the teenager’s joy at another amazing achievement was tempered – just a little – by his performance on other types of course.

Word reached this column that one B and two Cs were considered a little under par.

Mind you, a pass was a pass in my day and we are talking only shades of perfection when it comes to his eventual career of pro golf.

He must be itching to start. But the plan of continuing his education first has a couple of huge compensatory factors after Fitzpatrick’s triumph in the US Amateur Championship – as the first English winner in 102 years.

Matt’s victory, fast upon his claiming of the Silver Medal in the Open at Muirfield, means he has an amateur invite to both the US Open and the Masters next year.

Golfing insider Andy Waple tells me that, in between his two epic performances, Matt managed to wedge in playing for Hallamshire against Worksop in a Sheffield Union league fixture.

He duly won his match, but apparently described the Hallamshire rough as a lot more testing than Muirfield.

Ah well... there’s a lot of smooth to go with it.