The widely anticipated winding up of Darlington FC is now well underway, the players and staff have all been laid off, and there appears to be no salvation. For some reason that is linked to my mate Dave, we have always referred to them as The Mighty Darlington, which is odd for a town I have only visited once, but the fact it is them, with all due respect to their players and fans, doesn’t really matter. It is just another nail in the growing coffin of football in England.
There can be no surprise anywhere that another club has failed. Did the owners make some wrong decisions; it seems so, but like in all business if the decision works out you are a genius, if it fails it was a bad one, so I don’t hold them responsible for this. While social networking is alive with demands for Premier League players to bail them out, and for “someone” to do “something” it is easy to empathise with this view, and the fact that Carlos Tevez has been paid about £5million since he was last even at Manchester City I am sure does rile people more on days like this.
But who is to blame, these days we have to have a scapegoat, we have to be able to point the finger at someone else so we can get closure and move on.
In a surprising move I blame myself.
Yes, me. Not me alone, most people reading this will have played their little part, but we created this, and it is nowhere near over. Last week there was a report that only 4 clubs in the Premier League were actually viable businesses that could sustain themselves without direct funding from their owners or other sources, and as you drop down the league I guess that figure disappears to almost none. If 16 of the top clubs in England (and Wales) can’t fund themselves, how are the smaller clubs supposed to be able to do it?
Back on track though, how am I responsible for the downfall of Darlington FC, a town I have only visited once, and that was for work?
Many years ago I and many others used to go to local non-league football when Spurs were away, or finances were against us. Aylesbury United used to get crowds of over 1000 in the league below the conference. In the season we gained promotion to the then hallowed level of the Conference and the season there before instant relegation I think I went to pretty much every game, home and away, ignoring Spurs for a bit.
Aylesbury United now have a desolate deserted ground, which once played host to England (we lost 7-0) and on a good day 100 people will pay to see them. Many factors have caused this, but it is the usual suspects of Sky and the Premier League that are the catalysts here. Live football on TV, banned at 3PM on Saturday to protect other attendances has obviously changed a lot. Instead of having to go to your local club to see football, it is on every day. Saturday lunchtime in December, do you want to go to a park and watch local or even lower division football or sit at home and watch Man Utd v Liverpool on Sky? On a rainy Tuesday night the more enticing prospect has to be Barcelona v Spurs in the Champions League doesn’t it?
There has been an even bigger shift in the last couple of years that makes the rules about no 3PM Saturday transmissions farcical. Everyone knows the local pubs with the magic Greek or Arabic boxes that show all the games live on Saturday, many pubs I know show multiple games live at the same time to cater for more people. Internet streaming is now so widespread that there are even sites that charge to watch the illegal footage, and guarantee the stream will stay up. So on a Saturday afternoon while up and down the country the lower and non-league games kick off, more and more of us are sat in front of our laptops or new interweb enabled TVs and watching Premier League Football instead.
So we are all to blame in this, we let it happen, and it isn’t going to change back now. The money at the top of the pyramid will never filter down, and why should Rooney or Ballotelli or Tevez “save” Darlington? Does everyone who thinks that also want to give a weeks wages to the club?
Much as it pains me to say it, there is only one solution to getting people going to football on a Saturday again and seeing local clubs play, and that is to shift all the Premier League games to Sunday. That won’t solve all the problems, indeed at many clubs in the lower leagues attendances are increasing, but at least it will mean that the choice on a Saturday is to go to a game, not sit on our sofas and moan about referee decisions on twitter while clubs like Darlington look at their empty terraces. The failing of many clubs now is down to the spiral of increasing wages at all levels, which a billionaire Arab or Russian can pay, but not a local club with an attendance of 5,000 and no TV money.
We will all continue to wring our hands and wonder what can be done, but all still want that signing to complete our team, clamouring for “realistic” wages of £100,000 a week to keep players because that is what we are now fed all the time from the non stop media circus that is the Premier League. As even the FA Cup fades into insignificance, can we really pretend to be surprised as clubs fold and disappear?
A generation has now been bred where there is no need to go to a game, where football is always available, and armchair fans are as valuable as those in the ground, after all, they are the ones watching all the adverts on Sky, and that is where the money comes from now.