Dave Seddon’s Preston North End Press View: Red button blues

There were just 397 Preston fans at Villa Park, compared to 2,700 two seasons ago
There were just 397 Preston fans at Villa Park, compared to 2,700 two seasons ago

Forgive me a wander down the footpath of Memory Lane as an appropriate way to wade into the subject of football and television.

As Preston North End prepare for their visit to Hull City, it is worth nothing that this fixture once took prime billing on Match of the Day.

It was a Third Division clash 34 years ago, North End winning 2-1 at Hull’s former home Boothferry Park.

Jonathan Clark and Mark Jones got the goals either side of a Hull equaliser, with right-back Jones’ strike from distance finding its way into the Goal of the Month voting.

For the record, Bryan Robson pipped Jones for that honour with a fine finish for England in a Wembley win over East Germany.

Those were the days when the choice of football on TV was limited.

You had Match of the Day on the BBC on a Saturday night, with ITV having their turn on a Sunday afternoon with regional highlights.

The Beeb generally stuck with the First Division but would sometimes spread the net lower, hence their choice of Hull v PNE in September, 1984.

As a nipper, it was rather exciting to see Clark, Jones, Dale Rudge, Willie Naughton, Mike Farrelly and Co, on the small screen at 10.30pm.

Even better that North End won in what was a good start to the 1984/85 season, one which was to actually conclude in relegation.

Televised football is in a different universe now than it was back in the mid-80s.

In the Premier League, games are scheduled around the needs of the armchair and bar-stool supporters.

Never mind that fans are getting up at the crack of dawn to make a lunchtime kick-off, what counts more is that Bob in his replica shirt can watch it in the boozer over a pint or six and still squeeze in the teatime game before staggering home.

Below the Premier League, this season has seen a dramatic increase in the number of games available on television.

All midweek matches in the Championship are now shown via Sky Sports’ red button or on iFollow – the EFL’s subscription service.

The fixture card is split equally between Tuesday and Wednesday, hence why PNE are playing Brentford this coming Wednesday.

Research conducted by a national newspaper this week showed that crowds for the midweek Championship matches, are down this term.

Could that be due to the 50,000 streams of live games which iFollow has had?

While crowds for matches on Tuesday and Wednesday are often going to be lower than at a weekend, you can’t but help to make the link.

I don’t see the streaming of games on iFollow or the red button as being a totally bad idea.

It is mainly for the benefit of the fans of the away club who don’t have the time or the money to make a journey in midweek.

In August, North End made the trip to Norwich on a Wednesday night.

An extremely creditable following of 320 was in the Carrow Road away seats that evening but others were no doubt tempted to reach for the Sky remote or to log on and subscribe to iFollow.

Same again at Leeds on a Tuesday night last month when a second mortgage was needed to afford a ticket.

So too at Aston Villa when Preston weren’t pulling up any trees leading up to it.

The away attendance at Villa Park was 397, compared to 2,700 two seasons ago when the fixture was played on a Saturday afternoon.

My concern is that this live streaming and broadcast could eventually become the norm for all games, not just in midweek.

The television fans will get thought about more than the supporter at the ground.

At the moment, Saturday afternoon games are not for broadcast in the EFL – those fall during a block-out period between 2.45pm and 5.15pm.

However, that block does not apply in an international break and during the last two breaks, League One and Two clubs signed-up to iFollow could stream.

Longer term, it would be healthier for energy to be focused on getting people into grounds rather than sat in front of the screen.

Football is not a television show, it needs supporters in the ground.

Look at England’s Nations League game in Croatia, one which was played in an empty ground due to the hosts being punished by UEFA for a swastika being marked on their pitch at a game in 2015.

It was akin to watching a training session or a reserve game.

I’m not suggesting that too much televised football will lead to empty stadiums but the time could come when attendances take a real tumble.

You look at Premier League games now and there are empty seats to differing extents.

In the Championship, the experiment of streaming the midweek games is a season-long one, so the debate will go on a while longer.

I just think the experience of going to a game needs to be encouraged – clubs might be better served putting their heads together to look at cheaper admission.

Looking further down the football pyramid, Bamber Bridge are saying goodbye this weekend to manager Neil Reynolds, who is off to take up the reins at FC United of Manchester.

Reynolds has done a fine job in his 22 months in charge at the Sir Tom Finney Stadium, guiding Brig to 
promotion and the League Cup.

I applaud both clubs for coming to an agreement where Renno oversees one last Brig game against 
Basford United before 
moving on to his new post.

He gets to say goodbye properly and Brig have some breathing space when it comes to replacing him.

Aside from how well 
Renno has done at Brig, you have to admire his dress sense on the touchline.

Come rain or shine, he was dressed in club blazer and tie for every game.

Even at the pre-season game with PNE – one played in the midst of a heatwave – the blazer stayed on.

Manchester United have the Glazers but the Red Rebels of FC United now have the blazer!