It’s not much fun supporting a Football League team. You’re not big enough to attract players like Pedro or Kevin de Bruyne. You’re not even big enough to attract players like Younes Kaboul. But you’re far too big to wander around the stadium with a beer like a Dulwich Hamlet or FC United fan. In most cases, when you support a Football League team, you’re spiritually marooned between glamour and fun on a featureless bank made up of everyone else’s shit. And the water always seems to be rising.
But fear not, the Football League are here to make it all better. They’re teaming up with a creative agency called Futurebrand to discuss how they market themselves and how they can attract a younger audience. And one of their plans, so it has been reported, may be to rebrand and change the names of all the divisions. Because if it didn’t work in 1992 and it didn’t work in 2004, it’s bound to work in 2015. Third time’s a charm, right? Come on, who wouldn’t watch the Gold League, the Silver League and the Bronze League? Or the Super League, The Super Dooper League and the Super Dooper Wooper League?
Down here in the lower leagues, and I say that as the worst Southend supporter in the world, whose day job has kept him from showing up at Roots Hall on more than handful of occasions since 2007, we need something more tangible than expensively sourced bullshit and glitter. We suffered in the 1980s when the bigger clubs decided that they no longer wished to split gate receipts down the middle. We suffered in the 1990s when the bigger clubs decided that they wanted almost all of the TV money. We’re suffering now because, not content with all of the money, the bigger clubs want all of the players too, stockpiled, catalogued and sent out on loan just in case they turn out to be any good.
We really need the Football League in our corner right now. We’ve tried telling the Football Association about our problems, but they just suggested tossing a squadron of B teams down, a move that would cement our position as the gap-toothed village whores that the young aristocrats come to practice-fuck in exchange for a handful of coppers. We need real leadership and real solutions. We don’t need the people tasked with protecting us to start pissing down our backs and telling us that it’s raining.
The logic of a rebrand simply doesn’t work. No Plymouth Argyle fan has ever refused to go to Home Park on the basis that League Two doesn’t sound sexy enough. No lapsed Carlisle fans would be be lured back if they turned League Two into the Megaspurt Infinity Division. I can’t tell you for sure why not enough people go to Football League games, but I’d imagine it has something to do with the fact that ticket prices for the bottom flight can often be over £20. And it’s fine when you’re single and free, but when children enter your life, the bill starts to rise and before long you wonder if it might not be better to spend that money in a more constructive manner. People drift.
There are other reasons too. The notion of a ‘glory hunter’ is well known to anyone who grew up in the 1970s or 1980s, but by the 1990s it was normalised. Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool were on the television so often, why wouldn’t kids start to follow them? Now English kids are openly describing themselves as Real Madrid or Barcelona fans, watching them every week, playing as them on FIFA and Pro-Evo. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, there’s no sense in purposefully avoiding quality, but you try dragging a nine year old Messi fan boy out to watch Notts County slide down the pyramid and see where it gets you. It’s cold and wet in real life and you don’t get many rabonas for your ticket price.
But as any Football League fan knows, and apparently the Football League doesn’t, it’s that authenticity, that struggle, that bloody-mindedness that keeps you going back for more. That’s the selling point of the lower leagues. That’s what marks it out from the rest. That sense that if you keep going to watch your team and if you keep putting up with the shit, that one day something nice will happen and it will feel so, so good. It’s the satisfaction that you don’t need dramatic trailers all over Sky Sports News, that you don’t need blanket media coverage, that you don’t need fancy trophies and roaring CGI fucking lions, you’ll turn up anyway. You support a Football League club, you’re a bullshit free zone.
So if Futurebrand have got any sense at all, they’ll stop dicking about with logos and synergetic buzz-monikers and they’ll tell the Football League that the best rebrand they can choose is the one where they revert to being the Second Division, the Third Division and the Fourth Division and then spend the spare money making actual, tangible improvements.
Because you need to remember what your mum said when you begged her to buy you expensive clothes in the hope that it would make the cool kids would like you. “If your friends only like you for the label on your clothes, they’re not your real friends.”
Here are four ideas for how the Football League might want to spend the money it has earmarked for Futurebrand. Email your ideas to us: [email protected] and we’ll publish them all.
1, Hire a brilliant negotiator to wrangle more money from the Premier League. Get that financial gulf reduced.
2, Lobby the Premier League to impose genuine squad number restrictions that would prevent the big teams from beam trawling the lower leagues and stockpiling every adolescent male with two legs and the ability to do more than 15 keepy-ups.
3, Formulate regulations that would essentially preserve lower league clubs like listed buildings, making it impossible for them to be asset stripped or forcibly rebranded or picked up and shifted dozens of miles north.
4, Explore the possibility of replacing the unused seated areas of fallen Premier League clubs with safe standing.