It seem that everyone that has anything to do with "Blind, Stupid and Desperate" these days has got it in for ITV's coverage of the Endsleigh League. It is not enough that they recruit inane presenters to excitedly talk us through a dull 0-0 draw ground out at Boundary Park, but their entire treatment of the Endsleigh league could be described in no hyperbole better than "piss-poor". They are sitting on a potential goldmine, but seem to treat it with contempt.
The case in question is the jewel in ITV's sports crown, the wonderful late night goal-fest that is "Endsleigh League Extra". Each week, us devoted night owls stay up 'til the wee small hours of a Tuesday morning, and tuck into a banquet of goals. Inevitably, there are more than 100 net-busters, many of which would push Yeboah or Le Tissier off the top spot at "Match of the Day". Yet this gem remains lodged at a ridiculously late night slot, which can scarcely be enjoyed in a state of extreme refreshment, and which makes for difficulty waking in the morning.
What's more, by the time "Extra" comes around, that disputed goal has ceased to be a talking point, you have consigned yourself to the defeat, and are waiting eagerly for the mid-week match to try and snatch three vital points. Monday night is not a time conducive to football talk.
The individual regional ITV companies are responsible for this ridiculous scheduling, and they claim that it has to be there as its viewing figures are low, so it will not be economically viable, commercial-wise, to show it any earlier. Yet they precede "Extra" with either an episode of that great 1970's detective series "Magnum", or a pitiful b-movie, and maybe even have time to slot in a cheeky little "Curtis Calls". OK, even 11.30 is too late, but surely it's better than the 1 am slot it currently enjoys. It is time that ITV started to wise up and finally stop treating "Extra" like some bastard son, hidden away in the depths of televisual hell, where it should rot forever.
Yet the problem is more widespread than merely dodgy scheduling of "Extra". ITV's cackhandedness when it comes to the Endsleigh League is yet more evident when it comes to the weekly serving of live football. I do not like Charlton Athletic Football Club. Nor do I like Millwall. And everyone hates Crystal Palace. Yet week in week out, those three teams are at the forefront of the TV football revolution, as far as Carlton TV is concerned at least. They ignore the fact that Watford are in the same division, Brentford are quite a big side, Leyton Orient have experienced a renaissance, and the mighty Gillingham are running away with the third division title. In such a big area as London, Carlton fail to recognise the fact that not everyone lives south of the Thames, and not everyone is all that bothered about a couple of Russians being on loan. Yet the only reason Mick McCarthy can afford these Russians is due to the massive cash handouts. I don't see Palace shirts on backs in Harrow, or in Acton, yet anyone that wants to watch live football on the telly has to put up with this big three. The problem is, Carlton is one of the better companies.
Many companies offer scant coverage of football, often neglecting the local teams, and showing Birmingham v Wolves once a year. They prefer instead to show us all a wonderful black and white Jerry Lewis film, followed by an episode of "Bewitched". Westcountry TV are in an unenviable position. True, none of their three clubs: Plymouth Argyle, Exteter City and Torquay United are in particularly healthy positions, but Plymouth has potential to be the Newcastle of the South if its true fan base was explored. You see, there is not a single league football team in Cornwall, so any Cornishman worth his salt supports the Argyle. Problem is, a round trip from Penzance to Plymouth can take up to eight hours, so the fans in the far off reaches may only rarely see the team they love. How welcome it would be to watch the Argyle occasionally, if only on the box. Unfortunately, Westcountry don't show live football.
ITV are cutting their nose off to spite their (particularly ugly if Andy Steggall is anything to go by) face. Smaller clubs only have smaller attendances because stay-away fans have got better things to do with their Saturday Afternoons than stand on some windswept, crumbling terrace watching some team of crumblies knock a bladder about wearing what could loosely be described as a Tesco carrier bag. Maybe they have got married and their better half has calmed down their footballing furore. Or maybe they're just fed up with the whole routine. Whatever the reason, that does not preclude them from being included within the viewing figures for a live Sunday Match. In fact, it is just these stay-aways that make up a healthy proportion of the viewing figures.
Come on ITV. Figures won't drop if you occasionally treat your partisan viewers to a glimpse of the team that they support. God knows, little clubs like Barnet could use the money. Sometimes we get bored of Millwall, and want to see our own clubs. Particularly if they are away at a particularly important six-pointer in South Yorkshire.
And when you consider that 100,000 people regularly attend Endsleigh League football matches, that's a bloody big audience to watch a peak time "Endsleigh League Extra".
And somehow, I can't see the situation getting better with the SKY deal-but that's a different story...