Football. A juggernaut of greed and self-importance. A reckless behemoth which has sucked every penny of cash, every ounce of the public consciousness, out of the sporting biosphere and into its insatiable jaws.
The wretched sport has one saving grace. Each midsummer, its relentless grind and hyperbole finally takes a pause, and we cricket fans can enjoy a few blissful weeks to ourselves.
But perhaps not for much longer.
UEFA president Michel Platini, as you may have read, is reportedly discussing a reform of the football calendar which is every cricket lover’s worst nightmare: a season which runs from March to October. Had the idea been suggested a year ago – and Platini first proposed it in 1998 – we could probably have laughed it off. But the Qatar 2022 World Cup has changed the landscape. Anything could happen now. And what soccer oligarchs want, they almost always get.
Summer football would, surely, drive a bulldozer through our game. Unfortunately, for its own purposes, the rationale is utterly logical.
As Paul Hayward of the Observer points out in a fascinating article, there’s nothing about football which particularly lends itself to winter.
It only developed an autumn-spring season in the first place to protect public school pitches for cricket in the summer term. Winter is cold and wet, and unpleasant for both players and spectators – which almost certainly deters youngsters. The wind and muddy pitches hinder the development of skills.
Far nicer to play in summer, if only for the lighter, milder evenings. Which is why one mini-league in Durham has already switched to a mid-year season, and the FA rule against such arrangements has been quietly dropped. In Britain it virtually never gets too hot for football, even in July and August. Spain and Italy are another matter. They resisted Platini’s first proposal for a season switch in 1998, and may yet come to our rescue.
There are three reasons why UEFA’s dastardly scheme spells disaster for English cricket. First, exposure. As it is, in a World Cup or Euro year, we only get five weeks’ respite. Football all summer, every summer, would exert the same stranglehold over TV and press coverage which it does in winter. Cricket would be driven into the sea. Will Sky really devote so much money to our sport when they don’t need it to fill their schedules? Cricket would become an inconvenience to them.
Second, spectators. Premiership and test match tickets are similar in price, but football is shorter and more convenient. You don’t need to take a day off work.
Third, and worst, grass roots. Leisure time, volunteers, and facilities are in short enough supply as it is. How would schools find time for both football and cricket during exam season? What about pitches? Most councils and sports clubs use the same field for both games.
Cricket already competes with tennis, golf and flat racing during the summer. But these are generally isolated marquee events – Wimbledon, the Open – unlike the incessant weekly grind of league football.
You might say – if cricket is so damn brilliant, it will fend for itself. And if it can’t, that’s because it doesn’t deserve to. Survival of the fittest. But this is not a fair fight. The selection is far from natural. Football wields a power vastly beyond the scope of English cricket’s. Its allies extend from corporate giants and media magnates to the Caesar-like plutocrats who own most of our Premiership clubs.
But many cricket lovers also follow football. And vice versa. Ultimately, we’re the ones who buy the TV subscriptions, run the recreational clubs, and buy the merchandise. We have a voice. It’s usually ignored, but just in case anyone asks you, tell them – no. Not now, not ever. Summer belongs to us. Keep it sacred. Protect cricket.