The return of the football season is always cause for an outpouring of joy, but the beginning of the 2015/16 campaign was also tinged with sadness.
Events on the pitch, unfolding under golden rays of August sunshine, were not to blame. Instead matters decided upon in some distant boardroom as far back as last December were the cause of the disappointment.
The first Match of the Day of the new campaign is one of its sacred rites, but the happiness induced by it’s observation quickly dissipated as the quick step to BBC2 that followed it’s closing credits revealed only the admittedly excellent Graham Swift-adaptation Last Orders.
Where was the Football League Show? What had become of Manish Bhasin? Of Leroy Rosenior, Of Martin ‘Mad Dog’ Allen and Steve Claridge?
Dwarfing MoTD in scope, the three-division highlights show was like extra church for the devoted, a haven to football addicts, studious punters and insomniacs alike.
A welcome antidote to the relatively predictable and endlessly discussed top-flight, its lesser-hailed heroes retained the mystery of pre-Sky Sports, internet-saturation era fandom.
Recourse to Google revealed that thankfully Football League highlights will remain available on terrestrial television – the Beeb had in fact lost the rights for coverage to Channel 5.
The broadcaster who once brought a naked Keith Chegwin-fronted gameshow to the world had whisked the Football League show into a prime-time 9PM slot.
“It will take our games to a wider, younger audience by giving us the chance to be first in front of fans on a Saturday night”, reasoned Football League chief executive Shaun Harvey.
Harvey and friends’ attempts to enthuse the next generation are laudable, for all it must be feared that C5 will end up doing a Big Brother on the second, third and fourth tiers of the English game.
Yet, uprooting the program from it’s previous temporal moorings also fails to acknowledge the solemn poetry of the midnight-hour Manish marathon.
It’s red-eye scheduling made it ideal for the post-pub viewer with stamina, sating the desire for a footballing takeaway accompaniment with a trip through the kind of less-charted waters ideal for late-night TV.
However, the act of fighting back the arms of Morpheus to take in the cream of upwards of 30 contests was also oddly resonant with the commitment required to follow the game in the lower leagues.
The faithful, who spend their weekends travelling from one unglamorous local to another in support of players who the Premier League-obsessed have never heard of, knowing that, whatever the result, the Sunday papers will likely treat it as though it never happened.
That kind of loyal, dour dedication isn’t exotic or ‘prime-time’, but, there is a certain pleasure and kinship to be taken in devoting yourself to such a marginal pursuit, of which the observation of the Football League show’s late-night slot felt an embodiment.