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Monday, June 15, 2009

This is what you can do with your 39th game, Scudamore.

In case Richard Scudamore is thinking of reviving the idea of the 39th game, may I make a suggestion. As I understand it, the idea behind the 39th game was to access previously untapped markets, encourage valuable shirt sales and stay one step ahead of the NFL, the IPL and the other competing leagues across the world who are after the same leisure pound and big TV rights deals. When he suggested it at the beginning of last season he was shot down in flames. One of the many sound objections was that teams couldn't waste their time flying halfway round the world in the middle of an already hectic season.

I have a plan which gets round that problem and puts the Premier League in touch with a section that their whole future depends on. The 39th game should be played in England in front of under-18s only. Just kids. No corporates, no season ticket holders, just the young people that everyone professes to be so worried about.

Nobody who's seen that stat about the average age of a supporter at the Stretford End rising from 17 to 47 in the last forty years can doubt that the people the Premier League has lost contact with are young people who no longer go to top rank games unless they've got a wealthy and/or indulgent parent with a season ticket.

In the past few years under-age club nights and rock gigs have proved a massively popular boost to the live music business, putting artists in touch with their most passionate fans and planting the seeds of a lifelong interest in gig-going. Surely football would reap even more benefit from under-18s Saturday. It would look and sound totally different on TV, do more good than all those embarrassing football in the community photo-calls we see on MOTD2 and might even turn our current feelings about top footballers from seething envy to something approaching affection.

What could possibly be wrong with that? It ticks every box. All except the one that says football's highly paid bureaucrats should get an all-expenses paid jolly-up to somewhere warm where their sponsors wish to interest the locals in their lager and internet gambling.