Too Much, too Soon?

Last updated : 22 July 2006 By Richard Oldroyd
Kurt Nogan - scored on the opening day ten years ago, but it was the 17th
It is currently 30-odd degrees, and even journeying from the patio to the fridge is a sweat-inducing activity necessitating a refreshing, cold beer on arrival. Energetic activities are on the back burner for most of us – except if it involves a swimming pool, or at a push for the keener amongst us, using a nicely air conditioned gym.

As for playing football, you'd have to be joking. Unless, of course, you are a footballer, in which case the 2006/07 season is to all intents and purposes underway, with intensive training sessions and pre-season friendlies in full swing. In barely two weeks, you and I will be able to combine that Saturday afternoon sunbathing session with the opening fixtures of the football season.

You can stick that Saturday down for a barbeque, since it is one of the unwritten laws of meteorology that the opening day of the football season shall be swelteringly hot. Indeed, it is invariably an uncomfortable experience, a world away from the autumn and winter days which are most readily associable with football. On those early August days, fans burn and lose the will to sing, the game slows to walking pace, and the players gasp for a drop of water. It is rarely a festival of free flowing football.

And just now, to be perfectly honest, I'm not really ready for the football season to start. What with the world cup and the need to support England's ill-fated challenge, I'm still enjoying a much-needed holiday from the full-time job of investing hopes, fears and emotions in a football team. This year it hasn't really been away, and I can't hack it. I'm still enjoying long summer days in a beer garden, the cricket season, the Open on the box, all without a football in sight.

That doesn't mean that my enthusiasm for the game has dulled. No, by mid-September it will be there as ever. It just starts too early for my liking, intrudes on a part of year when I don't want to be drawn into the whole rollercoaster thing, as I know I inevitably will be.

There is a myth, popularised largely by those who don't like football, that the season used to start in September. It is false, but there is no doubt that the season has gradually encroached into the earlier weeks of August. Fifty years ago, Burnley started on the 18th August 1956, the third Saturday of the month, and so it was forty and thirty years ago respectively. Twenty years ago, we started along the path to Orient with a 1-1 draw at Torquay on the 23rd. Even ten years ago, Adrian Heath's sole full season started on the 17th. Yet somehow, over the intervening decade, the first whistle has to all intents and purposes crept forward by a fortnight.

I wonder, sometimes, if the continuous surfeit of football – there will have been not a clear month in this calendar year without competitive football – amounts to an overkill which turns the casual fan away from the game. I know that the attendance figures for the game as whole are good, but there are underlying trends which are more concerning, showing a plateau and even a reduction in attendances. Burnley are not alone reporting falling gates and falling season ticket sales.

Those fans are not left wanting more. With the domestic season not finishing until the very end of May, then the international jamboree, his cravings are satisfied by almost eleven months of action. And just now, with sun baking the ground so hard and arid it would not be a total surprise to see a camel trotting round sub-Sarahan Burnley, they are not ready to pass over their twenty quid to watch the Clarets.

But there are other, practical, reasons for delaying the start of the season until the sap is beginning to rise in the ground. Those metatarsals must take a pounding on the rock solid ground, and it must increase the risk of stress-related injuries. The conditions cause excessive fluid loss – first and foremost potentially dangerous, and not exactly conducive to peak performance either.

As for the answer: More games in the autumn, I suppose. There is an argument for reducing the number of teams in the divisions to reduce the total number of games, but clubs don't vote to increase their chances of relegation, and in any event two lost home games probably equate to a hundred and fifty grand of revenue.

All I know is that I do not want to watch football wearing a pair of shorts. I don't want the season to sneak up on me whilst it feels unseasonal and unnatural. Call me clichéd if you wish; you may be right. But I want the anticipation to build, as teams gradually get into shape during the friendly programme, and for the football to finally swing into action just as cricket's test match schedule enters its last rites, and as the nights begin to draw in a little.

Oh, and it would also give us a chance to sign a right back, a right winger and a couple of others, and to get rid of the transfer listed quartet. But, anyway, that isn't really the point. The strength of our squad will reveal itself in due course. But, for me at least, just a little too soon.