Are policemen getting younger or are you getting older? Is the English football season kicking-off earlier every year or…no, balls to that! It is kicking-off too bloody early this time round – far too bloody early. Granted, we have another seven days before the pampered Prima Donnas of the Premier League are chauffeur driven through the gold-plated gates of their millionaire mansions and deign to breathe the same air as the common people for ninety minutes again; but that will still only be August 11. This weekend, English football’s pimp – otherwise known as television – again fires the starting pistol for a marathon that will take us all the way to next summer’s World Cup in Russia; the three Football League divisions have a week’s start on the Premier League, and their campaign opens this evening.

Domestic football is not, and never should be, a summer sport. The bi-annual international tournaments are different, and the fact we have the granddaddy of them all at the end of the 2017/18 season is perhaps why this season gets underway just four days into August. The traditional curtain-raiser to the top division’s very own marathon, the match between last season’s champions and FA Cup winners that most of us prefer to refer to by its old name of the Charity Shield, takes place on Sunday (not Saturday, heaven forbid!); and the Premier League kicks-off proper next…er…Friday.

Although there’s always an overlap between the cricket season and the football season at either end, it never feels quite right when they’re being played simultaneously; it’s an uneasy, jarring combination – a bit like listening to Slade’s ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’ during a heat-wave in July or anything by The Beach Boys in December. When the football season is galloping towards a (hopefully) exciting climax – with promotion and relegation places still up for grabs and everything in the balance – the second half of the season has been building up to such a frenetic pace that there’s no time to catch one’s breath. It then appears anachronistic that in the thick of this high-speed race to football’s finishing post, the first day of plodding play at Headingley is taking place, greeted by a smattering of old geezers armed with packed lunches and brollies.

The chasm between the two sports is partly the nature of the climate in which they are supposed to be played. True, rain regularly stops play in cricket during those chilly early weeks of the county game and the opening day of every football season is usually bathed in blazing sunshine; but the erratic temperament of the English summer aside, that unpredictable bridge between spring and autumn can occasionally produce the kind of weather entirely conducive to leather-on-willow, not to mention the sedate commentary of ‘Test Match Special’ rather than the hysterical castrato that goalmouth action can inspire on ‘Match of the Day’.

Both sports are so associated with the time of year in which they’ve traditionally taken place that whenever the football season impinges upon cricket’s turf, it almost makes football appear to be a narcissistic, scene-stealing actor, unwilling to allow any other member of the cast to grab the audience’s attention while he has no lines. When the England cricket team are busy playing a home Test series against South Africa, football should just let them get on with it and be gracious enough to grant them their brief moment under the spotlight before being edged off-stage by the plunge back into 24/7 fanatical coverage spanning eight or nine whole months that football regards as an entitlement. Few pay attention when the cricket season creeps into view, right at the moment when the football season is reaching its dramatic climax; yet football thinks nothing of gate-crashing cricket’s place in the sun.

If I want to evoke the sound of a childhood summer, I only have to hear the voices of John Arlott, Jim Laker or Richie Benaud and I’m there; if I want to evoke the sound of a childhood autumn or winter, I hear the voices of John Motson, Barry Davies or Brian Moore. These individual voices are as associated with a specific time of year as an Easter egg or a harvest festival. Each has its proper place and its seasonal relevance, but perhaps the way in which lines drawn in the sand that always divided the respective seasons have been blurred in recent years – particularly where the retail sector is concerned – has been compounded by the increasing extension of the overlap between cricket and football every August.

Come September, October and (especially) November, I will be as hooked as everyone else with a semblance of interest in the football season; the nights drawing in, the clocks going back and the fire being switched-on are rituals that perfectly complement the football season at its grimy, gritty best, when men are separated from the boys on muddy quagmires and teams scrap for scalps as the money-spinning prospect of the Third Round of the FA Cup hovers into view. There’s a kind of masochistic pleasure in anticipating the worst of the winter, knowing it will pass and that spring is waiting at the finishing line. If a team can survive January and February unscathed, the prize is all the sweeter come March and April.

Yes, when the Ashes are staged in Australia, they take place in the incongruous environs of a Southern Hemisphere winter; but that’s the other side of the world, and it’s permissible as a result. One couldn’t imagine county cricket being played on English pitches in November, so why should we have to invite the football season into our homes at the beginning of August, when we’re neither prepared nor bothered? It’s arrived at the party ahead of everyone else and hasn’t even brought a bottle with it, despite being able to afford an entire wine cellar. That’s just not cricket.

© The Editor


  1. I went to a football league match once, in the mid-1960s, in an attempt to understand why so many of my peers became so committed and excited about it – I failed, or rather football failed to excite me. A couple of precious hours of my life that I’ll never get back.
    I can’t get to grips with a game which delivers a ‘result’ often based on just one random event and which so frequently fails to reflect the balance of the play. But maybe that’s what the fans really like, all the post-match victim-analysis, being ‘victims’ of an uneven bounce, a referee who’d apparently never heard of Specsavers or an alien oligarch owner who’s not spending enough of his ill-gotten gains on this covert money-laundering farce.
    And we’ve not even mentioned Middle East inter-state rivalries being played out through a proxy-war between Manchester City & Paris Saint-Germain – does John Motson understand Middle East politics? If not, he needs to.

    But I write as a Test Cricket fan, not the brain-dead, lager-lout, crash & bash, limited-overs variety which currently brings in all the cash, but the exquisitely-long, 5-day chess-game in whites, which has many levels of gripping interest, even when, to the untutored, nothing is apparently happening. But you need to be able to handle numbers higher than two to enjoy Test Cricket fully, ideally into the hundreds, which seems to eliminate so many from its thrall.
    On a three-week school-exchange to northern France in 1967, my host family were quite baffled that the same game I’d been following on BBC Long Wave on a Thursday could still be playing on the following Tuesday, even though I’d known by the Friday that it was going to end in a draw. And I never even tried to translate ‘silly-mid-off’ or ‘deep-square-leg’.

    Sadly, the encroachment of big-money football onto the narrow window of the cricket season is now a given and can only get worse – too much dodgy money in it to miss out on the chance of a little bit more. Good luck to them all, they deserve each other – I’ll not be going, watching, listening or reading: just one miserable game over fifty years ago was more than enough to secure my ongoing loyalty to God’s Own Game.

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    1. Interestingly (well, perhaps) I’ve probably been to as many county cricket matches as football league matches; all were before the age of 16, so we’re talking 70s/early 80s. Most of the time, I was taken along without me being asked if I wanted to go, but the some of the cricket matches were in Scarborough, so there were other attractions between play. Others were at the long-gone Bradford Park Avenue ground. All the football matches were at Elland Road, bar one isolated visit to Blackburn Rovers in 1983. I can see the appeal in both games – the offside rule aside, football is undoubtedly far simpler for the layman; but as you point out, cricket does require a little more thought and patience, something that is at a premium these days.

      I do think the seasons for both should certainly be more clearly defined with less of an overlap, but it often seems it’s only a matter of time before football becomes an all-year round sport, with everything else relegated to the periphery. I think it would help if the BBC could regain at least edited highlight rights to county and Test cricket, if only to make younger viewers whose parents don’t subscribe to Sky aware there is an alternative.


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