As Saturday night turns into Sunday morning, the Football League Show will ask serious questions about your durability
The Nativity play season is upon us, and many of you, I suspect, will be taking an afternoon off to sit in uncomfortable chairs in a school hall craning your neck for a fleeting glimpse of progeny in the part of fourth sheep or "angel that stands at the back and doesn't do very much". It is an experience I can only compare to trying to catch up with the progress of your favourite team on the Football League Show.
Bolton, Blackburn, Wolves fans, be warned. It is not just the ignominy of relegation that threatens you – I am not pre-judging the issue, by the way, my money (literally) is on QPR and Sunderland – but late Saturday nights with Manish Bhasin and Leroy Rosenior and a frantically jokey feature with Mark Clemmitt, who always seems just a little too determinedly high-spirited, like a new divorcee at a Christmas party, done up to the nines, out to prove he or she is over it.
At the programme's heart is a whirlwind of highlights, in the midst of which you might just catch your semi-useless striker bundling in a goal past the opposition's semi-useless goalkeeper. As Saturday night turns into Sunday morning, those of us whose teams no longer inhabit the sunny uplands of the Premier League are united in the mantra: "Right, that's us, press pause. No, now. Oh hang on, it's gone, press rewind."
It is particularly pointless if your team have been involved in a goalless draw, when the 20 seconds of highlights might comprise your semi-useless striker hitting a post, and a centre‑back who has seen better days getting a second yellow card for one in a series of mistimed tackles.
There has to be a better way of covering three leagues of football. Maybe the whole thing should migrate to the net because the show as it stands is something of an embarrassment. I feel sorry for the reporters scripting the highlights packages, who might report a goal being scored at the start of the sequence, and then have to find 27 ways of saying it.
The Football League Show is the last refuge of "rifled in the rebound", "pounced to restore the Blades' two‑goal cushion", "hauled themselves free of the drop zone with a late equaliser". And, because reporters do not want to repeat a team's name too often, they will talk about the Shrews or the Spireites, occasionally pulling out nicknames that have not been wielded in earnest since the 1940s.
It is all rather nostalgic for those of us who remember the running match reports on a Saturday evening in the Football Pink. I think they should embrace this heritage feel, and talk about "attacking wing-halves" and the centre‑forward "thwacking the sphere past the outstretched arms of the hapless custodian".
But the Football League Show is not the only indignity football's underprivileged communities outside the Premier League must suffer. When your team are actually shown live and in full on TV, the fixture will invariably clash with one from the top tier. Should you be away from home you will find your match about as popular in the local pubs as Lloyd Grossman curry sauce (only the 350g jars with a best‑before date of February 2013 and the batch code 1218R, the rest of it is lovely, our lawyers tell me).
Which is why I ended up taping Saturday's West Ham United-Derby County match, which I am really glad I did, not particularly for the quality of the football but for Sky Sports' Simon Thomas's surreal questions.
The following conundrum, for instance, he placed before his guest, the former Croatia international turned pundit Igor Stimac: "Getting promoted is one thing, but achieving it is quite something else, isn't it?" which I find a difficult concept to get my head around, with English more or less my first language, so goodness knows what Igor made of it.
To his credit, the former centre‑back, described somewhat fancifully as a Derby and West Ham "legend" (at Derby maybe, but I think you have to play for a team longer than a couple of seasons to have legendary status bestowed upon you), smiled enigmatically, and swatted it away like he used to troublesome attackers.
The other pundit, Peter Beagrie, dealt similarly with Thomas's interesting musings about Derby's on-loan striker Tamas Priskin.
Priskin, Thomas explained, has not played much of late, but had been drafted in by the Derby manager, Nigel Clough, out of necessity with the team missing three of their regular starters through injury. "It's a lot to ask for him to come in, and pick up where he hasn't been," suggested Thomas.
But possibly his most arguable statement came before the ad break, when he trumpeted: "This has all the ingredients of a possible classic." Yes, a match between an injury-hit Derby side on a poor run of form, and a West Ham team grinding out barely convincing victories away from home and as nervous as kittens at home. I am as unrealistic as the next West Ham fan (very), but even I was not expecting a classic.
It made for a decent couple of minutes on the Football League Show, mind.