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The Non-League Football Paper

Matt Badcock: Game on! Non-League is still TV gold…

BOXING, cricket, Vauxhall Conference football and….topless darts – welcome to L!VE TV.

Broadcasting of Non-League football has come a long way over the years. It hasn’t always been High Definition, multi-camera, super slo-mo replays and fancy graphics showing the formations, though.

L!VE TV was known as Britain’s trashiest television station and soon became famous for its inane, cheap and poor taste programmes as the rise of cable television grew and more homes had it installed.

Topless darts, pretty self-explanatory, was a daily fixture along with Britain’s Bounciest Weather – a dwarf bounced on a trampoline while reading the forecast – and News Bunny, where a rabbit would stand behind the anchor and give a thumbs up or down depending on the story.

But they also had Conference footy. L!VE TV was formed by the Mirror Group when they took over Wire TV as part of a plan to go head-to-head with The Sun owner Rupert Murdoch and his Sky venture.

Wire TV already had the football rights – in the evening it would become Sportswire – and the plan, which never happened, was to have a separate sports channel alongside L!VE TV.

Game-changer

Conference games were regularly shown live in the late 90s with full commentary and goal replays often from the original camera angle.

In the early 90s, the league had got its television exposure through Sportscast. British Aerospace Communications were behind the channel broadcast in pubs and clubs.

They would transmit a range of sports, including rugby league and hurling, as well as quizzes to their subscribing outlets. Included in the package were Conference highlights.

As time has gone on, coverage has ramped up. Sky Sports got on board with live games and also a weekly highlights show that occasionally took in a bit of action from the lower leagues too.

TV coverage was a big factor in stirring the rivalry between Boston United and Dagenham & Redbridge during the famous 2001-02 season.

As if two clubs gunning for the title wasn’t enough, just the added spotlight and weight that came with the Sky coverage built it up even more as the season got to the business end.

On the final day, with the title on the line and Dagenham needing to better the Pilgrims’ result, Sky broadcast the Daggers’ match with Chester and Boston’s game at relegated Hayes.

Sky would often broadcast the FA Trophy final too, but the rights eventually moved on to Setanta Sports, who promised to be a game-changer.

Setanta Sports, former broadcasters of the Conference

Fronted by Rebecca Lowe, they would even interview players in the stands moments after they’d been sent off! Clips on YouTube from the Setanta Shield – the long-since binned Conference league cup – offer a reminder of how up close they got to the action.

In penalty shoot-outs between Aldershot and Rushden as well as Forest Green v Telford, a camera was positioned on the halfway line next to the players, so much so you could hear what they were saying.

Profile

Mid-game interviews and cameras in changing rooms divide people. Some love it, others hate it. BT Sport regularly chat to a manager during a game to get his opinion on how they see it.

Non-League does need to make some concessions when it comes to raising its profile and the chat always offers up the chance of a well-placed Saturday lunchtime F-bomb from a manager who forgets his surroundings.

Lowe is now presenting Premier League coverage in America, has taken the lead role in NBC’s Olympic coverage and is considered one of the best around. So it’s not just Non-League that gives players a chance.

After Setanta’s implosion, the Blue Square Premier moved onto Premier Sports, a channel few people had, and that didn’t help the viewing figures.

With clubs hoping for a share of revenue when the ratings went over a certain number, it all fell a bit flat. But BT Sport can be considered to have really stepped it up since taking on the rights in 2013.

This season they’ve had over 400,000 views of the weekly National League highlights show on YouTube alone, where non-subscribers can watch the action.

It might not command the same cash as the Premier League, but Non-League football has its place on the box. And not before the darts.

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