28 November ~ Community radio enjoyed unprecedented funding under the Labour government, spawning well over 100 stations that serve what is termed a "hyper-local" audience. Many are highly professional set-ups that offer a level of coverage on their local professional football clubs that commercial radio and funding-hit BBC stations simply can’t match. For the most part, football clubs across the UK embrace their local area and the important role community radio plays in keeping close links with fans, especially those in areas that compete for coverage with multiple clubs in the same region, and lower-league teams.
The Football League allows community radio into its press boxes. The Premier League, however, has different ideas; it does not "recognise" community radio stations. One such station, Norwich's Future Radio, has enjoyed a long and friendly relationship with Norwich City, being granted access to every match, home and away. But the Canaries’ promotion to the Premier League has come at a price for Future Radio, who have over a hundred volunteers running a highly-rated station. Despite the club's support and best efforts to give access to press conferences and PR events, they are now locked out on match days.
There are of course many more media outlets visiting Carrow Road these days, and some may consider it only natural that there needs to be a pecking order. But should that not be up to the club, rather than the Premier League?
As Future Radio's station manager Terry Lee warns, the danger is that the Premier League are forgetting where the clubs' core support comes from. "Community radio is produced for the people, by the people. By denying community radio sports journalists access to cover matches, it suggests the Premier League isn't happy for clubs to keep a close relationship with community media. And this is only fuel to the fire for those who claim Premier League clubs are all too happy to neglect their community engagement practices in exchange for more financially beneficial national and international partnerships."
With football becoming so globalised, there is a real threat that the reporting of it will follow suit. The BBC are cutting huge numbers of local radio staff and commercial radio struggles to make ends meet. Community radio might become one of the only remaining truly local media outlets with the resources to cover your club. Only if it is allowed through the doors. Paul Buller