Saturday 11 April ~
With just a few weeks of the season left, Notts County's fourth division game at Rotherham this weekend could be classified as more or less meaningless. Although Rotherham, in 14th place, could technically still reach the play-offs, and County, in 16th, could technically still be relegated, it would take a lot of freak results for either to happen. There will be dozens of such matches up and down the country over the coming month, and fans will either stay away or turn up out of habit to check for signs of life and start building up some summer optimism for the next campaign.
The wonder is that some smart young thing at the Football League hasn't yet devised a way to repackage all these dead rubbers. Surely it's not beyond the ken of that branding superman Brian Mawhinney, the man who revitalised lower division football with the bedazzling concept League Two, to come up with a plan to inject some ping and pizzaz into Rotherham United versus Notts. County. How about the Springtime Redundancy Cup, sponsored by the Royal Bank of Scotland? All teams with nothing to play for have their points tallied over the last six fixtures of the season, and the team that comes out top wins an all-expenses paid Wembley trip to their division's play-off final.
This could work at international level too. Bayern Munich stand little or no chance of progressing to the Champions League semi-finals after getting creamed by Barcelona in the first leg on Wednesday. "Perhaps if they only bring eight men to Munich then we have a chance," said Bayern's captain Mark van Bommel, doing his usual best to rally team spirit and uphold club pride. Setting aside the issue of van Bommel's own best attempt to alter the course of the tie by decking Lionel Messi, perhaps he's on to something here. UEFA should make Barcelona start with seven players, and every time Bayern score a goal, the Catalans get to bring another man on to the pitch. Come on people, this is entertainment, and there are unsold tickets to shift.
Those fine institutions of higher learning that offer degrees in worthy subjects like marketing should set their students a task: take an end-of-season game between Barnet and Port Vale and sell it. I can see players in clown costumes raising money for the local kiddies' hospital. Deluded but wealthy fans could buy ten minutes of playing time to bolster club funds. Barry Fry could play up front for Barnet. Anyone yellow-carded has to play with their shorts down by their ankles. Goalies play blindfold and the ref blows for fouls on a baritone euphonium. Throw in a compere and some girls in bikinis too. The possibilities for packing out Underhill on the final Saturday of the season are endless, and until we start milking every minute of every game for some kind of added value, we are naively ignoring football's almost infinite revenue generating potential. Those of you still unconvinced just don't know how to have fun. Ian Plenderleith