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Bacon’s Bites: Taking the money while the participation continues to fall

07 September, 2018 - 17:02
England's Sam Curran celebrates taking the last wicket of India's Ravi Ashwin during day four of the fourth test at the AGEAS Bowl, Southampton. A fine win for England, but many young people would struggle to name three or four of the current England Test squad. Not because the team is poor, but exposure to the general public is. Photo: PA

England's Sam Curran celebrates taking the last wicket of India's Ravi Ashwin during day four of the fourth test at the AGEAS Bowl, Southampton. A fine win for England, but many young people would struggle to name three or four of the current England Test squad. Not because the team is poor, but exposure to the general public is. Photo: PA

PA Wire/PA Images

Mike Bacon takes a look at why some ‘mainstream’ sports are slowly fading out of sight... And out of mind!

India's Jasprit Bumrah hits out during the current Test series with England Photo: PAIndia's Jasprit Bumrah hits out during the current Test series with England Photo: PA

It feels a long time ago since, as someone without Sky, BT Sport or any other digital subscription sports channel, I enjoyed live Test match cricket.

Summers used to be all about cricket, beach huts, strawberries and Radio One Roadshows.

Now, my parents have long since sold their beach hut, the Roadshows are now ‘Big Weekends’, strawberries are all year round, while cricket... Well cricket has just faded from view... For me and millions of others, anyhow.

Indeed, I’ve been indebted to the excellent Mark Nicholas and all at Channel 5 for being able to ‘sneak’ an hour’s highlights of each day’s play in the current Test series between India and England – 7-8pm Channel 5, don’t be late.

It appears to have been a good series. But with so few sound bites and snippets I couldn’t definitely confirm.

Which brings me to the question of ‘what’s the point?’

What’s the point of taking cricket off the mainstream just so the game can be pumped with millions of pounds, a good percentage of which, like football, will head towards the elite players?

England's cricket team arrive in Trafalgar Square during the Ashes victory parade in September 2005. Can you imagine cricket capturing the public imagination like that in the near future? That Ashes series was shown live on terrestrial TV and was viewed by millions. Photo: PAEngland's cricket team arrive in Trafalgar Square during the Ashes victory parade in September 2005. Can you imagine cricket capturing the public imagination like that in the near future? That Ashes series was shown live on terrestrial TV and was viewed by millions. Photo: PA

Yes, I know loads of cricket initiatives to encourage young people to play the game are/have/will be created.

But if young people don’t ever see the sport, why on earth would they ever want to take it up?

It is now two decades since the BBC’s 61-year exclusive coverage of home Tests came to an end with a 10-wicket victory for a Muttiah Muralitharan-inspired Sri Lanka in a one-match ‘series’ at The Oval in August 1998.

I don’t believe for one second the lack of terrestrial coverage has done the sport any favours. Out of sight, out of mind.

Don’t believe me? Why not do a quick survey.

Go into Ipswich town centre, or Bury, or Colchester, I don’t mind. And ask five young boys or girls to name three current England cricketers.

I bet you would be stunned at the blank looks.

England cricketers Andrew Flintoff, left, and Kevin Pietersen arrive at Downing Street for a reception, following the Ashes victory parade in London. Both looking slightly worse for wear!! Photo: PAEngland cricketers Andrew Flintoff, left, and Kevin Pietersen arrive at Downing Street for a reception, following the Ashes victory parade in London. Both looking slightly worse for wear!! Photo: PA

In fact I bet you if half the England cricket team walked past them in the street, one of the five would recognise them.

It wasn’t like that in Ian Botham’s day!

Don’t worry, cricket is not alone.

Golf has similar issues.

Golf participation continues to fall. There are many factors as to why, including the time it takes to play a full 18 holes in today’s busy, busy world.

But I still maintain the lack of golf on terrestrial TV, is a big blow to its popularity.

There are plenty of junior initiatives and I know of many golf clubs who work hard to encourage juniors and more women into the game.

Europe captain Thomas Bjorn during the 2018 Team Europe Ryder Cup wildcard announcement this week. It is sure to be a great event, but how many people will actually watch it? Photo: PAEurope captain Thomas Bjorn during the 2018 Team Europe Ryder Cup wildcard announcement this week. It is sure to be a great event, but how many people will actually watch it? Photo: PA

But as one of the almost 65% of the population who don’t have a TV digital subscription, golf and cricket may as well have vanished from the sporting calendar years ago.

Is it all too late?

Sadly, I think so.

The likes of cricket and golf will always continue, obviously. But it is going to take a great deal for them both to seriously thrive again.

Football is king sport on planet earth and is becoming more ‘king’ as each year goes by and more ‘mainstream’ sports take themselves out out of the limelight.

It’s the likes of MMA showing the way these days.

Live streaming of events on You Tube and Facebook – a clever way to reach young people, they don’t need to pay a monthly subscription to watch.

Nearly took all four roofs off Portman Road. Fabian Wilnis scores against Man Utd in 2000. Photo: ARCHANTNearly took all four roofs off Portman Road. Fabian Wilnis scores against Man Utd in 2000. Photo: ARCHANT

MMA gets the popularity out there... The rest they know will follow.

Yet, sports like golf and cricket had all that.

Free terrestrial TV exposure to every household in the UK. What better publicity to get people to think about participating?

Yes, I know the digital bucks are big.

But sport is nothing without the players.

MORE BACON’S BITES FROM EARLIER THIS YEAR: ‘No Hunger In Paradise’... A look at youth football

Holidays, cycle speedway British finals and a bit of non-league footie have meant I haven’t been to Portman Road so far this season – until last Sunday.

The derby clash between Norwich and the Blues may have lacked quality on the pitch in such a feverish atmosphere.

But the noise from the stands, especially among the Town fans, was some of the best I have heard in many, many years.

Indeed it took me back to Town’s last foray in the Premiership, back in 2000.

The game was Town v Manchester United and Fabian Wilnis opened the scoring for the Blues in what was, I believe, their first home game of the season.

All four roofs of Portman Road were nearly taken off when Wilnis’ shot hit the back of the net.

It wasn’t that dissimilar to when Gwion Edwards’ deflected effort went in against our nearest and dearest up the A140 last Sunday.

Fans just want entertaining.

I hope Paul Hurst and his team soon get into the winning habit.

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