This story is over 5 years old.


Last Night the Football League Show Saved My Life

It's actually the best show on TV, if you let it be.

The banter between the lads is unbelievable (Photo via Twitter)

Perusing Twitter the other night, I came across a tweet which very much affronted me. It was a picture of a young, earnest-looking Manish Bhasin, just about to deliver his opening line as the host of The Football League Show. The caption, simple and devastating, read: 'You know it's time for bed when this guy comes on TV'.

You know it's time for bed when this guy comes on your tv — JavRahman (@JavRahman)April 5, 2014


Now, The Football League Show might not be the slickest of programmes. In an obvious sense, it's all about lower-league football – this necessarily means that it showcases lots of not-that-good footballers playing for less-than-glamorous teams, the vast majority of whom share a penchant for muddy pitches, defensive disorganisation and two-footed, chest-high lunges the likes of which would reduce the average MMA fighter to a gasping, quivering wreck.

It has other inherent limitations. Though Bhasin and regular co-host Steve Claridge work in beautifully understated harmony – Bhasin will always reply to a statement by Claridge by serenely assuring him, "that's certainly the case, Steve" – the same cannot be said of everyone who appears on the show. Features reporter Mark Clemmit ('Clem') usually finds himself being physically assaulted with high-carb foodstuffs during attempted interviews. A limited budget means that the show often has to go to the fans for analysis, with underwhelming results. Plus, sometimes they get Phil Brown on as a guest commentator.

But to dismiss the programme for all this is nevertheless to make a terrible mistake. As I have myself discovered, watching The Football League Show can progressively improve one's life. Sure, it starts as an excuse to have one more beer before bed on a Saturday evening – the experience of lurching into consciousness on the sofa at one in the morning and turning, bleary-eyed, back to Morecambe v. Wycombe Wanderers is not a dignified one – but soon enough, The Football League Show becomes an iPlayer-enabled hangover displacement activity. Dry heaving to a background of Crawley Town v. Leyton Orient, curled up in the foetal position, you can feel your sense of worth is being slowly and agonisingly reborn.


Next, The Football League Show becomes a form of therapy. Seeing screamer after screamer flying past a montage of despairing goalkeepers is powerfully hypnotic; before long, the late-night drinking has ceased, the last pack of cigarettes has gone in the bin and the Norwich v. Millwall highlights are going on the box only after that 12-hour day shift has come to an end. This is recovery. Finally, finally, there is wellbeing.

Wellbeing is the realisation that The Football League Show is fundamentally profound. The actual football on display might sway from quite average to absolutely dire, yet the stories and narratives being spun by the show are based on tragedy and triumph, glory and pathos – all that which makes humankind's greatest tales so captivating. Who could deny that Rotherham's unstoppable climb over the last few years has been utterly gripping? What about Portsmouth's inexorable fall? Who didn't feel the bite of indignant rage when Wolves were subjected to double relegation, when their fans gathered on the Molineux pitch to scream in primal pain at the universe? And who hasn't known the tinge of euphoria as they have risen once more, lifted by the mighty strength of prosaic champion Kenny Jackett?

Bournemouth prevail, Blackpool fail; Bristol City vanquish, Yeovil are overwhelmed; the legend and lore of the lower leagues are endless – The Football League Show is the great chronicler. Add to that elated or irate post-match interviews, managerial heroes and villains praising referees or calling down mighty curses on all who have ever raised a linesman's flag, and it all feels intensely human; the deceptively boyish Eddie Howe, the long-suffering Lee Clark, the revived Steve Cotterill, the slightly bemused Terry Skiverton – these are but few of the programme's compelling protagonists.

Even more exhilarating is the fact that, in amongst the not-that-good footballers, there are a select few players to be spotted on the show who are genuinely outstanding. Some of these are young braves, blooding themselves in The Football League. Derby County's 19-year-old midfielder Will Hughes stands out as a huge Premier League prospect for the future, as do tenacious, 22-year-old Ipswich defender Tyrone Mings and Brentford's 20-year-old Arsenal loanee Jon Toral. Other featured footballers are late bloomers. Liverpool striker Rickie Lambert could be seen banging in Football League goals until he was thirty, while half of Swansea City's current squad spent their youths playing in the various tiers beneath the top flight. Look beyond the unglamorous scrappers, and one finds sportsmen living their wildest fantasies, their most sublime dreams.

In this light, the understatement which characterises the exchanges between Bhasin and Claridge seems practically exquisite; both men gently shepherd the raw plotlines of The Football League Show, but otherwise let great stories speak for themselves. Clem is the foil, the light relief in amongst all the vital wonder. Even Phil Brown has a part to play; he is the perma-tanned gatekeeper, his carefully-maintained goatee the portal to celestial understanding of a cosmos that willingly embraces Southend United.

So no, it is not time for bed when Manish Bhasin comes on TV. It is time to settle down, beer in hand. It is time to behold the extended highlights of Watford v. Charlton Athletic. It is time to slowly drift off on the settee. It is time for the beginning of the rest of your life – your life with The Football League Show.