Vanarama National League Column Nov 15

Live on TV – the glamour, the pressure and the barbers

by Luke Coulson, Ebbsfleet United

Arriving at the stadium on Saturday afternoon was like any other match day. The car park was nearly full, the stewards greeted me at the turnstiles and the match day kit was perfectly laid out in the changing room. Yet, as I walked upon the freshly, cut grass, the TV cameras that encompassed the pitch meant that this game was no ordinary National League fixture.

Because of the international weekend, Premier League stars took a break from their club duty which allowed our match against Leyton Orient to be shown live on BT Sport.

I’m no psychic but I knew the international weekend and our live fixture would result in two things. Firstly, that there would be millions of disgruntled Premier League fans around the world and secondly, that every player in our dressing room would have an immaculate, fresh hair cut. I wasn’t wrong; the barbers had been busy.

The last time I played live on BT Sport was against Barrow when I was playing for Eastleigh. We travelled a long way, embarrassingly lost 4-0 and I didn’t particularly play that well. Therefore, I was determined to be on the winning team this time round.

Before the match, the only noticeable difference in the changing room was everyone was exceptionally early. Usually, one or two lads may cut it fine but every player was early, raring to go. The changing room was as lively as ever and if anyone was nervous, it was hidden well. Everyone seemed to be confident and focused on their job as we went out to warm up.

The cameras that are usually dotted around the Premier League stadiums brought an obvious excitement to our changing room. It is rare occasion that we get to play live on the big screen and everybody wanted to give a good account of themselves with friends, family and football fans around the country watching. However, with that excitement comes pressure.

Days before the game, I heard the same message and advice from everyone. ‘Treat the match like any other’ and ‘just concentrate on your own game’, but of course it’s not always that simple. It’s difficult to maintain that mindset and ignore the fact that a camera is following your every move. However, that is what the best players learn to do. For players in the National League like myself who want to move up the football ladder, it’s pressure that needs to be welcomed and thrived upon.

Despite our previous result against Doncaster in the FA Cup, our first half performance was very positive. Through the week, we held team meetings to discuss how to improve, and aimed to take those changes into the game against Leyton Orient, which we did. Our defensive shape was strong and our counter-attacking play was quick and powerful as we put ourselves 2-0 up with goals from Andy Drury and Danny Kedwell.

Having been winning 2-0 against Doncaster, we learnt from our mistakes as we maintained our lead and kept a clean sheet up to the half-time whistle. In the second half, we had opportunities to score a third but couldn’t quite make the most of them and despite a late Orient goal, we took all three points in our first televised match of the season.

After drawing to Sutton United and losing to Torquay in our last two National League fixtures, securing three points was our main priority. However, as a football club, we also wanted to make a statement by showcasing our ability and performing under the pressure of the BT cameras. Having watched the game back, we definitely did everything we set out to do and can’t for the cameras to return on New Year’s Day.

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