It’s not a whole new ball game, actually

Posted by on May 5, 2010 in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Writing his first piece for The Two Unfortunates, Russell George shares the reasons behind his decision to drop Sky Sports after the season’s end.

It’s probably odd timing for me to ditch my Sky Sports subscription. Ofcom’s recent verdict means that, barring a successful appeal from Murdoch towers this summer, Sky’s football coverage will be cheaper next season. But money isn’t the main reason I’m getting rid of Sky. To be brutally frank, having Sky Sports makes football boring.

Let me give you some personal context. I have (I like to think) a fairly active social life, interests outside football, and keep myself reasonably fit. But despite being in my mid-30s, I still receive football-themed birthday cards from family members, always turn first to the back page when I buy a newspaper, and habitually resort to cricket in the summer months as a heroin addict resorts to methadone in rehab. If it’s not too trite to say so, Fever Pitch was as important to me as discovering DH Lawrence.

As a kid I used to watch as much football as the schedules would allow. I fondly remember Cup Final Saturday beginning at 10am, the first live Sunday afternoon games on ITV, the BBC showing games on Friday nights for a time, and the sheer joy of an international summer tournament. I even used to record Transworld Sport for the brief section on South American leagues. Televised football was something almost transcendental in its glamour and excitement. Unable to watch my team live until I went to university, and unappreciative of drama and film until my late teens, football was my Father, my Son, my Holy Ghost. Perhaps its oddest manifestation was in my obsession with the design of goal nets, a neurosis shared by Jonathan Wilson in his recent article in When Saturday Comes 276, and which I’ll expand on in my next article for The Two Unfortunates.

So, when I installed Sky at home (around December 2007), I was pretty excited. No more sitting on my own in the pub when I fancied watching some Super Sunday. No more enduring Alan Green’s ridiculous polemics when all I wanted to know was where the ball was. No more creeping jealousy of the bloke in the flat opposite. I had thrown all sense of morality into the fire and given in to Murdoch and his sickly monopolisation of the means of communication. I wasn’t proud of myself, but at least I could watch Richard Keys in my dressing gown.

But in a classic fable of desire fulfilled, having the keys to the cookie jar has left me feeling hollow and disgruntled. Watching football on Sky is like visiting a nightclub every day of the week. You’ll have a good night now and again, but for the most part you’ll leave feeling slightly grubby, knowing that you could have done something far more constructive with your time. You’ll keep going back because it’s been hard wired into your subconscious that watching football is inherently entertaining, whether it’s Rochdale V Bury on a Monday night (a derby, so potential for a scrap) or Everton V Aston Villa on a Sunday afternoon (two traditional clubs pushing for Europe). But it begins to leave you feeling jaded.

And, of course, Sky’s presentation is so egotistical, so full of meaningless hyperbole, that constant exposure robs it even of its irony. Andy Gray is perhaps its personification. If you listen to him carefully – and I doubt anyone actually does – every statement he makes is an extreme in which there is no room for doubt or even opinion. I hate Andy Gray, I really do. I quickly started experimenting with Sky’s fanzone, a bizarre feature whereby two fans of the teams playing are allowed to ‘commentate’ on the action, but it felt like eavesdropping on a couple of pissed blokes who’d forgotten their stop on the night bus. It was just too weird.

So, now that I am about to voluntarily rid myself of the dripping tap of Sky’s televised football, what will I miss? Not much. There’ll always be Sky Sports News to remind me just how important the race for 4th place is, and to studiously ignore those games that it doesn’t have the rights to broadcast live. I’m looking forward to the relative deprivation of having Match of the Day, The Football League and ITV’s Champions League coverage. Hopefully, too, the BBC will show a few more live Championship games next season. And I could always subscribe to ESPN instead.

Russell George
Russell George watches random league and non-league football matches, has a half decent left foot, and pretensions as a writer and a critic. If you let him, he'll also tell you that he is a regular at Old Trafford, and that he was at the 1999 Champions League final. Don't let him.

5 Comments

  1. Lanterne Rouge
    May 5, 2010

    Lloyd and I debated long and loud as to whether getting Sky would be a prerequisite for informed posting on starting this blog a year or so ago. In the end, we decided against, largely for all the reasons you mention but also because there is no substitute for being in the stadium itself.

    I like Kamara and Stelling but in all, Sky is something most sane people could do without, particularly Jamie “Motormouth” Redknapp. As for Gray, he could be living, breathing proof that goal line technology should not be introduced – he suggests he should.

    Taping Transworld Sport though? My goodness.

    Reply
  2. Ben
    May 5, 2010

    Re: Fanzone – spot on, Russ.

    I used to watch Transworld Sport religiously too, though I can't say it ever got recorded…

    Reply
  3. scarf
    May 7, 2010 Reply
  4. scarf
    May 7, 2010

    Interesting article. I've never fancied getting Sky, because to me it seems to defeat the point of what watching football on TV is all about – namely as a communal thing that you do together, just like watching football in the ground. Annoying as the ill-informed bloke in the pub mouthing off frequently is, I'd rather have that than watch it on my own. As Tim Parkes said in his excellent book 'A Season With Verona', 'football is a destiny you do together'. Having Sky in one's home doesn't leave any room for that, hence why it's never really appealed to me.

    Transworld Sport, on the other hand, was a superb programme. It's a shame it's no longer on Channel 4.

    Reply
  5. gerschenkron
    May 13, 2010

    Enjoyable article – being subject to a despicable Tory government AND watching Sky is too much for any right minded person. Besides, there's always livefootydoctor – the modern day version of climbing on top of a roof to catch a glimpse of the game.

    Reply

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