It’s not a whole new ball game, actually
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.