CLOSE-UP: PERSPECTIVE; Let’s not overlook Sky’s contribution to televised sport

Sorry to talk football, but as I was watching the superlative Gary McAllister bossing the park at St Andrews on Sunday, I experienced a sensation for the first time. No, not panic every time Birmingham got the ball - life-long Leeds fans are used to panic - but something almost as hard to express as ‘s-s-sorry’ was for the Fonze in Happy Days. I felt s-s-sympathy for Rupert Murdoch.

Sorry to talk football, but as I was watching the superlative Gary

McAllister bossing the park at St Andrews on Sunday, I experienced a

sensation for the first time. No, not panic every time Birmingham got

the ball - life-long Leeds fans are used to panic - but something almost

as hard to express as ‘s-s-sorry’ was for the Fonze in Happy Days. I

felt s-s-sympathy for Rupert Murdoch.



What hypocritical rubbish is being spouted about the rights to live

sporting events. While I’m naturally delighted that such national must-

see treasures as the Olympic fencing, speed-skating and synchronised

swimming finals have been saved by the European Broadcast Union for a

grateful nation, how much of the recent fuss is merely the result of a

few toff buffers in the House of Lords being stirred from their slumber

by the lack of test cricket on the Beeb? They’re damned if they’re going

to have one of those unsightly dish thingies, or give that upstart

Aussie any of their ‘hard-earned’ cash.



The truth about Sky and sport can be found in the reasons why some

people don’t have dishes. OK, for many it’s a matter of money. But it is

a free market and, unquestionably, the injection of cash by Sky has

shaken the arrogant authorities running sports such as football and

rugby league out of their Stone Age attitudes to customer service and

quality. If it is a genuinely free market, then let free market forces

prevail.



How many events beyond football and (arguably) the Olympics are

genuinely part of the national psyche? The Grand National and the Derby?

Almost certainly. Wimbledon? The Open Golf Championship? The Five

Nations Championship? Test cricket? Maybe.



So why don’t other sports fans have a dish? Self-restraint - or, put

another way, ‘Over my dead body are you getting a dish and spending

Sundays, Mondays, Wednesdays and every other bloody day watching

Yeboah.’ Or words to that effect.



But there was no need for such threats before. There was no live

televised football (apart from cup finals and England matches) in the

good old, bad old 70s and 80s. There was only Brian Moore screaming his

way through the Big Match highlights at 2:15pm on Sunday. Remember how

the BBC even dropped its desultory Match of the Day highlights? No?

Well, it did. So, let’s not have any rose-tinted rubbish about those

halcyon days pre-Sky Sports.



Sky has forced complacent terrestrial broadcasters to sharpen up their

acts in line with the governing bodies of the sports they cover. The end

result, even on poor old ITV when it covers the Coca-Cola Cup semi-

finals live (which it never used to), and Bob Wilson notwithstanding, is

a package that is more attractive to a wider range of viewers and

advertisers. We are much better served than we used to be.



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