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
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.