Saturday, August 15, 2009

The dark Sky above our game

Cometh the celebrity, cometh the hangers-on and there is no bigger hanger-on to English football than Sky television as another Premier League season begins.

Nothing has ticked me off more this week than the invasive Sky adverts at the railway station where I catch my daily train, in the free newspaper I read on the way to work and even on the internet when I get home.

To add working-class authenticity, a northern voice, presumably Sean Bean's as he did the original ads, interrupts my Spotify playlist to tell me "We know how you feel about football because we feel the same way." Do you bollocks.

I don't feel football should be a vehicle to exploit others' loyalty for financial gain and the political agenda of a vile media baron. And I don't think a TV station should be allowed to own a penny of a football club, let alone all of its biggest one.

Sky muscled itself into bed with football in 1993 by waving enough cash in its face, proving that everyone has their price. The creation of the Premier League began the pricing out of loyal fans, the exploitation of those who stayed, the unsocial scheduling of games for television and the paying of exorbitant salaries to players, creating a false idol of vacuous consumption for children to idolise. How can anyone morally justify earning 200,000 pounds a week? And what does it say about us that our media is constantly splashing stories about overpaid yobs, surrounded by gold-digging bimboes, burning fifty-pound notes in members-only nightclubs for a laugh? Thanks Rupe!

Most appalling of all is Sky's 'year zero' mentality, a deliberate attempt to erase all previous football history in England by quoting statistics which start in 1993, the first year of their exclusive TV contract. Forget Herbert Chapman's Arsenal, forget Stanley Matthews and Tom Finney, 1950s Wolves, Clough's Forest, the mighty Liverpool and the Busby Babes, they do not exist and never did because Sky TV was not around then. Football = Sky TV, got it?

True, the playing quality is higher thanks to the influx of players like Dennis Bergkamp, Thierry Henry and Cristiano Ronaldo, whom we assume may not have come to England without the extra dosh Sky supplied. A number of people make this argument to justify handing Sky the reins of our sport, such as the ridiculous Tim Lovejoy, former Soccer AM anchorman, who recently used an obscenity to describe English football in the years 'BS' - Before Sky. I hope this is the ignorance of youth speaking. Presumably Lovejoy and company never saw the joy of 1980s Liverpool in full flow or the five consecutive European Cups won by three different English teams, an achievement the Premier League has not come close to matching.

More silky foreigners mean fewer Englishmen, and once all the players and coaches are not English, it cannot be an English league anymore and its soul has been sold. Second-place finishers such as Ipswich, Southampton and Watford are gone forever - only a megabucks president can lift clubs like that into the top four today.

Behind the reduced competitiveness, restrictive ticket prices and damage to the national team lies a banal love of making money at all costs, a brutish philosophy our game should not be following. I am not calling for communism - we can be capitalists without being gangsters.

Greed may be Rupert Murdoch's god but it is not mine. A true football fan simply does not feel the same way about the game as Sky's marketing department. I tolerate Sky as long as they know their place but will not pay them to watch their broadcasts - the internet lets me keep my pound from Murdoch's pocket, thank God.

And ultimately the quality of play is not as important to the supporter as the richness of the experience of being a supporter - the value of the bond between clubs and fans, players and fans and fans and other fans, bonds which Sky have cut loose or poisoned.

Sky - you have never understood that. And I am never going to add you as a Facebook friend, so either get out of my game or shut up about being in touch with me, cos you're not.



(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile