Offside, 17 August

'Those who reckon there's too much football on TV assume that, like children in a sweet shop, we will consume too much football until we become sick of it.'

Duleep Allirajah

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Is there too much football on TV? Veteran BBC commentator John Motson thinks so: ‘It is overkill, there’s no doubt about that. I don’t think people can consume all the matches that are now on offer.’

ITV’s decision to screen football highlights at 7pm on Saturday evenings – currently the preserve of game shows – has even provoked fears that family life will suffer. According to Guardian writer Paul MacInnes, ‘There’ll be goggle-eyed men and boys all right, heck even some girls too, but there will also be a substantial proportion of mothers who will have their Saturday night interfered with’ (1). The message is clear: the family that watches Cilla together, stays together.

There will certainly be more televised games than ever before – 66 Premiership matches on Sky Sports, a further 60 pay-per-view matches on Premiership Plus, and live Nationwide League action on ITV digital. On terrestrial, ITV’s highlights programme The Premiership (it does exactly what it says in the title) will be shown on Saturday evening and repeated later apres-pub.

Monday nights will feature the Premiership Parliament – which might sound like the latest New Labour experiment in supporter participation, but is actually just a platform for pre-selected fans to sound off (so much the same as supporter participation). And get ready for ProZone, a coaching tool that tracks players’ movements, and Goal Rush, the new ITV results programme. ITV will also be giving us something called the Tactics Truck in which experts discuss tactics from, er, a truck (needless to say, Kevin Keegan will not be driving).

But there is more than a hint of sour grapes about Motty’s accusation of ‘overkill’. Since the Beeb has lost the rights to broadcast the Premiership highlights, Motty had little choice but to switch to radio. So, will he be hanging up his sheepskin coat and headphones for good in protest at football’s colonisation of the airwaves? Not exactly. Motty has decided to join the commentary team on Radio 5 Live. Funny that. Nobody ever complains that there is too much football on radio, even though there are more live commentary games on Radio 5 Live than I’ve have had hot dinners (and that is a scientific fact).

The problem with critics of football overkill – the Motsonistas – is that they think they know what’s best for us. They assume that all men are just pathetic football junkies, unable to reach for the off-switch or to resist the advances of pay-per-view. They assume that women who dislike football are incapable of negotiating for what they want to watch. They assume that, like children in a sweet shop, we will consume too much football until we become sick of it.

Thanks to the paternalism of the Motsonistas, the public were denied live football on TV for years – or else were subjected to the moronic punditry of Mick Shannon and Emlyn Hughes. Now we are now free to watch as little or as much football on TV as we choose. Praise Sky Sports and pass the remote control….

(1) See Guardian Unlimited, 2 August 2001

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