True spirit of football still exists despite Sky Sports’ cash

Take a look around the current West Ham’s starting XI, when everyone’s fit and free from suspension

Take a look around the current West Ham’s starting XI, when everyone’s fit and free from suspension. I’d go for Adrian, Demel, Tomkins, Reid, Armero, Jarvis, Diame, Nolan, Noble, Downing, Carroll. I know we’re struggling against relegation but on the face of it, that is a decent team, no? Seven internationals and a wealth of Premier League experience.

But where does it all come from? Where does West Ham United have the money to amass such a relative array of footballing talent? Intriguing question, the answer to which I’m only going to address partially. Television. The goggle box, the idiot’s lantern as my mother puts it, is what I’m driving at. Useful, isn’t it? You can watch all kinds of things on it, Channel 4 news, Charlie Brooker’s Newswipe, repeats of Hollyoaks, Babestati… anyway, I digress.

What I’m driving at is the big Sky Sports debate. Except that it’s not really a debate just now, and I think that’s wrong. The common wisdom amongst football fans is that Sky Sports is killing football. This is something I disagree with in as many ways as much as a #Noble4England hashtag used on Facebook, and I’ll go into that in further detail below.

During your travels on the Internet over the time since the last issue of Blowing Bubbles, you may have come across an article in the Metro by the man known privately (and now publicly, in print) to me as David Blackmore, aka our editor, David.

The gaffer is of the opinion that the most recent kick off change (the match at Sunderland in March, from a Saturday afternoon to a Monday night) is killing ‘the real spirit’ of football. I admire his steadfast idealism but the fact of the matter is that without Sky Sports, we as fans would not have the privilege (view that turn of phrase as a long-term concept) of watching the team I listed in the first paragraph.

I was as annoyed as anyone when the Sunderland game got changed to a Monday night. I’m a student at Dundee University and given I’m only in London for half the year, much of which is during the close season during the summer, I only manage to get to around 10 games a year and had targeted the Sunderland fixture as a definite away day .

I can only feel for the fans who had already booked nonrefundable trains and accommodation. However, this is just the way football is today. The wisdom that ‘Sky Sports is killing football’ is hardly revolutionary thinking – fans know the risks they are taking when they book advance train tickets or hotels for away days up north .

A question in the debate over football coverage on television which is seldom asked is why do the clubs not look after their fans better? Football clubs are not forced to have their matches broadcast on television; they are offered good money to be on television and they accept. Instead of lambasting the television companies offering the money, why do fans not lambast their clubs for accepting it, in the knowledge that it will grossly inconvenience their supporters?

The answer to that question is that clubs accept the television money and the inconvenience it causes their supporters because they are doing it for their supporters. Firstly, a trip to Sunderland on a Saturday would attract, at most, 3,000 travelling Hammers. We’ve haven’t had an attendance under 30,000 in the Premier League at home so far this season and all of those fans who attended our last home match would, I imagine, be keen to watch the away game at the Black Cats, so the acceptance of the invitation to have it screened on live television is in in the interests of the many, rather than the few

Secondly, football costs money. West Ham spent more in the transfer window last summer than we had ever done previously in our history. Whether you agree with the purchases or not (and I definitely don’t, but that’s a matter for another article), fans have to accept that they can’t have it both ways, if they want the club to spend money on players like Andy Carroll and Stewart Downing, sacrifices have to made in other areas of the club, and sadly it is going to be the fans who bear the brunt of that, with ticket prices rising and more matches being screened live on television.

Sky Sports is a feature of our football-supporting lives now and we can all fight it or rock out to it. I’m not going to pretend that I don’t find a football fan who has a subscription to Sky Sports and watches Super Sunday as well as La Liga, Champions League and live matches featuring his club that he can’t get to, yet moans about the company ‘killing the game’ just a tad hypocritical, and I’m afraid I have some bad news for the boss: football is already ‘a business rather than a spectacle’ and has been for some years.

However, there are plenty of good things about the modern game so fear not, Davey boy, the true spirit of football still exists in many forms.

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