Television is one of humankind’s greatest technological achievements. Association football is generally considered to be the world’s greatest sport. They should be a marriage made in heaven, but I’m not a huge fan of televised football.
Yes, there are advantages to watching a game on telly – you need never miss a crucial moment and there isn’t an annoying idiot sitting behind you vociferously suggesting that Mark Noble should hang up his boots and apply for an old age pension.
However, it’s not the same as being there, offering a few chosen thoughts of your own about the players’ commitment, the manager’s judgment and the referee’s eyesight.
Not being there, though, is something we’ve all had to get used to. And for this season at least I will be watching football from the comfort of my armchair having opted for the deal which, for a relatively small outlay, allows me to hang on to my season ticket until such time that it is safe to return to the London Stadium.
By the time you read this, it is to be hoped that the Premier League has finally bowed to the inevitable and agreed that every match can be shown live until all supporters who want to watch a game are allowed back into stadiums.
The Football Association acted swiftly to lift the ban on Saturday 3pm kick-offs being televised live, but the Premier League was slow to respond.
Originally, the Prem supremos said they were concentrating on getting fans to return to grounds.
As things stand, this will happen on a limited basis from the beginning of October, with a maximum 30 per cent of capacity. But, unsurprisingly, the reluctance to televise all fixtures didn’t go down well with those supporters who found themselves on the outside not looking in.
While insisting loudly that it would not yield to external pressure, the Premier League turned to the corporate version of VAR for a review.
As I write, the electronic scoreboard is still saying: “Decision Pending”. But my money is on a massive climbdown and – for the immediate future at least – I anticipate a return to something like Project Restart.
Although don’t be surprised if you are asked to pay extra to watch games on platforms such as the club website.
I suspect my new way of life as an armchair fan may take some getting used to. For me, the hardest part will be the lack of ritual that’s involved in actually going to a game.
Match day, I believe, should be precisely that. It’s a day rather than just 90 minutes of football. I know I’m not alone in thinking this way.
When you go to a game the day is all about West Ham from the moment you wake up. Preparing to watch it on Sky Sports is a different kettle of fish entirely.
I’ve got some serious head-scratching to do before our first game of the new season. Do I try to replicate some form of match-day routine as if I were actually going to the stadium, or just plonk my aris on the sofa five minutes before kick-off and reach for the remote control?
Should I neck a quick beer at half-time as I would at the LS, or use this so-called “new normal” to cut down on my drinking?
And will my lucky socks still work in the living room or does the magic only happen in the Billy Bonds stand?
Actually, I’m starting to lose faith in the lucky socks – this may be the ideal opportunity to break in a new pair. But I digress.
Watching a televised game with no crowd is a strange experience. Fair play to the TV companies for trying to compensate by using the sound effects from EA Sport’s Fifa video games, but it’s not the same as the real thing, is it?
On balance, I prefer to watch without the fake crowd. It reminds me of my time as a junior reporter when I was required to cover Reading reserves at Elm Park.
Back then, the first team didn’t attract much of a following: the stiffs were generally watched by one man, no dog and a couple of brassed-off journalists wishing they were somewhere other than the ramshackle press box.
There is much to dislike about modern football, but it doesn’t seem so bad when compared with the horrors of Reading reserves in the 1970s. I try to remind myself of that from time to time.
What was better in the Seventies was the standard of TV commentary. Brian Moore, in particular, has never been equalled in my not-so humble opinion. Not only was he a brilliant commentator, he didn’t need the assistance of a former professional footballer who sounds like a dentist’s drill as he fulfills his contractual obligations to state the blindingly obvious.
I really can live without the likes of Jamie Carragher and Martin Keown telling me that West Ham can’t compete with Man City as Kevin De Bruyne breaks into a gentle trot to create the sixth goal of the first half for Raheem Sterling. Believe it or not, I can work that out for myself.
With the notable exception of Tony Gale, who is exempt from all criticism, ex-pros-turned-pundits should be furloughed from now until West Ham win the Champions League.
One thing I have learned about watching football on TV is: be careful who you watch it with.
Inviting friends round, in my experience, is generally a mistake. Particularly if they are the sort of friend who is so overcome with nerves any time an opposition player comes within 30 yards of our goal you fear that they may be about to have a heart attack.
Admittedly, I feel much the same way whenever Fabian Balbuena is in the back four but – as we all know – you have to keep these concerns to yourself. Especially if you’re in someone else’s house.
Happily, the Covid restrictions provide the perfect excuse to keep the front door bolted. To be honest, I haven’t got the first idea who I’m allowed to invite into my home under the government guidelines.
But I’m working on the principle that if I don’t know, neither will the neighbours who are too cheap to invest in a satellite package that includes Sky and BT.
Looking at the fixture list, I fear it’s going to be a tough watch for the first few weeks of the new season.
But I am determined that as part of my new routine I will stick with every game until the bitter end, even if we are losing badly. I don’t leave the London Stadium early when we’re losing, and I won’t be turning off the telly before the final whistle.
Mind you, I will be hitting the mute button at the first whine of Jamie Carragher.
If you enjoy Brian Williams’ Blowing Bubbles column look out for his two brilliant books, Nearly Reach The Sky and Home From Home. Both are available on Amazon.