UPDATE: THERE WILL NOW BE HIGHLIGHTS OF UKRAINE V ENGLAND ON BBC1 TONIGHT (SATURDAY 10TH OCTOBER) – TUNE IN TO MATCH OF THE DAY AT 10.15PM.
An Occasional Series of Short(ish) Rants and Ramblings about the Beautiful Game
Honestly. Who’d be an England fan? I ask (yet again) in all seriousness, as the latest installment in the long-running soap opera of supporting the national team rolls into town again late tomorrow afternoon. Or rather it doesn’t. Because, unless you are one of the (approximately) one million England fans who a) is prepared to actually fork out up to fifteen quid to watch the game on a tiny monitor, and b) has a fast enough internet connection, or c) is mad enough to pay the ticket prices demanded by the ‘selected’ Odeon cinemas who are showing the game, you won’t be watching the Ukraine v England World Cup qualifying match tomorrow; not even in the pub, which fact alone is enough to make me weep into my pint – if I wasn’t actually drinking a cup of tea instead.
For a change, this isn’t Sky depriving your average England fan of her fix of qualifying matches and friendlies, despite the oft-bemoaned fact that their sports packages (plus the equipment, plus installation…) are financially out reach for many. Tempting as it may be (and tempting as it always is), this is not an anti-Murdoch rant – for a change, ol’Rupey-baby isn’t responsible for this particular balls-up.
Nope, if this ridiculous situation is anyone’s fault, the responsibility lies with the now slightly defunct British arm of the Irish sports broadcaster, Setanta. When they went into administration in June of this year, they took the rights to broadcast the Ukraine v England match down with them. Or, to be more precise, the rights reverted to the Swiss-based organisation Kentaro – and none of the British broadcasters were prepared to part with the huge wads of cash Kentaro were demanding for said rights. Some bright spark had obviously noted the increasing popularity of both official and unofficial live online streaming of club and international matches, and decided that this was the way to go. Having also gained the Ukrainian rights to the game, they set about irritating the vast majority of England fans who have slow computers and/or not a great deal of money by deciding to sell subscriptions for the match via various newspapers – and limiting those subscriptions to approximately one million for technical reasons (what odds on the site crashing ten minutes into the match anyway???). And, as per bloody usual, the rest of us don’t even get a look in.
And yes, that includes highlights; we don’t even get the teensiest glance at those either (the game is, however, on the radio – see the broadcast info link above). So, in deciding – during a recession, ffs! – that they could make a fat wodge of money out of streaming this game online, and in limiting the numbers who can subscribe or get to a particpating cinema, Kentaro have become the latest lot to put perhaps the final nail in the coffin that was once football as a working class game – a game that was open to pretty much anyone, regardless of wealth. These days, wealth is a prerequisite; unless you can afford an over-priced match ticket, an expensively fast internet connection, or (in this case) the extortionate amount charged by cinemas these days, you’re stuck with highlights shows on TV and the glories (ahem) of Jonathan Pearce and Alan Green on Radio Five Live. Or, should you be really desperate, there’s always TalkSport, which is – in my considered opinion – even worse….
Admittedly, it’s not as if this particular match is a knife-edge, vital qualifier of the type that would usually entail much hiding behind cushions and swearing copiously at the referee on the telly. Somehow or other (that nice Mr Capello might have something to do with it), England have already managed to qualify for next year’s World Cup in South Africa – and qualify convincingly too. However, having won all our games so far, the average England fan – although delighted by this strange and unusual event – would quite like England to win all our qualifying matches and, what’s more, would quite like to SEE England hopefully winning all our qualifying matches. You’d think that all the qualification matches for major competitions would be free to air and available on terrestrial TV for everyone to enjoy/get annoyed at (delete as applicable). Is that too much to ask? It appears that it is.
I was quite looking forward to being able to veg out on the sofa or head down to the pub to watch, and actually enjoy, a couple of England games – matches which are more than pointless try-out friendlies (you know, the sort which Sven used to use as an excuse to substitute the whole first team at half time for a bunch of pre-pubescent academy types), but not those full on oh-my-god-we-have-to-win-this-one-or-I’ll-just-DIE-on-the-spot qualifiers which tend to make me as full of unnecessary tension as what I can only describe as a very tense thing. Fortunately, having already qualified, a victory tomorrow would be a nice, relaxing bonus – but it’s not entirely essential and I have no intention of stressing over it.
OK, yes, it’s true that tomorrow’s match is slightly important must-win for the Ukrainians – a victory could put them in second place in Group 6, above the disappointing Croatia and in with a pretty definite shout of a play-off place. Unless England chuck in the towel early doors (sorry. I really need to give the red card and an early bath to any more footballing cliches around here…), this should be a mildly irrelevent but potentially very interesting game. And I was quite looking forward to enjoying an example of that rare and precious thing – an England qualifying match that isn’t going to give me at least one near-heart attack or make me want to go and jump off Richmond Bridge. Or something equally fatal.
We do, admittedly, get the dubious honour of the final qualifying match against Belarus on ITV1 next week, but when the (lack of) quality shown by that channel’s football output is considered, alongside the fact that – technically speaking, anyway – the result should be a foregone conclusion, I begin to wonder if I’ll bother watching that one at all. But then again, Belarus are exactly the kind of team we have had a nasty habit of falling flat on our faces over in the past, and I harbour a sneaky secret desire to see Fabio Capello really lose his rag with that bunch of over-paid divas in the England set-up (football fans, you know exactly who I mean). The possibilities are endless. I guess there is always the mute button and Radio Five Live’s commentary…
Honestly. Who’d be an England fan?
Coming Soon – in Part 2 of Football Shorts, I’ll be revisiting some predictions I made at the very start of the English Premier League season back in early August. Now that a couple of months and eight games have gone by, did I actually get any of them right? Don’t be silly….