Friday, September 24, 2004

The SKY's the limit

A week or so ago after England beat Poland the England team refused to talk to the media about the performance. The action was in response to fierce and personal criticism aimed at David James and David Beckham after the draw against Austria.

The response from the media has been a huge backlash against these ‘spoilt petulant millionaires’ because, apparently, they have a responsibility to the fans who pay their salaries (or more specifically, they have a responsibility to the media who, they claim, have put them where they are.)

The world’s hairiest sports presenter, Sky’s Richard Keys was apoplectic. He claimed on the night that the reason the players wouldn’t talk to Sky was because their quotes would have been used by the printed press – who were obviously the true villains – thus defeating the objective of the players’ protest.

Sky’s coverage of the game lasted for five hours; take out the game itself, leaves three and a half hours of airtime to fill. They had six goals from the other home nations’ games to show (which were all shown live on other Sky channels earlier in the evening), but apart from that they had to fill it with what they like to call ‘build up’ and ‘analysis’. This is the banal interviews with players, scrutinising and passing opinion on the minutiae of games and offering the same groundless critiquing the England players were protesting about in the first place. The idea that Sky are somehow different to the rest of the media is a joke, every night they show You’re On Sky Sports! (NB sensationalising exclamation mark) which is as bad as any tabloid.

What Keys knows as well as anyone is that TV programmes are simply the things that you make to put in between adverts. Stretching a programme about an hour and a half football match over five hours simply means more advert breaks and more money. Not only do they need players to speak to them to fill the time available, they also need to talk a heap of crap themselves to fill the space.

Sky were unrelenting. Prior to the following Sunday’s underwhelming live fixture between Spurs and Norwich they skirted around Wednesday’s lovers tiff by creating their own version of history (something they have done ever since they bought football ten years ago). Needing a hook when there really wasn’t one; Paul Robinson and Jermaine Defoe two stars of Wednesday night became the focus. But how could they reconcile their fawning over Defoe and Robinson, both of whom were party to the boycott that drew their vitriol? Well, according to Sky, they were victims of the more senior England players’ militancy, both were desperate to talk to the press, but they weren’t allowed.

Sky presenter Rob McCaffrey even claimed that the squad had “obviously been badly advised”. Obviously? So obvious that respected ex-pros like Gordon Strachan and Mark Lawrenson were clearly supportive, so obvious that a BBC poll did come out overwhelmingly in support of the players, so obvious that callers to Five Live’s 606 phone were in favour of their actions.

Sky seem to have forgotten that people are far more interested in the game than the media hullabaloo that surrounds it. If that circus didn’t exist, football would continue. Sky needs football much more than football needs Sky (this is different to the relationship between Sky and the Premiership; who do need each other). In fact the most intelligent analysis of David James’ performance against Austria (the thing that kicked it all off) came from David James himself. Asked about his terrible mistake on the second goal he simply responded “I’m an international goalkeeper, I should have saved it, and I didn’t”.

Nobody’s reading this are they?


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