I watched a recent instalment of Sky’s Super Sunday in a pub a few weeks ago. The games in question were Liverpool versus Manchester United followed by Arsenal against Manchester City. I, as a Leeds fan, was joined with my friend who, hailing from Northern Scotland, is an Aberdeen fan. We were, for that day, two neutrals enjoying the football with a few beers. Surrounding us were an army of people wearing red.
A swirling mess of beer fuelled, obscenity shouting - but all around quite well behaved - took over the pub and then swiftly left after the Liverpool/Manchester game and before anybody could mutter the first jibe about £62 tickets.
Under any normal circumstance you might question why I have decided to point out the colour of the replica shirts in the pub. It was the best, and the worst, of the ever expanding reach of football in this country.
The Yorkshire town where I was that afternoon had been celebrating an unlikely cup run in the weeks prior. Sixth tier side Harrogate Town negotiated the qualifying rounds of the FA Cup to claim their place in the First Round proper and a trip to the South Coast to face Torquay. At Plainmoor, Chibuzor Chilaka’s twentieth minute goal made Harrogate history as they reached the Second Round for the first time in the club’s existence. While Town fell on their next trip down South in a penalty shootout to Hastings the side’s exploits were, rightly, making print. Harrogate, not a town noted for its sporting heritage, had something to be happy about, something to boast about and discuss with pride. Or so I thought.
Standing in the pub that Sunday afternoon it was evident from the replica shirts on display that while Harrogate is a two team town (Harrogate Town and Harrogate Railway), it is two clubs separated by a 50 minute journey along the M62 that hold’s the settlement’s affection. To me, that’s a sad indictment of the power of the Sky Sports machine.
My friend, who writes for a local newspaper, mentioned to me that during the FA Cup run, many inhabitants were clueless about Town’s achievements. There’s a strong argument to be made about poor advertising at a local level, but when the side plays semi-professionally then that train of thought gets eroded away. But when the cogs of Sky’s marketing department gets into full force, nothing can slow it down. “Premier League football is all that matters!” “Barcelona and Real Madrid are worth watching!” “The Champions League is the holy grail of football! Lower league stuff, pah, get out of here!”
The sad thing is, even the Premier League steamrolls over domestic football in other countries. I’ve seen it first-hand where people are more bothered about watching their stars play in the foreign, exotic and better land of English football. Blinkered arguments have been levelled against me when I’ve talked against this, highlighted the issue and debated how teams would transfer from one country to another. Football is a global game, but it solely inclusive in terms of the supporter base, not the countries in which could produce content.
I was brought up a Leeds fan. I am not ashamed to admit that. I was born there and still live there. They’re my side, part of my city but that local pride is being lost as the game expands. Kids are seemingly more bothered about playing in virtual reality with the superstars they see weekly on the television and formulate links that way. Not in the good old-fashioned hearty way of forging local ties. Why should people bother searching out your local side, especially when they aren’t given the global spotlight, when you can simply grab the remote and watch a game in the league marketed as the ‘best in world!’?
One beauty of football is that it can be played anywhere at any time. I just worry that with the ever expanding reach that the league gets, in this country and abroad, that the rest of football will be forgotten. On that day, Harrogate’s FA Cup heroes, their history makers, had been passed up for the glitzy Sky presentation of Manchester United’s latest tussle with Liverpool. That’s a shame. On one hand, yes of course Sky (and other broadcasters as well) need to be commended for improving the English game with large television contracts. However there does seem to be a real lack of desire and understanding for those clubs in the shadow of the Premier League. There’s the old adage that football only began in 1991, soon we may be remarking that football only exists with the top eighteen clubs in England and a few abroad.
Chris Boothroyd is the man behind The Czech Up and this is his second contribution to this site.