Spectator sport

Big trouble upstream

19 January 2017

3:00 PM

19 January 2017

3:00 PM

At a wedding a few years back a very gloomy looking guest, a well-known Geordie actor as it happens, arrived at the church door. ‘What’s up?’ asked the small boy patrolling the entrance. ‘Newcastle are playing this afternoon and I can’t find out what’s happening.’ ‘Give me your phone,’ said the lad, who clicked a few clicks before handing it back. The match was now live on the screen, via some pub in Oslo or whatever. God knows what he could access now — a transmission from Mars, presumably.

A revolution is taking place which could have apocalyptic effects on football. In an insightful Telegraph piece, Jim White analyses how illegal streaming could scupper football’s TV bubble. Audiences for Sky’s live Premier League matches have fallen 13 per cent on 2016 and by a quarter since 2010. Not because people don’t want to watch football, but because they have found ways to avoid paying for it.

Any number of teenagers can connect you to a website, and if that one doesn’t work there are five others. If you’re not bothered about paying £70-odd a month to listen to Mike Phelan and Phil Neville whanging on, then welcome to the brave new world.

With Sky and BT subscribers scrapping contracts knowing their kids can get them the game, how will the TV giants afford multi-billion contracts? This could spell the end of Paul Pogba and his £90 million haircut. It could also spell the end of collective bargaining for rights: the big clubs will want their own deals, especially on mobile phone video goal alerts. But there’s little evidence that the clubs are pulling their horns in. The money’s still there, for a bit anyway, and a workaday player like Jake Livermore is the subject of a £10 million bid. He’s a good and decent man with a difficult back-story, but £10 million? Seriously?


If you do fancy watching the game, whether at the ground, via pay-TV or that pub in Oslo, you’d hope the players would want to play. Or, like Dimitri Payet at West Ham or Diego Costa at Chelsea, have they downed boots and walked off without a by-your-leave? It’s said Costa is angling for a big-money move to China; but maybe it’s just a bad back. At a reported £30 million a year for him, the Chinese are super-inflating the transfer market so far it’s almost worth taking your old boots out of the cellar. After all, assuming Costa is at least a thousand times better footballer than me, that still makes me worth a bit.

They weren’t on strike but you’d have thought the multi-millionaires of Manchester City were working to rule in their much-hyped match against Everton last weekend. After failing to score for 40 minutes, their heads started to droop, until by the end they were getting worked over by a couple of teenagers. That’s Pep Guardiola’s City, don’t forget. Everton had four shots on target, and four goals. Poor Pep; now an unpleasant, vaguely xeno-phobic stream of fan-chat has started up to get rid of the guy. That won’t happen. His one mistake (a big one) was to buy a goalkeeper who can’t save shots, Claudio Bravo, and get rid of one who can, Joe Hart. City’s slightly elderly defence is in a state of panic. But if English football needs anything it’s coaches like Pep Guardiola, not least for his services to the black polo-neck.

As with Tiger Woods and Roger Federer in their prime, we should celebrate being alive at the same time as Indian cricket captain Virat Kohli. To watch him play is to see athletic greatness. Fit, fluent, cool and supremely gifted, he gives the impression he can do anything, and he knows it. If I didn’t think Eoin Morgan had brought it on himself by pulling out of the Bangladesh tour for spurious ‘terrorism’ fears, you might be tempted to feel sorry for the wee Irishman. But probably not.


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