Archie Bland: 'Sky may have Sean Bean doing its voice-overs, but ESPN have Steven Berkoff'

The Couch Surfer: "If it were an honest ad, it would show a tubby fella in a Liverpool shirt eating prawn sandwiches"

It's a reliable rule with adverts, as with people, that whatever they most determinedly say they are, that's what they're not. We all know a guy in accounts with fun cuff links, and a couple of spiritually alert Paulo Coelho readers. And we all "know" that Lynx deodorant means seduction, and Bacardi Breezers mean sophistication, and panty liners mean running through a fountain in white trousers is a totally viable idea.

So it is with football fans. If a sports broadcaster can reassure us that caring too much about the game is a profound expression of belonging and joy rather than a barely sublimated urge to violence, we'll buy whatever they've got on offer. For a long time, the most skilled exponents of this not-very-hard sell have been – of course – Sky Sports, who understand that the way to our wallets is to deploy an actor with a voice like gravel, a portentous script-writer, and a washed-out colour palette that imbues the whole enterprise with heft. It's not really meaning that's imparted in such, but you could definitely call it meaningfulness.

Sky has run this game for years, seeing off competitor after competitor. This year, in Setanta's place, we have Disney's ESPN going toe to toe with Rupert Murdoch's behemoth, and the ding-dong over which will best fake the authenticity with which they hope to elide their corporate roots has been fun to watch.

In the pomposity stakes, at least, the incumbent isn't going to have it all its own way, as the early-season exchanges have made clear. Sky may have Sean Bean, possessor of The Most Authentic Voice In England, but for their opening fixture ESPN had Steven Berkoff.

"This is who we are, this is what we are," he thundered, neglecting to explain exactly what the practical difference is between those two formulations; "It kicks you! Right! In the centre... Of your gut."

And ESPN had plenty more in their locker. Most notable was a promo featuring still more clunky prose poetry, this time delivered by Boys from the Black Stuff star Bernard Hill, and layered over sentimental shots of crowds, goalposts, and branded alarm clocks. "I pledge myself to the Barclays Premier League," booms Hill, in what must be one of the only oaths of allegiance ever sworn to a bank. You know the rest: the cod poetry, the sentiment, the fan cast as folk hero, "filled with pride, courage, meat and gravy". It's an impeccably executed load of old codswallop.

But Sky are not easily beaten: in two minutes, their rival ad does a remarkable job of persuading you that you count as a football fan, and that being one is a feather in your cap. It consists of a series of Ordinary People explaining how you, like them, are full of meaningfulness. "Some of you may feel the way I do," a solemn young jogger says, and he's followed by a series of others declaring a bunch of things it's hard to disagree with about how great football can be for a sense of community. Then Sean comes and Beanifies it at the end and the whole package is thoroughly satisfying.

Or it would be, at least, but for the rogue fan who comes on in the middle of the whole thing, and declares: "Some may not be there all the time, but keep the faith nevertheless." That fan is a roadie, and if his duties in Bratislava with Megadeth are keeping him from the turnstile, he can't really be blamed. But let's not lose sight of who Sky are actually talking to here, because it certainly isn't roadies. If this were an honest ad, it wouldn't feature an old geezer busting a gut backstage in some grotty arena; it would show a tubby fella in a Liverpool shirt eating prawn sandwiches in front of the telly, while his local team are locked in mortal combat in front of a few thousand five minutes down the road. "Some may never have been there, but still call themselves fans," he would say, spittle and fish bits everywhere. But this is a moral argument, rather than a commercial one, and as such is basically irrelevant. So back to reality, and the kicker. "We know how you feel about it," Sean gruffles, "because we feel the same."

Like "it's great to be here", it's a thoroughly effective line – and yet so utterly hackneyed that you just know, even as the lump of solidarity rises in your throat, that the advertising professionals behind it have a long-standing derisive nickname for the genre, probably something like The Hackneyed Twat Convincer. "We need a Hackneyed Twat Convincer for the start of the season," someone sitting on a squashy round chair at a vast glass table in the shape of a brain will have said in about July. "So start with Patrick Stewart and work down, yeah?"

Arts and Entertainment
Kathy (Sally Lindsay) in Ordinary Lies
tvReview: The seemingly dull Kathy proves her life is anything but a snoozefest
Arts and Entertainment

Listen to his collaboration with Naughty Boy

music
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig in a scene from ‘Spectre’, released in the UK on 23 October

film
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap

film
Arts and Entertainment

Poldark review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Katie Brayben is nominated for Best Actress in a Musical for her role as Carole King in Beautiful

film
Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
film
News
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
music
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
tv
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
    How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
    11 best bedside tables

    11 best bedside tables

    It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
    Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

    Italy vs England player ratings

    Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
    Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

    An underdog's tale of making the most of it

    Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

    Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat