metropolitan life; pub life; Ooh ah, get out of my bar

FOOTBALL and the pub always went together. In the days when both were bloke-exclusive activities, they were strictly sequential. A couple of pints in the Moon on the Green, then up to Loftus Road to watch QPR, and back to the Moon for a post-mortem before the bus home. Occasionally you got to the pub late and it was a straight choice, the second drink or the first 10 minutes of the game. Have one, miss the other.

But pubs and football have changed. Both are now marketed as family activities, women and children are made more welcome by the week. Better still, the marriage of the two means you can now have your pint and drink it, with satellite football kindling a bogus knees-up-Mother-Brown community spirit, as punters converge on the pub to watch the game live on Sky.

The Premiership is sponsored by Carling, a subset of Bass, which owns 4,000 pubs. They started playing football on Sundays so that Sky could put matches on the telly. Then they opened the pubs on Sunday so you could watch the football. And that, at least twice a week, has become the pub's raison d'etre. Last week, ads appeared in the licensed trade press which ran: "Ian Wright's net-busting exploits will be helping to increase your net profits through live matches."

Since the season began last week, the name of your local has probably disappeared beneath a giant banner proclaiming "Sky football every Sunday and Monday". The pub will already have become a place to avoid whenever football is on, as it throbs with Frank Skinner lookalikes chanting "Ooh- ah Cantona!" because they read about it in Loaded.

Somewhere along the line two national institutions have been cheapened. It is all so anodyne, so soulless. Punters watch a football match broadcast from Newcastle, drinking beer from New Zealand, at a pub five miles from their home, because it has Sky. They drink Foster's Ice and talk of total shots on target, and percentages of possession enjoyed by each team.

The new football supporter has, in common with the new pub-goer, a disregard for locality. New lads, wherever they live, support Manchester United because, like ice beers, dry beers or widget-in-the-can beers, they are expensive and nicely packaged. They are also over-exposed and nasty. Our precious opening hours are being sacrificed to box-watchers. The atmosphere of the pub fades and expires. In the 1980s they stopped selling beer on the terraces because they thought drunken hooligans were spoiling things for the people who had come to watch football. Today they sell football in the pub, and if anyone is interested, it is spoiling things for those of us who have come to drink.

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