On Setanta's satellite, no one can hear you scream
Sunday 14 September 2008
If Fabio Capello prefers playing away – in the trad-itional sense rather than the Sven one – because his team don't feel the pressure of the fans on their backs, then he must be delighted with Setanta. Even most of the couch potato fans can't throw their pizza slices and empty beer cans at the telly. Only 1.55 million people tuned into the digital subscription channel on Wednesday night to watch England play Croatia. Even Gordon Brown expressed his concern that there was no live coverage on terrestrial TV, and these days when the Prime Minister gets involved, you know you're in trouble.
There were no highlights either, until ITV managed to strike a deal to show some the following night. But by then the nation had accepted that the events in Zagreb really happened, that Theo Walcott really did play well, and we were almost getting blasé again. And anyway, it's never the same watching sport the day after it happened. Unless your name happens to be Theo, of course.
It was "a new era on Setanta Sports", with their three lions roaring over the white cliffs of Dover, looking like a bunch of hooligans who had had their passports taken away. Those who subscribed got to see Terry Venables' skin turn a deeper shade of teak as he uttered nonsense like "As I've said before, if you're frightened of dying, you won't enjoy living".
At least it looks like he has stuck to his principles. To balance it out, Sam Allardyce was singularly incapable of lifting himself out of his gloomy hole, ranting on about Croatia's arrogance and saying England had "gone and battered 'em".
Luckily there was plenty of action in the background of the ground-floor studio to take the mind off Big Bad Sam: police in Star Wars stormtrooper helmets, dozens of girls in short skirts and boots, and cars driving past a couple of feet beyond the windows. You could have turned Sam's microphone off and listened to the sound of a Transit reversing, and it would have been far jollier.
It was odd that there seemed to be a car park between the pitch and the stands. No wonder Capello has delivered his damning verdict on the Football Association's £880m stadium. The car park at Wembley must be much more difficult to get to when things are going wrong on the pitch.
For all of Walcott's brilliance on the field and charming insouciance when he spoke after the match, the highlight of the night was Wayne Rooney's rare post-match interview. He kept scratching various parts of his head as if he had a flea problem. It could be a new version of paper, scissors, stone, guessing where our "Wazza" is going to feel the itch next: ear, nose or throat? At least for the England fans who have Setanta, it was the end of the seven-year itch since Munich, 5-1 and all that.
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