Sport on TV: Ground-breaking venture after the stadiums had crumbled

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Amid the endless moralising of the chattering classes and the pithy entreaties of the feral tearaways' parents that we should all "jog on", one voice managed to explain the English riots in just a few simple words. It was the England captain John Terry on the BBC News (Thursday): "They know that we came from where they are."

He was trying to make the little terrorists stop but inadvertently he explained why they all kicked off in the first place. Their heroes have got more loot than they could ever hope to fit in a shopping trolley but these kings of bling come from the same background. It's the so-called "sense of entitlement"; if JT can have it, so can I. And if footballers can misbehave, so can I. Just without playing all the football. They don't have goals in life, do they?

So what created all this filthy lucre? It's the Premier League, which began its 20th campaign yesterday. How ironic, then, this anniversary celebration was almost put on hold because of the disturbances, and Tottenham players are supposedly scared to leave their houses.

The Night Football Changed Forever (Sky Sports 1, Tuesday) told how, in the wake of the Heysel Stadium disaster in 1985 and rampant hooliganism, the BBC and ITV stopped showing the game and the "Big Five" clubs, Arsenal, Everton, Liverpool, Manchester United and Tottenham, met to discuss forming a breakaway league so they could get their hands on more money.

Lord Justice Taylor's report after the Hillsborough tragedy in 1989 compounded the issue. It told the Football League to clean up its act, and renovating the grounds would require a lot of money. After all, as a Times editorial said, football was "a slum sport played in slum stadia and watched by slum people". Does such invective sound familiar?

Hillsborough concentrated the mind. Before then, the big five had bickered with the League about names on shirts and an extra five minutes for half-time. The Football Association ran with the idea of a Premier League because, believe it or not, they were worried about the exodus of the best players into other European leagues.

Remember Graham Kelly, that impossibly dry old stick who was the FA's unlikely front man? Bizarrely, it was he who would be the catalyst for change. No doubt Rooney and Co toast his name every time they crack open a bottle of Cristal.

You would think this programme would be an indulgent celebration of all things Sky, but actually it was ITV that made all the running – and then promptly lost the rights to Sky after just one year when Rupert Murdoch's henchman, Sam Chisholm, massively outbid them at the last minute.

It all stemmed from Murdoch being impressed by Sky's ground-breaking coverage of the England cricket team's overseas tour of the West Indies the previous winter. Sky's Vic Wakeling said: "Sport was, as Rupert is often quoted, the battering ram." A rudimentary weapon, but one that would get you inside any sports shop if you wanted a new pair of trainers.

This tale of greed and despotism combines three of the summer's top stories: hugely over-extended credit, rampant materialism and an unscrupulous media baron. United we fell for it; now divided we stand.