Football in its true colours

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NEEDLESS to say, everyone's talking about the sheer quantity of football on television. Premier League on BSkyB, highlights on BBC1, Juventus v Roma on Channel 4, Rochdale v Torquay on ITV - it's certainly an exciting choice.

It's particularly good news for those of us who do not possess satellite dishes, as we shall now be spared all those dreary goalless draws between Everton and Manchester United that cluttered up the schedules for years. I didn't watch every live match on ITV by any means, but I may well have watched every live goalless draw, usually described by Elton Welsby afterwards as 'a titanic struggle'. For couch potatoes to be deprived of such gripping action could be the best thing that's happened to football in years. Some of us might even be inspired to go and see a real game - you know, live, in person, out there in the cold and rain. Dangerous thoughts, I know, but then these are dangerous times.

For now that the Premier League has begun, there's this strange feeling that football has finally overreached itself, that it's a monster completely out of control. Once a mere sport, it now seems to have metamorphosed into fully fledged psychological warfare. All those millions of pounds that are flowing around the game - many of which once belonged to Jack Walker - have turned people's minds. Teams will do virtually anything to win. If you want proof, just look at their away strips.

It was Arsenal, of course, who started this particular wheeze, with the rather lively yellow and black away strip they adopted this time last year. Arguments raged over its function. Was it supposed to look like that, or had someone been sick over it just before the game? Was it equipped with solar cells and microchip technology? Could you pick up BSkyB on it? What is certain is that its ingenious zigzag design has not been one of the fashion industry's more sublime achievements. Even Payne Stewart would think twice before adopting its unique combination of retina-searing hues.

Naturally, all such criticism has been music to the large and misshapen ears of Arsenal fans, who have all gone out and purchased the strip as 'leisurewear'. Small children cry when they see it. Dogs howl. The rest of us look away, terrified that we'll be able to see nothing but wacky stripes and zigzags for days afterwards. And if it has affected us like that, you can only imagine what it has done to opposition players. Nightmares. Madness. Indeed, Leeds United's discovery of advanced hypnosis techniques may well have clinched them last season's championship.

Stung by such cunning use of mere football kit, other teams are now joining in. Manchester United's away kit remains a fetching shade of dark blue, but it also now features what appears to be a giant date stamp - two concentric black circles with the words 'Manchester United' written between them. Not only does the combination of this and the usual white 'SHARP' logo make opposition players' eyes swim, but the design is also a dead ringer for the cover of Dire Straits, so that just as they should be thinking about tackling the Manchester United player, they are instead trying to remember the words to 'Sultans Of Swing'. Result: a split-second pause, and the United player runs past and scores another goal.

Even sneakier, though, have been Blackburn, who have resisted all temptation and kept their much loved blue-and-white halves ensemble. This was an ingenious move: so redolent is this pattern of an age of lost innocence, of long shorts and the maximum wage, that players suddenly see the whole sorry edifice of the Premier League for what it is. As a result, teams of hardened cynics are allowing themselves to be shamed into defeat.

Wiliest of all, though, have been the referees, who have starred popping up in all sorts of jolly colours. Purple, yellow, orange - even green, though that's no problem because the goalkeeper's now wearing black. As a result, players never know where they are, and crowds have discovered that their traditional chant 'Who's the bastard dressed in bla . . . purple?' no longer scans. If even referees are taking no prisoners, it really must be war out there. May the best strip win.