Football: Question of support for television's culture shock

LIBERO
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The Independent Online
A COMMITTEE has been established by the Premier League to consider proposals from Sky Television for next season that Premiership games be switched to Sunday for the purposes of pay-per-view. It has provoked an outbreak of politics and economics which, as usual, seem to overlook the views of spectators, both at home and at stadiums.

Sky's idea for next season seems to be that four of the eight Saturday games are switched to Sunday as an experiment. If the scheme proved viable - that is, profitable - then all Premiership games, except for possibly a Monday-night match, would be played on a Sunday.

The Premier League's chief executive, Peter Leaver, meanwhile, is believed to want his organisation to set up their own TV channel when the Sky deal runs out in 2001. The bigger clubs, of course, want their own channels. Then there is disquiet among Premier League chairmen that the committee - some want it to report in a few weeks, others want a delay so nothing precipitous is done - does not include any of their number. Instead, Leaver is joined by Sir John Quinton, chairman of the Premier League, and two TV "advisers", Mark Oliver and Richard Dunn.

Nowhere in all this does anything other than money seem to be a consideration. Nothing surprising there when it comes to most sections of football these days, but someone has to speak up, some mouse has to roar, for other important factors to be taken into account.

What will be the cultural impact of Sunday Premiership football? That is the real question. Sky believe it will be beneficial for all in the game, including the Nationwide League, which will have its own showcase day of Saturday. It will certainly be good for the TV company.

But fans? What of travelling on Sundays and getting home late at night before going back to work on a Monday morning? That would certainly preclude children going with parents to away games or on long-distance outings such as birthday treats.

What about traffic coming into residential areas on Sundays? What about being able to get a meal near a ground on a "closed" day? What about policing? What of the effect on the family? For many, Sunday is a special day still, and that has nothing to do with religion, though that too should be considered. What do players think? What about the staffs of football clubs giving up a rest day?

The English weekend has indeed changed with more shopping and recreation on a Sunday and the traditional Saturday kick-off of 3pm does remain an anachronistic throwback to half-day factory hours (why not 2pm kick-offs now?). And it may well be that fans want more Sunday football.

The point is that they, first and foremost, should be canvassed. The Government's Task Force, which has fan representation, might also like to have some input. Any survey of fans, incidentally, should be independent rather than one of these commercial unrepresentative samples of 1,000 anoraks on the Internet. Police and other interested parties should also be involved in a debate.

The implications of making the change are enormous and it is arrogance on the part of Sky and the Premier League to assume that it is simply a business decision for them to make and then impose. They and their committees should look towards Newcastle and remember what happens to arrogance in the face of taken-for-granted fans' opinion.

PAUL Gascoigne looked somewhat sheepish at playing in the Coca-Cola Cup final for Middlesbrough against Chelsea last Sunday. In fact, good heart that he has, he handed his loser's medal to Craig Hignett.

He himself recognised that there was something questionable about him having been signed and stepping straight into a final. It is a situation that needs looking at again; what happens, for example, if a team reach Wembley then are strengthened by several overseas signings? Surely it is against the spirit of the competition?

Rugby league has a system which gives clubs a deadline of a week before the start of the Challenge Cup to sign players. After that, they are ineligible. It seems fair enough, except that in football's case there are more rounds to Wembley so perhaps there could be a transfer window after the fifth of six rounds, as happens in European competition between the preliminaries of autumn and the quarter-finals of spring.

THE redevelopment of Wembley, signalled in its purchase by the English National Stadium Trust for pounds 103m last week, cannot come a moment too soon. Libero forked out pounds 80 for self and son to watch the Coca-Cola Cup final only to leave with back and neckache, having craned his way through the game. Son could see only by kneeling on his backless seat.

Demand will probably always outstrip supply even at those prices for what are in effect the cheap seats. But the game's complacent leaders would be wise not to bank on it. Yet another issue for the Football Task Force to consider as they investigate pricing and value for money.

ALL those hard years of training and studying to become a coach are clearly well worth it. Watching a whole host of them depart Loftus Road during the bore draw between QPR and Wolves on Wednesday, it occurred that a perk of the job is that you get to leave games 15 minutes early if you want.

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