Football: Season opens with a familiar refrain: A television tantrum overshadows today's Premier League kick-off. Joe Lovejoy reports

Click to follow
The Independent Online
A YEAR ago today Bill Fox, the late president of the Football League, declared that the First Division breakaway was a non- starter. The Premier League would never happen. It wasn't and it has but, with the new 22-club elite indistinguishable from the old, the 200,000-plus who attend this afternoon's inauguration are entitled to ask what all the fuss has been about.

And fuss there has been aplenty. The birth of the progeny of greed and self-interest has had so many complications that it was only to be expected that the infant should arrive in need of a firm smack on the backside. When it comes to bums, there is no shortage of targets. Should the rap go to BSkyB, for choosing a match as mundane as Manchester City v Queen's Park Rangers for their first Monday night broadcast, or to QPR for refusing to bend the knee to the Great God Television? It was a moot, silly-season point on the eve of the new campaign, but whoever was to blame, the pram was rocking yesterday. It was tantrum time.

QPR had not wanted to play in Manchester on Monday night, just 48 hours before their home game with Southampton. They were contractually bound to do so, but they were not obliged to be nice to the League's TV paymasters, and the club chairman, Richard Thompson, announced that no one from QPR would co-operate with interviews, before or after the match.

BSkyB, which expects rather more for their pounds 300m, was apoplectic. Dave Hill, its Head of Sport, spluttered: 'I can't believe a group of professional people can act this way. They are shooting the messenger. Not talking to us is incredibly counter-productive. They are taking our money but not talking to us.'

Take the money and run? Clubs have been doing that for years, but enough was enough. There was no question of BSkyB backing down; the game and its live transmission would go ahead as planned. Hinting at a reluctance to screen QPR at a later date, when it might suit the club to be on television, Hill added: 'When they go down the tunnel, it's bye- bye QPR. If they want to spit out the dummy, that's their affair. We'll talk to Manchester City.'

Rows over TV? Talk about deja vu. So much for the brave new dawn.

In fact, far from being new, everything about the Premier League is reassuringly familiar. Same clubs, same managers, same players, Bryan Robson injured. Plus ca change.

Rick Parry, a chief executive who has the look of a rabbit caught in the headlights, and makes John Major sound like Ian Paisley, did his best to strike an upbeat chord at lunch on Thursday, but it was unconvincing stuff.

Everyone was pulling together (apart from QPR, and the six clubs who were breaking ranks over sponsorship), the League would eventually be reduced in size to help the England team (but not yet) and a major sponsorship deal was in the offing (but had not been done).

Well, that's all right then.

After all the political waffle and a summer spent brooding over England's palsied performance in Sweden, the new season is doubly welcome - whatever they choose to call the Big League. The biggest it still is, but the lie is about to be given to the old myth about it being the best when Channel 4 starts to screen Italian League games live every Sunday. QPR and Manchester City will be small birra next to Milan and Juventus.

Look and learn. Or in some cases, just look. Asked last week whether he had picked up anything useful from the European Championship, Graeme Souness said there was nothing new to be learned from Continental tactics. The only purpose of watching such games was to keep up to date with foreign players.

George Graham, on the other hand, said he had 'learned a lot' from travelling to Sweden, and watching every team.

No prizes for guessing which of the two is favoured to win the inaugural Premier League Championship. Enjoy.

Comments