Debut on the Net makes my eyes go blurry

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The Independent Football

With England comes controversy and last night's international was no different. Only this time it wasn't about the players or the performance, it was about the pay-for-view website which had exclusive rights to show the World Cup qualifier against Ukraine.

It cost me £9.99 to subscribe on Friday, that's 11p per blurry minute. It was nearly 15p per minute for those who put off paying for their subscription until yesterday.

So when the BBC announced, just after the match finished, that it would after all be showing highlights of the exclusive, internet-only fixture, it stuck in the throat somewhat. I want my money back.

The fixture didn't matter in some ways, or so we'd been told. England had already secured passage to the World Cup in South Africa next year after a victory against Croatia last month.

This was perhaps why none of the broadcasters were willing to pay the asking price to screen the game after the TV company Setanta, which had initially bought the rights for all of England's away qualifiers, collapsed this year.

But the England manager, Fabio Capello, like many of the fans, took the fixture a little more seriously than the broadcasters, having told his team that he expected them to play well and win.

The highly charged atmosphere in the stadium, the sending-off, missed penalty and smokey flares, all within the opening 15 minutes, would have done little to quieten the protests from fans who were livid at the decision to show the match exclusively on the internet.

Age Concern and other elderly campaign groups were especially unimpressed. Many of the country's 6.4 million over 65s have never used the internet so were unlikely to have seen the match.

Eleven Odeon cinemas did show the game, charging between £8 and £12 per ticket, as did a number of pubs across the capital by logging onto foreign channels which regularly show Premier League games live on Saturday afternoons.

Others who were unhappy to pay the subscription fee tried, but failed, to log onto one of the burgeoning number of illegal websites where you can usually access any match on a Saturday afternoon. This left England fans in countries such as Cyprus, Spain, the US, Hong Kong and South Africa with few options because the official site was geographically restricted and therefore unavailable in many parts of the world.

Despite predictions that the website would collapse because of the number of fans trying to log on, the stream was uninterrupted thankfully, especially as former England manager, Sven Goran Eriksson, star of the studio team, was watching the match on the internet as well.

But watching a match on the computer felt a bit like being at work; it was a solitary rather than a social experience, and I was tempted to check my emails during the less gripping periods.

The only goal was deflected in by Rio Ferdinand, or was it Glen Johnson? Actually it turned out to be Ashley Cole, but the blurry, jumpy picture made it difficult to tell who was on the ball at times despite the fact that I was sitting only half a metre away from the screen.

The graininess made my eyes go funny after 25minutes so I switched to the much smaller screen where the picture was much clearer. But 10cm by 20cm is pretty small, too small if you wanted to watch it with a few mates, and the picture was still nowhere near the quality of a normal television.

If last night was a taste of the future for football fans, which it probably is, then I'm not sure whether I'm willing to pay for the privilege. Will I remember the first time? Only because my eyes went blurry.