Outside the Box: Spanish giants skip lunch to serve up treat for Chinese


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The enormous market potentially available to European clubs in China is highlighted by an audience reported at 60 million having watched Cristiano Ronaldo score a hat-trick in Real Madrid's 7-1 victory over Osasuna on state television last Sunday.

The key, however, was that for the first time ever at the Bernabeu the game was played at midday, the seven-hour time difference allowing Chinese fans to tune in at peak viewing time rather than waiting until the middle of the night. Real Madrid and Barcelona are now under pressure to give up more of their traditional late-evening kick-offs for an unfamiliar lunch date.

As for English clubs wanting their market share, up to five Premier League matches are shown on sports channels in places like Shanghai but Chinese audiences are reluctant consumers of Pay-TV; when Win-TV in China did a deal with the Premier League three years ago, prices were too high and viewing figures – and exposure – were negligible.

Sly tactics of Sligo's stopper

Penalty watch: At last the Premier League's penalty-takers are getting a grip, and goalkeepers are losing theirs.

Over the past two weekends, six pens out of six found the net. So the proportion of successful kicks, which earlier in the season was as low as 30 per cent, has now doubled to 20 out of 33 (60 per cent).

Sunderland would just like the opportunity to get in on the act. They are the only one of the 20 clubs not to have been awarded one so far.

Goalkeepers wishing to reverse those ratios should study Ciaran Kelly of Sligo Rovers, whose heroics won his team the FAI Cup last weekend for the second season running when the final went to a shoot-out again. A year ago he saved four out of four penalties against Shamrock Rovers after a goalless draw and this time he was brought on as substitute with two minutes of extra-time remaining. Kelly duly went out and saved two more, giving him seven saves from his last eight kicks.

"There's a huge amount of psychology involved," he told The Mayo News. "So I had myself focused on the shoot-out and didn't want to play too much of extra-time. I went through my usual routine and thankfully it didn't let me down."

Turf war is waged in Oxford

The rivalry between Oxford United and Swindon Town is one of those that is easily underestimated outside the area, but its intensity can be gauged from the fact that tickets for the next meeting have just gone on sale – four months early.

Oxford, the home team, sold more than 1,000 on the first day, handing out free pastries to supporters who had queued before the ticket office opened at 9.30am. If the club sell out early enough they intend erecting a temporary stand to increase the 12,500 capacity by up to 2,000.

It would appear that some Swindon fans have already been to the Kassam Stadium this season: in August, Oxford officials found the initials STFC burned into their pristine turf.

Big Apple is a temptation

Talking of League Two, which club may soon have New York as a home? The answer is Rotherham United, who will begin next season at a new 12,000-capacity stadium near the town centre costing £20m.

Oddly, the area is called New York, and the American city's cast-iron fire hydrants were once made there, at the Guest & Chrimes Foundry. The club believe that having an iconic name could help with marketing, although a poll of supporters preferred The Foundry. A final decision will be made by Christmas.

Rotherham had to leave Millmoor in May 2008 after 101 years because the rent became prohibitive and since then they have played at the Don Valley Stadium, clattering around with crowds of 3,000 in a ground that holds more than eight times as many.

The story is a happy excuse to recall that when Walsall were building a stadium in the late 1980s on the site of an old sewage works, one fan suggested in the local press that it should be called WC Fields.

s.tongue@independent.co.uk; www.twitter.com/@stevetongue