Press the button for direct digital democracy
Saturday 21 August 1999
The football match I saw - it was a First Division game, as I recall - gave you several options. There was the standard camera angle, one a little way down the pitch - not sufficiently different to be worth the effort - and a delay facility of a few seconds. And when the game is as unremarkable as the one I saw, there's not much use for that either.
You were also able to call up statistics on the players - but if a game is interesting enough, who's going to want that? The only way that will be properly useful is when all that kind of information is embedded in the signal, so that if you videotape a game you can stop the tape and explore the options at your leisure, like a CD ROM.
For me, interactive footie, then, was a game of two halves: the first was spent playing with the buttons. The second was spent watching the match. However sophisticated the Sky operation is, I bet that's how it will be tomorrow.
I think the real way forward for interactive football is to develop the technology even further and reduce the referee to a simple conveyor, via earpiece, of the nation's verdict on every decision. Direct democracy from the digital terraces. Or you could have special buttons on the remote to suit different circumstances - a camera turned on the crowd at Brazilian internationals, for example, or a button to fuse the floodlights when your bets are coming off.
Or another button, available only to Manchester United fans, that adds on injury time. And one for United-haters that changes history, so that Matt Busby went back to the Anfield Boot Room after the war (now there's an intriguing thought), Michael Knighton succeeded in his take-over and Sir Alex Ferguson has just taken Aberdeen to their umpteenth Scottish title in a row.
And one more button, available only to me, that delivers a death ray to any player diving, waving an imaginary card at the referee, or even worse, sporting an Alice band or unnecessary facial hair.
All this digital stuff is one more big breath of hot air into the football bubble, and in the first part of Love Me Football (Sunday), Channel 5's brisk jog through most aspects of the modern game, Skyman Andy Gray looked perturbed as he sounded a note of caution.
"It's hard to see how much bigger it can get," he said. "It's almost as if the snowball's at the bottom of the mountain. That does worry you - with every boom you fear a bust."
The documentary went on to look at Ajax, the 17th biggest club in the world with a pounds 30m annual turnover, yet operating at a loss. They could have gone virtually anywhere, in fact - to Real Madrid, for example, where they've got debts bigger than the proverbial small nation. Not to mention the countless clubs who live below the breadline.
Eerily, at this point in my notebook, there's something scribbled down from another programme, one of those BBC2 Open University films after midnight. It's the title of a Victorian painting, "The Excavation of the Mastodon," whose theme, apparently, is to expose as ridiculous the once strongly held idea that nothing could become extinct. I'm not sure football's that far down the evolutionary line just yet, but it is certainly evolving - some would say mutating - into a completely different creature.
Still in Love Me Football, world footie expert Simon Kuiper provides one compelling reason for the game's enduring appeal. "We have all heard that Einstein is a genius, but very few of us are in a position to judge."
"Football is one of the few areas of life where even if you're untutored, you can go to a ground and see George Best beat three men, and you can realise, "I have seen genius."'
Laura Davies clearly realises this, because apart from being one of the top few women golfers in the world, she's also a big football fan (well, Liverpool fan), as well as an enthusiastic gambler, and on On Side (BBC1 Monday), she revealed that one of her favourite bets is first scorer and result. And as if to demonstrate her punting prowess she'd gone for Dion Dublin and 2-2 for Aston Villa v West Ham that night.
She also told the story of how, for the England v Spain European Championship semi-final three years ago, she was five shots up going into the last round at the Evian and wanted to see the game, so took a telly round with her. I think I want her babies.
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