Raise a glass to the modern terraces

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Over the centuries, we common sports-watchers have seen a change or two in our spectating arrangements. Was it only 300 years ago that we had to push and jostle in a screaming, sweaty crowd for a glimpse of a cock-fight or crane for a half-decent view of the bear-baiting pit? Is it 217 years since we attended the first Derby and have we yet had a clear sight of the winner, let alone backed one? Can 150 years have flashed past from the time when we crammed 10-deep behind the ropes to catch the odd flash of Jem Mace's bare knuckles battering all-comers into submission?

Our passion for the action became a touch easier to exercise when sport started to organise itself at the end of the 19th century and recognised the need to build terracing so that larger crowds could be accommodated and we could see more for our pennies. For the less tall it wasn't that much more but it was a start and they eventually added crush barriers for our extra comfort and, here and there, a cover and even a few seats for those who could afford them.

Pinioned on those cramped, unserviced and ultimately deadly banks, millions bore the burden of providing the financial foundations of at least one of our national games. They don't require the masses on site now; just a privileged and pampered proportion. The rest are dish-fodder to be catered for by the communication miracles which have occurred along the way.

Who could have imagined what would result from the revolution of the 1920s when broadcasting meant that all could be united with the event without actually being there. In 1927, for instance, Cardiff City's feat in removing the FA Cup from England for the first and only time was relayed to a crowd of many thousands outside the City Hall via six loudspeakers tied to lamp-posts. Crackling air-waves took us live to the ring-side when Tommy Farr fought Joe Louis in 1938 and again, immediately after the Second World War, when Bruce Woodcock and Freddie Mills were building up our hopes.

Then came television and sophisticated viewing beyond the wildest fantasies of the old-style fans. Had it been possible for our two main channels to remain at the forefront of every development available to televised sport, we could have all lived happily ever after in our armchairs.

Alas, there was neither the will nor the gumption to forestall Rupert Murdoch who harnessed the revolution, understandably for his own ends, and now controls most of the events worth having. The considerable snag is that an overwhelming number of us, still a significant majority, are not able for one reason or another to see a growing number of fascinating fixtures.

I have friends who remain staunchly eyeless during England's one-day internationals and are resigned to a summer without spotting the spoor of a Lion. They would die rather than succumb to the blackmail. They won't do as I have done for the past few years; hie me to a place where I can witness these wonders. Is it my fault if it's a pub?

But even that pleasure has become complicated recently. What was a fairly straightforward offering of fruits forbidden to us by the terrestrial channels - football on Sunday afternoon and Monday evenings and rugby league on Friday and Sunday nights - has become a nightmare of colliding interests. It didn't help when Sky added an extra channel, or when they signed up other sports such as rugby union's Courage League and, now, the Lions. In addition, we've had a small but significant counter-attack by BBC and ITV in the shape of European football finals and, last weekend, the PGA golf at Wentworth which has served only to confuse the viewer even more.

Without extensive research, it is difficult to estimate how many watch their sport on big screens in pubs and clubs. I suspect it would be a staggering number and if Sky don't make a provision for it in their advertising rates, they're dafter than we think they are.

Indeed, I have commented before how these establishments have become the modern terraces. The Railway, my particular local, fulfils all the compact camaraderie of a bob bank. It's where we come from; the original womb with a view. We shout and sway and swear and belch beer over each other. Cardiff Arms Park is four miles away, but many prefer to claim an early place in the pub to watch Wales from a standing position, pint in hand.

Sadly, conflict is beginning to douse the togetherness. Different appetites are at work and last Wednesday evening provided a serious test of priorities. The Lions played the Borders in the afternoon. Those fortunate enough to have been at work carefully avoided the result and arrived at the pub to watch the replay at 6.30 as if it was live. Those already assembling to obtain prime positions for the European Cup final between Dortmund and Juventus at 7.30 were beginning to point out menacingly that the live football would be preferable to the dead rugby.

Suddenly, some berk at Sky decided to show the highlights of the Lions match in Sky Sports Centre which was directly before the re-run. Those who had taken extreme precautions to remain ignorant of the occurrences at East London were treated not only to the result but to all the highlights. None the less, they insisted on seeing the game and thus delayed our arrival into the best European final for years.

We've had cricket highlights interfering with the rapt attention we wished to offer to Tiger Woods - a fascination not adequately acknowledged by most newspapers - and last night we faced a new phenomenon. Channel 5 was staging England v Poland followed by England v Argentina. We have a problem around our way. We have difficulty receiving Channel 5 clear enough to establish whether it is Channel 5.

We've never had to cope with events we can't even receive. BBC had highlights planned but they conflicted with Tiger Woods on Sky. Edition times prevent me reporting what happened but, at the height of our problems on Wednesday night, I glanced at the crammed scene around me, and the faces trying to focus on the giant screen and it took me back 300 years.

AS a former programme editor of Fulham FC (circa 1965-75), I rejoice in their promotion to the Second Division. I welcome, too, a reprint of Fulham's Golden Years by Ken Coton which tells the club's never-a-dull- moment story from the heydays of Johnny Haynes, Jimmy Hill and Tosh Chamberlain in the late 1950s with the help of more than 700 pictures.

First published as a limited edition in 1992, the book re-appears just in time to allow the club's new owner, Mohamed Al Fayed, to brush up on its history.

At the press conference to announce his pounds 30m acquisition of Craven Cottage, Mr Fayed proclaimed his great love for Fulham but could not recall any particular game. This would have puzzled faithful Fulham fans who usually have more trouble forgetting matches than remembering them.

Nevertheless, we await with interest the effect that their new owner will have. Being in the same stable as Harrods and the Ritz of Paris will doubtless attract a new elite to the Cottagers. Mr Hamilton's tickets will be on the gate, I trust.