Why Sky's the limit

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OK, so BBC Sport came to the rescue with its quickly assembled Wednesday- night package of highlights from The Game of the Season but it couldn't quite ease the 24 hours of seething that had gone before. Most of the time I am not that bothered about living without a satellite dish and its most-prized emission, the Sky match - especially not on Monday nights when it involves Oldham, Coventry, Wimbledon or Man City.

But last Tuesday was different - even the tin-can-on-a-string sound of Radio 5 couldn't dilute the electrifying drama taking place at Anfield. I didn't know what to kick first, my own arse for being a stubborn, self-denying leftie, or Murdoch's for blocking what I felt was rightful access to my team. I chose his. Of course there isn't a great deal that individuals can do faced with the corporate edifice of News International and its hand-maiden BSkyB. You can watch games in pubs and console yourself that not a dollar's going out of your pocket and into Murdoch's. You can, metaphorically, tie yourself to the mast and drown out the siren shriek of Andy Gray with your own mantra - football is the nation's game, and all the old, the house- bound and the child-bound have probably paid enough dues to the game in the past to earn their 'pension' of free-viewing now. Feel better? No? Try this then.

Last week, the Heritage Secretary, Peter Brooke, announced that the Government would review the issue of multiple ownership of television, radio and newspapers. The prevailing restrictions limiting too much cross-ownership will almost certainly be lifted by the end of 1994, allowing the agglomeration of television and newspaper companies within Britain, and beyond. A playing field that bears a similarity to the old Yeovil Town ground now has the chance of being levelled, and Murdoch may well have substantial opposition to face.

Sports fans will find themselves ring-side, because the battle for the television rights to their favourite events will top the bill. Imagine a new heavyweight with clout, Granada-LWT-Associated Newspapers, coached by Greg Dyke, going head-to-head with News International-BSkyB? Or Carlton-Central-Pearson jumping in to make it a tag match?

Nobody would bet against Murdoch over 12 rounds, but there could be a few little victories on the way - perhaps the return of live Premier League football to ITV screens or, even better, the creation of a terrestrial, advertising-funded, all-sports network in the vacant space at present reserved for Channel 5?

Damn] I realise even as I write that this is a vain hope. It will be the same old bunch of hammerhead sharks in a feeding frenzy, with sport as live bait. And though deregulation may have brought more money into the worlds of sport and television, it hasn't always brought the viewer a better, or more accessible service. ITV's now-privatised Teletext system, which took over from its in-house Oracle a year ago, is a case in point.

Last Sunday, just after the titanic Giants v Cowboys American football game had finished on Channel 4, I zapped into Teletext to try and find the result of the Steelers v Browns game which CBS had flashed up as 6-9 in the last quarter. Could my forlorn, ante-post voucher on the Steelers for the Super Bowl have a stay of execution?

There were no signs of life on Teletext - they were still running previews of all the games, even the one whose highlights we'd just seen finish. Fortunately the BBC2's Ceefax had up-to-the- minute results to send me to bed happy - the Steelers had bounced back to win 16-9.

Teletext also failed, and not for the first time, to pay any attention to Irish racing during a week hit by the terrible rains. Considering that American football and horse-racing are two of Channel 4's highest profile sports, it seems barmy to have a text service that falls short with back-up in both areas. But maybe this is the real TV sports future awaiting us after the next bout of commercial turmoil - a mish-mash of complacent monopolies with second-rate actuality for free, but pay-per-view for anything decent, and all complaints to be filed on 0891 numbers.

RATHER like the Reader's Digest Prize Draw, football books are everywhere at the moment as publishers seek to trawl the same waters which Nick Hornby's Fever Pitch so successfully fished. As in cinema or television, any success, particularly one which could not have been predicted, is vivisected in order to discover the genetic code within.

But the truth is that Hornby's book - a singular, warm-hearted, unaffected chronicle of life impinging on football - cannot be replicated. The publishers who have commissioned all manner of 'teenage scribblers', poets, academics, or style counsellors, on the basis that they have been in shouting distance of a football ground, are misguided in thinking that the culture of the game can be penetrated with such facility.

For those of us born in the early 1950s and before, football was as a much a part of early life as polio vaccination and cod liver oil. It wasn't a leisure option, as it is now, but a living inheritance, like the colour of your eyes and hair.

The successful cross-over of football into the world of marketing, corporate luncheon-suites and FT-Index quotations during the past four years has broken that chain of inheritance. A large part of football's audience now are the first generation of families to show an interest in the sport.

I suggest that a moratorium be declared on the fans'-eye football books while this new culture takes root. Otherwise we risk extending football's fairly narrow span of credible literature into the territory of train-spotting manuals, bogus nostalgia, academic bores and holiday reminiscences.

In the meantime, the classic set texts deserve another audience: Arthur Hopcraft's The Football Man; John Moynihan's The Soccer Syndrome; Eamon Dunphy's Only a Game?; and the novelist and screen-writer Alan Sharp's devastating 'A Dream of Perfection' essay in the anthology on Scottish football We'll Support You Ever More.

* * *

So, farewell then Brian

Johnston.

'Johnners', that was your

nickname

Though 'Gonners' seems more

appropriate now

Gone to that Great Cake Shop

in the Sky

Your profile and voice gave a new meaning to the phrase

'toffee-nosed'

I liked you, but just a little, not

Arlott

Peter Corrigan is on holiday

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