TV vs The Real Thing

Saturday at 3pm, the noise of the crowd, the chill of a mildly cold and breezy English day, the smell of cheap undercooked chips. Can’t beat it!

Origins of the 3pm kick off go back as far as the late nineteenth century. At this time, with the process of industrialisation maturing, workers were being paid higher wages and had more expendable income. As well as this, there was the introduction of the half-day on Saturdays which combined, led to huge crowds to form at football matches all around the country on Saturday afternoons, and a national obsession was born.

I still remember the thrill of the first live game I attended. Arsenal vs Coventry back in 1996, a Saturday at 3pm of course. A nil-nil draw of which I barely saw any of the action due to the taller ‘grown-ups’ in front of us and the obscured views in the upper tier of the old West Stand at Highbury.

Now, don’t judge me here that it wasn’t an Albion game. I don’t come from football loving parents, they tolerate my football obsession at best and at the time of course Brighton was not the best place to take a child on his first trip to see a live game of football. In fact as the Albion played at Gillingham the following two seasons, this meant I wouldn’t catch the Albion live until the move to the Withdean in 1999.

I remember my first taste of the Albion well. A cold day in October as Brighton beat Hartlepool 1-0. I still remember the wind bellowing across the south stand. It was a very cold day and my brother made sure to tell us of the fact continuously. Additionally, we were initially terrified by the stand wobbling every time the Albion got a corner as the fans in the South Stand stomped their feet to make some noise, but soon warmed to it and frankly the concrete under feet at the AMEX doesn’t do the same job.

But of course, I didn’t mind the cold or the rickety stand really, we were at live football and it was incredibly exciting! We also hadn’t had satellite tv very long and the luxury of watching live football at home from the sofa was not what it is now. But without a parent or elder to encourage me along to a game, there’s a good chance I could have ended up a sofa supporter.

And attending live games isn’t for all football fans. Comedian John Robins is a self-confessed Sofa Supporters, who enjoys watching football but has never attending in person, just watched from the comfort of his own home. On the BBCs football magazine show ‘The Premier League Show’ he explained himself (with tongue somewhat in cheek)

“I don’t like noise, I don’t like traffic… I don’t like chanting on public transport. I don’t like aggression of any kind… I like solitude!… Maybe you are supposed to take the mickey and utter those dreaded words, that you aren’t a real fan. How many times have you heard this? The atmosphere was amazing, you were ten minutes late because of the traffic, I missed the first goal because I was at the bar, it was amazing but you wouldn’t know that, would you? No, I wouldn’t.”

However, attending a live football game on a Saturday at 3pm is very much still an English footballing institution. But it’s one being challenged in England, particularly in the Premier League, because of television companies and their urge to show as many games at various points in the day to appeal to the global viewing market time-zones and bring in that all important advertising revenue.

I grew up watching football on tv. My brother and I always used to get my parents to record Match of the Day on Saturday nights, so we could watch it on Sunday mornings. When we first got Sky in the late nineties, they showed 60 Premier League games a season, and a similar amount of football league games. Now along with BT Sport 168 premier league games and over 100 football league games are shown live each season as well as plenty of overseas football, international football and re-runs of as much premier league football as you can handle. It’s enough to keep you occupied all day every day, as long as your willing to pay for the subscription fee that is.

If your a supporter of a club like Brighton, then over the last few years courtesy of Sky you could watch most of the team’s games live and the remainder in extended highlights. It felt like every home game was on tele last season and almost as much this season too. Not good if you want to experience that 3pm kick off feeling or cannot make the rearranged date, but great for a sofa supporter.

Due to my own personal circumstances I gave up my season ticket a few years ago, but I still go to as many games as I can via the bronze membership scheme (a great improvement on previous schemes the club has had). That said, with the Albion being on television so much in recent years it has enabled me to watch more of the Albion than I did when I was a season ticket holder.

I live for going to the AMEX, you can’t beat the walk up the slope from the station, the Harvey’s and the smell of the pies on the concourse, (because of which I always end up buying one). But watching in the pub or at home with family and friends is a close second. Sky and TV companies in general get a bad name in British football circles and largely unfairly. Putting its shareholders first ahead of football fans is a necessity for Sky, whereas it’s the Premier League and the FA who allow fans interest to be ignored and seem intent to continue to do so. Furthermore, the power of having the games on television connects supporters who may otherwise be isolated from their club. There are plenty of people who for many reasons are unable to attend matches regularly or at all for which the live TV games give them a way in.

Just look at supporters’ groups like Seagulls Downunder. Fans like them would previously have been forced to find out results in newspapers or on the radio, but are now able to watch almost all matches on tv live due to the amount on English football on tv overseas.

Obviously, this is more prominent for clubs like our next opponents Man Utd rather than ourselves, until recent years games on tele were a rarity for the Albion. I remember the excitement when Brighton’s first round FA cup tie against Aldershot in 2000 was the main feature on Match of the Day. Whilst live TV games were a novelty of once or twice a season with chants of ‘I want to be on the tele’ coming from the South Stand at the Withdean.

in contrast almost every one of Man Utd’s games will have been featured on tv for many years now, and as a result they’ve built up a reputation for Sofa Supporters. Go on twitter and a quick search of club hashtags like #MUFC and you will find people from India to New Mexico defining themselves as Man Utd fans who’ve never been to England let alone Manchester. But this is the nature of the global Premier League business model, and one we must learn to live with, learn to like even in order to survive.

We should also bear in mind Sofa Supporters and especially overseas ones have a much more significant impact on a Premier League club’s revenue now than ever before. This is now much more so than that of supporters attending games contributing to the gate receipts. Those that say the fans buying season tickets ‘pay the players wages’ are no longer entirely correct nor do these fans hold as much importance to the club as they once did, which to some degree has lead to a disconnect between clubs and its supporters at some clubs. But, whilst money isn’t everything it greatly affects a clubs decision making processes and rightly so.

Whilst Man Utd were one of the clubs that were forcing the breakaway to the newly formed Premier League in 1992, Brighton were beginning a fall that would take them to the very bottom of the Football League. Things are very different now and whilst the Albion are not and never will be the global super-club that United have become, to establish ourselves as a Premier league team the club, we may have to sacrifice some of the traditional fans interests. Changing kick-off times and meeting the television companies requirements is all part of that.

The compromise comes with a significant benefit to the club. Whilst United have for a long time been one of, if not the richest clubs in the world, most Premier league teams now find themselves in the top 30 or 40 of the annual rich list. Of course, much of this revenue is spent on the team and you only have to look at examples like Sunderland and Leeds to see how these riches can be misused in that regard. That said there are plenty of example of clubs using these modern riches to invest in greater infrastructure for the club and local community and putting money into good local community schemes like the Albion do with AITC.

The days of the like of the late nineteenth century where men would leave work in the factories on Saturday afternoons and go to watch their local football club are long gone. Whilst many traditions like Saturday 3pm kick-offs remain, television football is here to stay, for better and for worse so we may as well learn to live with it and make the most of it rather than vilifying the television companies and Sofa Supporters that come with it.

Author: tweetingseagull

A Fan of Brighton and Hove Albion and all things Football. Follow my tweets here:

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