Sky Sports News Deadline Day (Birmingham City – NFFC Programmes Notes 2012/13

 

I’ve had something of an explosive relationship with Sky Sports News over the years – sometimes I love it, sometimes I can’t stand it but since 1998 it’s been a staple part of the football addict’s daily diet.

I remember when dad first joined the digital revolution, opening my eyes to the thrill-a-minute world of sports news broadcasting. I was in immediate awe at the concept of a channel which provided my leather-cased brain with 24 hour access to football.

For the first year or two I watched nothing else. I even insisted on having it on in the background during Christmas dinner just in case there were any festive hamstrings that might compromise the fortunes of my fantasy team for the Boxing Day fixtures.

If Sky Sports News had been invented ten years earlier half the male population of the United Kingdom wouldn’t even know that the Berlin Wall had fallen. Instead all eyes would have been on Ray Wilkins, the prodigal son, crossing the Scottish border and making his long awaited return to the English game. Some say the two events were of equal political significance.

Of course, back then, Sky wouldn’t have had the luxury of all their modern gizmos. Rather, the progress of Wilkins’ move from Glasgow Rangers to QPR would have been reported using a globe and some finger puppets. It’s a far cry from the giant iPad they use these days.

For all the joy the channel had initially brought me, I finally grew tired of it.

They over-dramatise everything to the point where the terms ‘Breaking news’ and ‘Sky Sports exclusives’ have lost all meaning. At 28, in the twilight of my life, I no longer crave the frenzied excitable tones of Jim White, who greets the news of Everton signing an unknown Ecuadorian with the same level of anxiety as a layman might greet the apocalypse.

If, like me, you try to detach yourself from the Hollywood hype and hysteria that Sky Sports has brought to the world of football, then you should probably leave the country when transfer deadline day comes around.

Since its inception, I have protested vehemently against the restrictive transfer window system and the detrimental effects it has on the game. It creates unnecessary panic, promotes reckless expenditure, gives players too much power and has an adverse impact on youth development. Basically, it has helped to achieve everything it initially set out to prevent from happening.

Last season I boycotted transfer deadline day, thus demonstrating my opposition to the flawed system and the inflated, glittery, Americanised way in which Sky Sports presents its showpiece event.

But on the morning of August 31 this year something astonishing happened. Suddenly, as if by some omnipotent Kuwaiti force, I became all turned around on the subject!

He, who had once so proudly watched ‘Bargain Hunt’ and ‘Diagnosis Murder’ just to avoid Sky Sports’ deadline day coverage, was now fixated on Jim White’s meerkatesque eyes. The excitement of the Gold Rush atmosphere had gripped me and I was reconverted!

Was it the fact that I thought Forest might actually sign a player? Had my previous stance been the product of bitterness at the club’s consistent failure to sneak players under the window minutes before it shut? Do all our feelings towards Sky Sports News exist in direct correlation to how our club is prospering at any given time? In short, yes to all of the above.

It’s been a summer of exceptional business by the powers that be at The City Ground. Before the final day of the transfer window, Forest had made nine stellar signings. It’s been a progressive and exciting time to be a Red… our faith in football, and all that comes with it, restored.

But there’s something a little bit special about beating the deadline and getting that last important signature. So, from 7am on transfer deadline day, I held firm to my instinctive belief that the Al Hasawi family would deliver that long anticipated deadline day excitement.

It was compelling viewing from start to finish. I literally festered in my own juices for the entire day. I daren’t turn over, in case I missed a Range Rover with tinted windows being driven through the gates of a Premier League club. I daren’t turn over in case I missed the moment that Joey Barton finally got deported to France. But, most of all, I daren’t turn over, in case the yellow bar at the bottom of the screen finally read ‘Nottingham Forest’, after so many barren last days of August.

There was a brief moment of panic when I thought I’d sat on the remote control and switched over to watch ‘The Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ but it turned out they were just broadcasting live from a Premier League training ground, where the traditional flock of unruly adolescents had gathered. If you were glued to Sky Sports News all day then you’re sure to know exactly what I mean.

Even though they always seem to have the sort of faces you could grill fish on, their antics are an important part of the Sky Sports Mardi Gras. Lurking on the coat tails of a flustered reporter, whilst making explicit gestures towards the camera and chanting the name of the top flight journeyman whom they anticipate the imminent arrival of, these fanatical gawpers embody the spirit of deadline day … in their own unique way.

One of the most entertaining parts of the day was when Alex Ferguson declared that he had no idea where Dimitar Berbatov was. It led to a procession of texters claiming they’d seen him buying a boneless banquet at KFC near Colchester, or similar such deluded tales. As is often the case with missing items, Berbatov was probably in the last place we’d ever expect to see him … his own half.

His disappearance reminded me of the time that my little sister misinterpreted one of Sky Sports bite-sized team news summaries. It read ‘Stern John still missing’ and she subsequently spent the rest of the day roaming the streets looking for him with her pink plastic binoculars, putting posters of his face on telegraph poles.

Even though he’s 35 and has had more clubs than Lee Westwood, I would still have cracked out my champagne and funnel if Stern John had returned to The City Ground.

It was getting desperate; I was sure a signing would come … but time was running out.

Finally, as the day’s business drew steadily to a close, the famous Sky Sports yellow bar, so often the bearer of bad tidings in days gone by, was ignited. Breaking News from The City Ground!

Billy Sharp and James Coppinger had signed for us! Two players who have been such consistent thorns in our side over previous campaigns, two players of undoubted pedigree at this level, two players who will provide the invaluable competition for places that could well be the difference between success and failure.

I love transfer deadline day!

Follow me on Twitter: @Dave_Abbiss

Football Vs The Olympics (Charlton Athletic – NFFC Programme Notes 2012/13)

 

Nothing represents summer like the sight of an impromptu twenty-five-a-side game in the local park; jumpers for goalposts, shirts versus skins, mothers impeding the field of play to give unwanted dinner updates. It’s football in its purest form.

A couple of weeks ago I was saddened to see the local youths, usually seen belting a football to one another, running down the street at a frantic pace, hurdling over parked cars as they passed them. One was holding a flaming torch aloft, another swung a hammer in his hand and the third was carrying a bow and arrow. It’s fair to say that the Olympics truly have inspired a generation. Even a local policeman got into the spirit of things, sprinting after the youths, clutching a relay baton in his hand. It made you proud to be British!

But the Olympics weren’t just about raising petty crime levels, the overwhelming spirit of the games captured us all and ensured that football was temporarily forgotten about. Even those like me, who vowed to stay loyal to the beautiful game, in sickness and in health, committed many forms of Olympic adultery. In fact I was so inspired by the Olympics that I went out and bought a new plasma TV, even though I had to give up my gym membership in order to pay for it. Such is life.

Sadly, whilst the likes of Mo Farah and Jessica Ennis were capturing the hearts of the nation, football was being admonished like a petulant child. It sulked on the ‘naughty step’, castigated for previous misdemeanours, lectured on how to be more like its estranged Olympic sibling.

“Football can learn a lot from the Olympics.”

I must have heard that phrase a thousand times in the wake of the games. Unfortunately, as wonderful an idea as it is, the words are so hollow and naïve they could form the chorus of a One Direction song.

We all knew that football had its problems long before the Queen parachuted into the Olympic Stadium and, in reality, as enjoyable as it proved to be, the games taught us little or nothing about how to cure football of its ailments. Football and the Olympics are intrinsically different; making comparisons between them is ultimately pointless.

Take the issue of ‘diving’ as an example. Olympic Bronze medallist Tom Daley’s Double-Arabians were very easy on the eye, but put him on a football pitch and his dives wouldn’t be nearly convincing enough. Where were the screams of agony, the obligatory clutching of limbs and the miraculous recovery upon the brandishing of a yellow card to the culprit?

Unfortunately, the aforementioned cheating and bad sportsmanship that has become an inherent feature of our game will not simply disappear because a few grey-suited men with rose tinted spectacles order footballers to ‘be more like the Olympians!’

We are only a couple of weeks into the new season and already we have had footballers on strike, managers assaulting linesmen, and referees’ authority undermined at every turn. The football disease runs too deep.

It’s not just players and managers who are under scrutiny either. Many anti-football drum beaters are wagging disapproving moral fingers at supporters, specifically those who attend armed with javelins of hostility.

This is, of course, in stark contrast to the soul-warming sportsmanlike environment of the Olympic Stadium. An overwhelming feature of the games was the incredible value of passionate home support. It’s a far cry from the poisonous cauldrons of angst and tribalism that modern football stadiums often turn into on a match day.

Inherent within the game is the edgy rivalry between teams that simply doesn’t exist within the Olympic sports. The football mentality dictates that we remind our fiercest rivals of all their shortcomings; whether it’s that their trophy cabinet is bare, their star player is grossly overweight or that their fans have been known to engage in controversial farmyard activities.

The spicy atmosphere of the stands manifests itself on the pitch. What’s more, most fans wouldn’t have it any other way.

Even if games became ‘home fan only’ affairs, the football experience would not be one of unbridled positivity, such as we witnessed in London this summer. In football, supporters tend to accept nothing less than perfection. No matter how endearing their effort, we cannot help but curse the hapless striker who so consistently fails to hit a cow’s backside with a banjo. This is not the Olympic way.

The Olympics teach us to rally behind competitors who give their best. In football, there is simply too much at stake. We fans have invested too much, both financially and emotionally, to treat our football teams with the care-free warmth we so readily offered our Olympians. Winning is everything in football.

It’s true that there is too much money in the game. It’s the very poison that taints the game’s image; it’s what makes football so deathly serious, so relentlessly cruel and so difficult for outsiders to understand. In that sense the game of football is a victim of its own success. If it weren’t so compelling, there wouldn’t be a problem.

Footballers, for the most part, work just as hard as competitors from any other sport. They haven’t landed upon fame and glory by chance. Unfortunately, because they have so much money, they have become completely detached from supporters, often from reality.

The sport-loving nation cannot relate to the modern footballer in the way it related to our Olympic heroes. This is true whether the players are humble, honourable, intelligent professional athletes with passion and integrity, or whether they are Joey Barton.

I loved the Olympics. Any human being could draw inspiration from the courage and determination displayed by our Olympians. But to say “Football can learn a lot from the Olympics” is as useful as saying “Football can learn a lot from The Lion King.” They are worlds apart.

Follow me on Twitter: @Dave_Abbiss