Just over twenty years ago the landscape of football completely changed. Sky had bought the required freedoms to televise live Premiership matches, leaving satellite TV in its wake. The result was a domineering culture of English football, with arrogant presenters and loud advertising. The propaganda is just as strong now as it was back then, ‘the greatest league in the world’, they say. The only thing ‘premier’ about the Premier League is its marketing strategy.
There are two types of football supporters, the armchair fan and the match day fan. As far as I can gather, Sky’s big, brash, and repackaged formula doesn’t appeal to anyone.
In the terraces it’s a generation game, where you exchange tales of nostalgia and cheer on your team through good times and bad. This is the magic of football, and supporters are being priced out of it because of selfish club ownership.
The armchair fans are partly to blame here; they pay their subscriptions and sip their San Pellegrino’s. Occasionally they will venture into Stamford Bridge and watch the match unfold in front of their iPADs. What we need is a way to make sure that the armchair fans don’t turn live match days into a middle class cultural activity. Otherwise live Premier League matches are going to have as much atmosphere as a bad night at an opera gala.
It seems that BT and Sky have bought all the rights from all the leagues just for the sake of it, without any consideration into how they are going to televise it. For example, Sky’s coverage of the Eredivisie is an afterthought. It is a league they clearly have no passion for but purchased anyway, just so no one else could. The same can be said for the way BT have monopolised the Bundesliga and Serie A.
Just as Sky purchased the exclusive rights to all Premiership matches in 1992, Channel 4 seized an opportunity and landed a cut-price deal to exclusively show Italian football. At the time Serie A really was the foremost league in world football, and one of its biggest clubs Lazio had just acquired England’s best player, Paul Gascoigne.
A cult TV show called Football Italia was born, much to the delight of every armchair fan in the country – it was even hosted by an armchair fan.
The show wasn’t all fake tan and technology like Sky; Channel 4 didn’t need to try that hard. They had Marco van Basten, Gabriel Batistuta and Roberto Baggio to do all the talking for them.
When you weren’t watching the best players in the world you were watching the best host, James Richardson, outside an Italian café with a frothy cappuccino and a tiramisu.
He would read out the weekend’s headlines with perfect Italian dialect from his pink La Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper. It was ideal coverage for the most fashionable league in the world. All the teams of Serie A had their own matinee idols adorning beautifully designed strips. Football Italia was a show that really understood its own content.
Channel 4 had the perfect antidote to Sky’s Super Sunday. It wasn’t overbearing and the presenter didn’t talk down to you. Richardson was a storyteller who could relate to his audience. People tuned into Football Italia not to see their team win, but to be taken on a journey, to escape the noise of the Premier League while watching the beautiful game in the comfort of their home.
What football needs is a cult TV show like Football Italia again, to give the toffs at Stamford Bridge their culture fix so football can once again be the people’s game for all people.