Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Rome derby on a laptop - PrivateDic

Sports fans of a certain age reminisce about huddling round a crackling wireless to listen to the ‘Matthews Final’, or joining half the street in cramming into the living room at no. 20, where they had a TV, to watch England win the World Cup in black and white. It sounds quaint in the age of wall-to-wall Sky and Setanta, yet a fortnight ago I found myself experiencing the modern equivalent as I hunched over my laptop squinting at the windowette of live feed from Rome’s Stadio Olimpico, scene of the biggest football match in Europe that weekend.

It seemed worth it when, on 50 minutes, a Lowry-esque figure swung in a threatening cross and Roma’s Julio Baptista—unmistakable, even in low-definition—rose to guide a perfect header low to the left of the Lazio keeper. It reminded me of Jurgen Klinsmann in his early 90s pomp, whose brilliant headed goals I’d seen so much more clearly on my mum’s clapped-out cathode ray Ferguson. Now, via broadband, I watched a cubist mass of colour pulse in triumph on the curva sud, while the blob warming up for Lazio on the touchline could only have been a kitchen sink, given the desperation with which the biancoceleste pixel-men began to pour forward.

My frustration at having to watch this brilliant sporting spectacle on a post-it note of a screen is only partly explained by my love of Serie A. The annoyance is doubled by the meaningless alternative fixtures offered on Sky and Setanta, clogging the EPG like cholesterol in a furred artery. I could have sampled Lille v St Etienne, or Estudiantes v Argentinos Juniors—but to me, those games didn’t matter.

In the last fortnight we have endured the fourth round of the Carling Cup (is it nearly over yet?) and a midweek of international friendlies. I enjoyed Wales’s performance in Denmark; shame it didn’t count for anything. Why schedule these games for mid-November, four months ahead of the next meaningful qualifier? Plenty of Premier League managers asked the same question. We must pity the poor sports journalist, who not only gets a press pass to the Champions League final, but also has to cover the dross that acts as filler in the cable and satellite schedules.

We are in danger of creating an era of Meaningless Sport. Our summer game, cricket, is practically dead at domestic level. Attendances go unpublished, for the excellent reason that they would be hugely embarrassing. Aside from the handful of teams that find themselves in contention, no-one cares about the myriad county tournaments, which seem to find their raison d’etre as sponsorship opportunities more than sporting contests. It’s widely believed that the only appeal of the IPL is the money, but how about the attraction of playing in front of passionate full houses?

Rugby is going the same way as our domestic cricket, particularly in Wales, where artificial ‘regions’ field weakened sides against unfamiliar opponents while waiting for the Heineken Cup to come round. Even England’s feted Guinness Premiership schedules games to clash with internationals—while England took on the world champions at Twickenham, Leicester were playing Harlequins at Welford Road. As for football, most of its competitions have been fading for years, with the FA Cup, Carling Cup, and UEFA Cup reduced to a status similar to the Pontins Reserve League of seasons past.

How to sustain interest when your channel of choice shows the England U-16s, but not the senior side? What to do when you’ve seen the first leg of a tie live, but the second leg’s on another channel, which you don’t have? How to get worked up about Vitesse-Feyenoord in lieu of the Rome derby? What interest in pitting Arsenal’s youth team against Wigan? Advice is helpfully provided during the commercial break: ‘It matters more when there’s money on it’, Skybet tells us.

Here’s a thought—and let’s hope it occurs to the broadcasters and administrators who schedule our sporting entertainment: perhaps it matters more when we care about it. I’ll take the Rome derby on a laptop ahead of mid-table Eredivisie any day.


beyond the pale said...

Private--hate to demur, but as pretty as that Baptista header in Rome certainly was, the concurrently available Estudiantes/Argentinos Juniors match which you write off as of no interest to Eurocentric audiences was in fact a lively match, with no less skill on display, not to mention a superior climate, both meteorological and sociological--if you can believe it. (But then give me barras over ultras any day.)

Mouth of the Mersey said...

I've a lot of sympathy for these views.

Having seen a lot of county cricket last year, I can confirm that crowds were not negligible and it was hugely enjoyable. Cricket doesn't need a crowd the way football does, though I've seen some of my favourite matches in half full stadiums - check this to see:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the comments. It doesn't surprise me that Estudiantes-Argentinos Juniors was a decent game, but it does strike me as odd that it was shown on British TV, along with Dutch and French football, ahead of the Rome derby. Italian football has a much largr following - witness the monthly Calcio Italia mag and the numerous websites and blogs devoted to the subject.

MOTM, we'll have to disagree about county cricket. I'd love nothing more than to give the game (in England and Wales) a kick up the arse. For me, it's uncompetitive and badly marketed - yet cricket at its best is a brilliant spectacle. That seems to be better understood by the Indians and Australians at the moment.


MotM said...

PD - First class cricket in Aus and Ind is not watched at all! Limited overs cricket here is still well supported (last season was hardly a summer at all), but the diffuse crowds mean that they are not always noticed.

County cricket is mainly criticised by journos that are sated with the game and people who don't actually go. I don't know whether you fall into that category PD, but many do!

ElSell said...

"County cricket is mainly criticised by journos that are sated with the game and people who don't actually go."

Bit like League of Ireland football
then ;)

Anonymous said...

I certainly can't claim to be a regular at county cricket. I'll pop along a couple of times a summer and it's a good day out, but it's as much about the beer and the sunshine as the sporting contest out in the middle. If Glammy lose, I'm not usually hugely bothered, and I get the impression the same goes for most of the crowd.

There should be far fewer games in county cricket, and the England players should be made available for all of them. If England are playing a Test or a ODI, counties should not be playing at the same time. I'd go for 3 regional divisions of 6 counties, playing 10 regular season games a year, with the three group winners and the best runner-up going into the playoffs. Then a grand finale at Lords live on TV. Use the same structure for first-class matches, the one-day game, and 20/20.

For me, if a sport schedules league fixtures in a slot where the best players are going to be unavailable, and if crowds are small and apparently not bothered about losing, it's a sign that that sport could do with trimming a bit of fat.

If the Magners League or County Championship want to put me in charge for 12 months I will dramatically increase the competitiveness of their matches. Mind you, I might bankrupt them at the same time.


Allout said...


I think you tried to do a little too much in this piece (discussing the choice of league shown in between comparing modum of watching matches in different generations and the fixture schedules in several sports). This meant IMHO that whilst you touched on a number of areas none of them were discussed in serious detail, which is a shame as I think you have plenty to say about the issues raised.

In terms of the CC I agree that there are too many matches and PD's suggestion at 2:03 is definitely not a bad one. However, the concept of relegation gives a lot of matches in the current top division meaning and the structure you propose would effectively do away with this.

Anonymous said...

Thanks again for the feedback - particularly to Allout. It's quite cathartic to have the strengths and weaknesses of your article pointed out, instead of simply being in the 'NOT GOOD ENOUGH!' pile.

Thanks also to whoever maintains this site. I've only had time to look during weeks 2 and 4, but I've been surprised by the quality of the entries. PseudsCorner is a great comfort when you've spent a couple of hours on an entry that got nowhere.


Allout said...

PD - no problem! I think it's Ebren (4TT) that does most of the work on the site and I agree, he does a fine job. I have also taken solace in the generally very good efforts here after my consistent failure to trouble the voters over at GU!

The thing I have noticed is how personal tastes in blogs are. I say this because each week at least one of the finalists would be nowhere near my short list and also from the comments posted after the final three.

I guess this could be said of any literary form but blogs seem to be at the particular whim of taste given that people seem to have vastly different views as to whether a blog's main purpose is to be a stand-alone piece of informative and entertaining writing or to facilitate debate below the line.

Ebren said...

Hey PD,

The site was designed so we could see what people wrote that didn't get published (my specific desire was to see what Mouth, Offside, Miro and others would come up with - if GU deemed them 'not worthy'). Glad to see you liked it.

I should point out Mouth, Margin (not seen in some time) and anrdewm all update the site as well me. So any praise should go their way as well.

After last year, the site sort of kept going after Big Blogger had finished - so feel free to stick around or even write something if you fancy it as we will (hopefully) be here for some time.

Cheers, and thanks for contributing, Ebren/fourturntables

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