Irving, Terry, Gary and Graham

Ian Hamilton

  • Behind Closed Doors by Irving Scholar and Mihir Bose
    Deutsch, 367 pp, £14.99, November 1992, ISBN 0 233 98824 6
  • Sick as a Parrot: The Inside Story of the Spurs Fiasco by Chris Horrie
    Virgin, 293 pp, £4.99, August 1992, ISBN 0 86369 620 1
  • Gary Lineker: Strikingly Different by Colin Malam
    Stanley Paul, 147 pp, £12.99, January 1993, ISBN 0 09 175424 0

It’s 3 p.m. on Wednesday, 31 March. Instead of writing this I could/should be watching England’s World Cup game with Turkey live on my public service BBC TV. As it is, I will have to wait until 10.10 tonight to get the highlights. Between now and 10.10 tonight I will also have to not buy the Evening Standard, not watch the Nine O’Clock News and not pay my usual early-evening visit to the pub. All information outlets must be shunned. Some public service.

On the other hand, if the World Cup means so much to me, why don’t I do what several thousand other armchair fans have had to do this season – sign up with Sky TV? On Sky, I would get not only the World Cup but also the pick of the Premier League action, plus Eurosoccer by the yard, plus The Boot Room, The Big League, Andy Gray and all manner of other soccer-goodies. With Sky, I need never walk again.

Why don’t I then – sign up? A few months ago, when it was announced that a deal had been struck between the BBC, BSkyB and the Premier League, my answer would have been: ‘Why should I?’ I might even have adopted a principled position. As I understood it, the new arrangement – by which the BBC yielded to Sky nearly all the most interesting fixtures – was something of a stitch-up: the three parties had conspired to cut out ITV. For the BBC this had presumably been in the interests of revenge; a few years earlier ITV had stitched them up. But why should we be made to suffer, made to pay? Turkey v. England should surely be a licence-holder’s inalienable right – like the Budget or the Boat Race.

Thus spake the average fan, one to another, and at the beginning of the season there did seem to be a feeling that the whole deal might collapse under the weight of public indignation. Then was even talk of ITV’s Greg Dyke taking the issue to court. Perhaps he did; perhaps he still intends to. No one any longer seems to know or care. In soccer, indignations are short-lived; they have to be. Within a matter of weeks, Sky’s obnoxious ‘whole new ball game’ has become as familiar as Man United’s new away strip. And meanwhile, the Norway game has come and gone, not to mention the home tie against Turkey and the great San Marino massacre. And Holland will be happening quite soon. With two-thirds of the season gone, a dozen other major contests have been lost to view. It’s getting serious. I’m weakening. I think I’ll sign.

If I do, it will no doubt feel like a defeat – albeit a narrow one, in extra time. And my cave-in will remind me yet again that there are few scruples strong enough to do battle with my soccer-lust. It has been wisely said that viewers of football can be divided by the Heysel test, by their responses to that night eight years ago when, having tuned in to watch the soccer, they found themselves watching people die. Some viewers switched off in horror and disgust. Some claimed that they would never again watch a football match. Others stayed on to get what they had come for – Liverpool against Juventus. The game kicked off as soon as all the corpses had been cleared away and, as I remember it, not one of the group I was watching with showed the slightest inclination to switch off. One or two looked uncomfortable, but another one or two (including me) carried on wanting Liverpool to – well, not exactly crush the Eyeties, but ... It was indeed a night of shame.

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