So Sir Alex Ferguson is complaining about the overweaning power of Television on the Beautiful Game. That, much like the game itself, is a bit rich.
'I tell yer, television is God and it's crucifying me'
The only reason that the top footballers wade into work through a sea of bank notes these days is television. I’m sure Ferguson himself is that little bit wealthier since the advent of Sky Sports.
Those that run the Premier League will point to its enormous operating profits and pronounce it a success. It’s not so much television that rules the roost, it’s money. And television, in the form of walnut-faced mogul Murdoch and his butter-wouldn’t-melt boy James – the result of what would have happened if Steptoe and Son had made it big – pays better than owt else.
But then cos telly gets your ‘brand’ seen across five continents it doesn’t half help your merchandising n all. In fact, the Box is so instrumental in keeping your club afloat that you’d think that Ferguson might be a less grumpy about the whole thing, even if he doesn’t have to resort to the average chief executive’s role of bending over forwards while the EPL stuff in as many fivers as his arse can carry.
Ferguson says ‘Television is God’ (and you were beginning to think it was you, eh, Alex?) If he’s right, then presumably he thinks football is the Virgin Mary, but the only people getting truly fucked by the situation at the moment are those clubs without the emissaries necessary to hook a billionaire with too much time on his hands.
I just picture Bill Kenwright slapping on the lippy, hitching up the stockings and walking the wealthier thoroughfares of major financial centres waiting for someone to wind-down the dark-glassed window of his Rolls-Royce and buy some business.
When Man City played Everton this weekend, you had the two extremes in opposition and you couldn’t help rooting for the poverty-stricken honest Johns against the moneybagses. Unsurprisingly, the Toffees, outmuscled by sheer wealth, opted for the Alamo approach and held out for as long as possible while Mancini chopped and changed his state-of-the-art armouries until a fluky deflection saw the royal blue walls crumble.
'I have this many millionaires on my bench!'
This is the reality of modern-day football. Money will win out. And money comes from two directions – telly and the deep, deep pockets of rich men with nowt much to do.
And there’s no doubt that football’s thirst for cash shows no signs of fading. The whole idea of the Europa League, a great sprawling fat beggar on European football’s landscape, is designed to accrue more bits of change for the football hierarchy.
Ferguson complains about fixture lists being twisted to accommodate the whims of the television companies; surely it’s the whims of the greedy graspers running football that conceived of the Europa League, a competition that distorts your regular Saturday afternoon domestic footy programme more than any other.
Of course Fergie has only just patched things up with the Beeb after some 2004 programme implicated his boy in some sort of brown envelope conspiracy. It took Mark Thompson to go bowing and scraping at his door to get His Puceness back on side. Perhaps the Beeb’s not part of the television godhead. Perhaps Fergie’s an atheist. Or perhaps Fergie’s idea of a divine creator is one that comes and begs you to help Him out.
Add to this the fact that you can go a week without the latest endeavours of Manchester United being emblazoned across our screens, and you have to think SAF is guilty of biting the admittedly unpleasant hand that feeds him. I mean I can’t see that United have suffered in any way, shape or form from its relationship with telly.
All right, sometimes (very rarely) clubs have to play Wednesday night and Saturday lunchtime. But what with all that cash the telly’s bringing in, a club like United can afford to have two pretty decent teams in its squad, with a third one just for show for the Carling Cup. I’m still not sure where you’re losing out.
To his credit, Fergie’s push for football clubs to get more revenue from any renegotiation of the League’s international TV rights deal isn’t wholly self-interested. That money gets split 20 ways equally, so United benefit and so does everyone else. The old leftie in him sees that as ‘fair’. So do I.
Meanwhile, Michael Owen continues to bewilder the average football fan with his career choices. Apparently he’s rather play once every three months with top players than every week with cack ones. I think maybe he’s rather turn up in the League Cup where, given the poorer quality of opposition available, he’ll get more opportunities to tuck away the odd brace.
Certainly the old predatory skills have not deserted him, and he can still scuff one in off a left foot that, after 14 years at the top level, still can’t kick straight.
Owen gets a lot more joy out of his horses, as those who saw his celebrations after his nag Brown Panther won the King George V Stakes at Ascot can testify. You do wonder quite what he’s doing warming benches for a day-job.
Of course he’ll have to make sure his jockeys keep their whips trousered from now on. There are strict rules for whip usage coming up. No more than eight lashes allowed in the final furlong for National Hunt jockeys. Which is a tad muddled. If hitting them is bad, why tell the riders to do it less often? It’s like telling a thief he can only turn over three security vans a month. After that, we get serious.
You should've seen the mess it made of Max Mosley's behind. Allegedly.
Of course if horses enjoy a good thrashing then who’s to tell the likes of Dettori and McGuire what to do in the privacy of their own horse-race. I dunno but me, I suspect the gee-gees might rather watch telly with Sir Alex Ferguson than have an anorexic midget smack em about for a mile and a half. But what do I know?