Are there any match-going football supporters still under any delusions as to where we stand in the great scheme of things? If so then the Premier League’s decision to switch last weekend’s Brighton v Everton game to Sunday lunchtime just so they could punt it out to an Indian television network was probably the last cold jolt of reality.
Having offered up the fixture to Sky the authoritative body were surprised when the Brian Clough derby between Derby County and Nottingham Forest was instead chosen to air live but at this early juncture no harm was done: with no information having been released it was simply a case of reverting the game back to its 3pm Saturday slot with nobody the wiser. Only the Premier League didn’t do that and they didn’t do so for two interconnecting and equally unsavoury of reasons. Firstly money was a chief motivating factor; of course it was: it’s the deity that ultimately sways their every action and thought. We’ll get to the second reason shortly.
With the fixture now copied and pasted from one file to another, well, it would be silly to take five seconds to copy and paste it back wouldn’t it? They might as well try to capitalise on this self-created circumstance and make some decent moolah, and so Brighton v Everton was duly pimped out to the international markets. Alas – and with no disrespect intended for either club – there were very few takers with only Star Sports in India willing to stump up for a game featuring two sides languishing at the wrong end of the table. This for the Premier League wasn’t a cash cow like say Manchester United v Liverpool. This was them unnecessarily milking it.
Jamie Mulville is currently studying for his A-levels and when the rearranged kick-off time was announced it meant he had to reshuffle a typical weekend that usually entails football coaching on Saturday morning followed by going to the game. Sundays are always put aside for revision. Now the coaching was sacrificed and though this was a pain he – like every Blue I spoke to – initially believed the inconvenience was due to Sky snapping up the fixture for their Sunday lunchtime slot. In that situation what can you do? It’s a pay-off – or pact with the devil if you’re feeling dramatic – that we all make as football supporters in the modern era, knowing that your team have just as much chance of playing Friday evening, Saturday lunchtime or early evening, Sunday lunchtime or late afternoon, or Monday night rather than the traditional 3pm on Saturday. In return our clubs receive a colossal amount of money that they invest in eminently watchable players and you know what, let’s be honest here, it’s also pretty ace that we can see our rivals lose in the pub before a game, or on the sofa at home, even if we do pay through the nose for the ‘privilege’. At least, Jamie thought, the Evertonians who were unable to travel half the length of the country to watch their team in the flesh could now see it with their Sunday roasts.
Yet even at this stage there were misgivings at the rearrangement. With Everton participating in the Europa League this season they have already seen several of their games shifted back to Sundays. Why wasn’t one of them included on Sky’s roster instead? Why unnecessarily switch this one – with Saturday perfectly possible and 270 miles separating the clubs involved – to such an inconvenient day and time?
When it was revealed that Sky had actually passed on the fixture and instead it was airing solely in India – to an audience largely watching it as a detached curio and nothing more – there was as much confusion as there was anger. Evertonian Matt Jones, who attended the game, sums up the immediate response: “I think the initial reaction was one of varying degrees of surprise. Plenty didn’t realise until the week leading up to the match, or even on the day itself, the game wasn’t being televised. It was a disappointing and inconsiderate decision from the powers that be. There was a banner in the Everton section that read, ‘how many Rupees until we take priority?’”
Jamie got back home at 10pm on Sunday evening. He had left the house at 5am to make the coach leaving Goodison Park at 5.30. In total he endured ten hours of monotonous motorway. Conorj1878 on Twitter got up at 4am and endured fourteen hours of travel, as too did Paul1878_. On realising that the earliest Sunday train to Brighton arrived too late for kick-off Matt arranged to stay over in London the evening before with a fellow Blue.
These four, along with nearly 2000 other loyal Evertonians, had their weekends upheaved at great disruption and expense and why? So the Premier League could add a bit more money to their ginormous pile.
Which brings us to the second reason why the Premier League pimped out a perfectly ordinary fixture they frankly had no business in messing around with. In addition to outright avarice it was because they could. It’s because the well-being of supporters didn’t even blip on the radar at 30 Gloucester Place. It’s because fans are given barely a second thought just so long as they continue to turn up and act as background scenery for the great show.
Should Tesco install an entrance fee to their shops we would simply go elsewhere or alternatively it would ignite such a negative PR disaster they would immediately revise their thinking. Should Shell start to include their dregs at the petrol pumps to further boost their profits it would similarly create a media storm and in the meantime they would lose most of their custom as we sourced our fuel from ESSO or BP. In this instance what choice do Evertonians have other than to boycott the game with their absence hardly noticed? They watch their team. That’s what they do. If it means reorganising their free time and getting up in the middle of the night then – with heavy reluctance – that’s what they do.
And being perfectly aware of this makes the Premier League’s decision to sell out on their loyalty not just inexcusable but a little bit sick too. Because it’s one thing to take a ‘customer’ for granted but to then seek unnecessary gain from their devotion is nothing but vile.
They have done this before. On October 2nd 2005 a game between Manchester City and Everton was switched to a Sunday kick-off at the highly unusual time of 11.15am because each club had a Chinese player in their ranks. Subsequently the game was screened on Chinese television despite the fact that one of the players in question – Everton’s Li Tie – wasn’t even selected for the sub’s bench that day.
On that occasion the decision was met with a combination of outrage and mockery from the media and fans alike and such was the reaction many naively believed that would be the end of it; that a lesson would be learned.
The blunt truth however is that it’s not that the powers that be don’t ever learn. It’s that they simply don’t care.