Sky Sports and the Forgotten Fans
When I was young, I adored football and Liverpool FC. I watched the games on BBC and RTÉ (Ireland). When Sky came along they took the game away from me. With their pay per view model, the game left the grasp of the school kids, the unemployed, the lifelong fans, the disabled, the old age pensioners. The lad who played football until it got too dark, me. I had Liverpool posters from ceiling to floor on each bedroom wall. For the son of a working-class father, such luxuries weren’t easily affordable.
You see, the working class supported, loved, and played the game. It was ours, it belonged to us. Football had no ownership, no matter your colour, race, or religion. We were young, and all we shared was a common love of the game. We had no money, but we had dreams to play in a theatre of dreams – Anfield, the sacred ground. When Sky came in 1990, it took our dreams. For years I missed seasons of regular games to watch. I had Match of the Day, but it was a bit like watching the banquet of the rich from outside the window.
The game got rich beyond anyone’s estimations, and it got further away from me, now a poor student in college. I understand how Sky has helped shape the League as the best in the world, but it’s come at a price, and a heavy one at that. How many potential local stars have been lost? How many aspiring young footballers from a working-class background have given up or lost interest in the game due to being unable to pay the fee of a Sky Sports subscription? You’ve won and you’ve lost.
When the Republic of Ireland played in their first World Cup in 1990 on free to air television, it inspired a new generation of youngsters to play the game. Robbie Keane, Damien Duff, and Shay Given to name but a few went on to participate in the 2002 World Cup. When success occurs, it breeds further success through inspiration and motivation and belief in oneself. This Republic of Ireland example can be transferred to watching your favourite Premier League team, but only if you’re lucky enough to be able to afford Sky Sports. 66 million people live in the UK. Just under 9 million people are Sky Sports subscribers.
Think about it. How many young people have never seen a Premier League game in their own home? How many can’t watch their heroes playing on a regular basis? A potentially future World Cup star could never get the chance to be inspired simply because of a television company’s monopoly. Millionaires and billionaires own the modern game. The beautiful game of the working class has been confined to history, replaced by the marketing and commercialism of the modern game. The ‘My Shirt For Free Movement’ was a small fight back against the commercial madness of a young family having to fork out about £60 for a replica shirt, and the ‘Twenty’s Plenty’ put forward a similar case for match tickets. Young football fans from working-class backgrounds who’s families cannot afford a Sky Sports subscription, nor a shirt of their favourite teams, nor a ticket to their local grounds are being left behind. It’s a disgrace.
The game’s getting further away from it’s incredible and humble origins. I write this piece simply as a fan with a bit of knowledge of the game. I’m no expert in the field of sociology or consumerism, but I write this to remind us all of a time when the game was simpler, when there were no marketing gimmicks and when it was accessible to all. When it was simply, ‘Our Game.’