Martin Wickham points the finger at the Premier League, the Clubs and Sky Sports for stealing Christmas and warns there is worse to come…
Football being played on Christmas Eve is a monumental pain in the arse and should never have been a consideration let alone a likelihood, but I have a couple of confessions to make:
- Should our visit to Goodison Park be moved for the benefit of television, I’m still going. I will not boycott the game and would not expect anyone else to do something I’m not prepared to.
- In the event we are not inconvenienced, I will be in front of a television watching any game that is moved to that date. Most likely in a licensed premises.
With that out of the way, it’s time to vent. This latest demonstration of the contempt shown towards match going fans by the Premier League (clubs and executives), and their broadcasting overlords is an example of what happens when individuals or institutions with unchecked power think they can get away with anything. I have no doubt that Sky knew exactly what day 24th December fell on this year, and were licking their lips at the prospect of a ‘Santa Sunday’ bonanza headlined by Arsenal vs Liverpool. Sky Sports have based their Christmas schedule for the last few years around football and darts, and having lost the broadcast rights to The Ashes this winter, were going to market their staple products even more aggressively this time around. With the Alexandra Palace boozeathon (and that’s just the players!) completely shutting down after December 23rd until the 27th, football must, and will, fill the gap.
Make no mistake about it, there will be televised football on Christmas Eve. Richard Scudamore and his ilk’s only concession to our traditional December 24th pastimes of family gatherings, dealing with overexcited children, and last minute panic buying (OK, that might just be me), is that no game will kick off at 4pm. So we can expect a double header starting at midday, and at least two sets of fans traversing the country on one of the worst days of the year for travelling on road or rail. Being my usual pessimistic self I’m expecting our game against Everton to be one of the games shifted. Being my usual stupid self I’ve already decided I’m going. I’d best buy the last minute presents a day early.
Easy as it is to put the blame solely on Sky for this one, the clubs deserve far more opprobrium for their lapdog attitudes, and not for the first time. Fearful of the golden money tap being turned off, they feebly acquiesce to any and every demand. The Premier League clubs could have made a stand here and publicly stated that due to the unreasonable demands that would be placed on fans, club staff and emergency services, they object to playing fixtures on 24th December. Instead, silence. Chelsea’s fairly vanilla statement on their website supporting the position of the Chelsea Supporters’ Trust on the matter was hurriedly pulled down, no doubt after a few blunt phone calls. Shame on them for doing so.
With Sky having successfully tested the Premier League to determine how little backbone they have, the only question remains is which taboos are broken next, and who induces them to do it. With the next television deal upcoming, and reported strong interest from the likes of Amazon and Apple, anything is possible. Both companies possess a financial muscle to dwarf anything Rupert Murdoch and BT can offer, and if they want games moved to suit their platforms and interests, then we can be reasonably confident that is exactly what will happen. Late night kick off times on a Sunday night to suit the West Coast of the United States? A removal of the 3pm Saturday televised embargo to allow the launch of a video on demand service? Clubs agreeing to play ‘home’ games overseas? If the clubs get more wedge in the process they will agree to anything, while trotting out platitudes about the “fantastic support” from match going fans whose patience they will try again and again and again, safe in the knowledge that no one will change team, and those who stay away will be replaced. Such is the attitude of Premier League clubs to their fans that some buzzword spewing berk in a suit will have looked at the recent Barcelona game that had to be played behind closed doors, seen the social media interest it generated due to the sheer weirdness of an empty Camp Nou hosting a La Liga game, and commissioned a feasibility study. At the moment I’m ruling nothing out.
Which brings me to my last point. Sky are pushing a door ajar by broadcasting games on December 24th. What is to stop it getting kicked open by Apple, or anyone else who had put their money down, streaming a Premier League game on December 25th in a few years time? They probably already know it will get an audience in this country as long as it’s all done and dusted before the Queen’s Speech, and it wasn’t all that long ago that Christmas Day games were a regular occurrence. A return to “tradition” determined by cold hard cash.
And the worst thing for me? If there was a Chelsea game on 25th December 2021, I’d be more likely to go than to stay away. Hopefully I’ll be a bit more disciplined with the Christmas shopping by then.