WATCHING Sky Sports News can be a surreal experience at the best of times. Because of the channel’s reluctance to publicise any event that Sky doesn’t have the rights to, you get a very skewed view of the sporting world.
So while Manchester United and Portsmouth were edging towards penalties in Sunday’s Community Shield, Sky – who couldn’t show it – instead spent most of the afternoon shuttling between Pro40 cricket matches at Chester-le-Street and Taunton.
That’s very unusual for a channel which places such an importance on football that its presenters once reached a near-apoplectic level of excitement at breaking news of DJ Campbell’s move from Brentford to Birmingham.
However, normal service was resumed yesterday afternoon, when the channel cleared its schedules to cover the official launch of the Premier League’s ‘Get On With The Game’ campaign, intended to get players, managers and referees to have just a little bit more respect for each other.
With Sky not showing the Olympics, it seemed as if this was their attempt – along with the Premier League – at doing a little opening ceremony of their own. So we had lots of footballers in their team’s shirts sitting on stools being interviewed by Eamonn Holmes. (OK, we’re not talking fireworks and thousands of dancers here, I admit. But at least they made a bit of an effort.)
Holmes would be the first to admit that he hasn’t always had total respect for his own superiors.
Here’s a quote from an interview he gave for the ‘This Much I Know’ column in the Observer magazine in March:
“I last threw a punch 10 years ago. It was at GMTV. There were those of us who wanted to make a decent TV programme and those who would wanted to screw every bit of cash out of the format they could. They know who they are.”
(Incidentally, the best comment I have ever seen in ‘This Much I Know’ came from Dylan Moran, who said: “You have to speak in bargain-basement aphorisms for this piece.”)
Leaving aside the fact that the public launch of a Respect campaign was co-hosted by someone who has publicly confessed to assaulting a work colleague, there were some mixed messages coming out of the launch.
Richard Scudamore, chief executive of the Premier League, found himself trying to steer a middle ground between cleaning up some of the game’s worst on-field excesses and ensuring that the controversies and flashpoints that keep Andy Gray growling all weekend are not lost altogether.
“I do not want to take the passion out of the game but it would be nice to take some of the venom away,” Scuadmore said. By that, I presume he means that he’s happy for players to kick each other up in the air, as long as they don’t start eyeballing the referee when he sends them off for it. In other words, make football more like rugby union.
Can this Respect agenda possibly work? Will a beaten manager be able to avoid claiming that defeat was entirely due to the officials giving a throw-in the wrong way? Will Gray be able to resist laying into a referee at the first opportunity?
The answers to those three questions, in order, are: Just a little bit, no and no.
Here’s what will happen. At the first sign of a really controversial refereeing decision this season, Gray and Co will lay into the officials as before, but preface this criticism with the phrase: “I know we’ve got to respect referees now, but . . .”
And life will carry on as usual.
As players and managers talked about respect yesterday afternoon, the mischievous part of me wanted one of them, just one of them, to lean into the microphone and say: “I think this whole idea’s a load of s**t. If I want to call the ref a w****r, I’ll call him a w****r.”
I know, I know, that’s bad and wrong. Straight red card for me, and a three-match ban to follow. And I know it’s not funny when referees at amateur level are giving up the game because there are teams full of knuckleheads who can’t cope with the idea that if you keep kicking your opponents about, you’ll eventually get sent off.
Even so, it was hard not to smile at Martin O’Neill as he signed up to the ‘Get On With The Game’ charter yesterday and said: “Is this me signing my own death warrant?”
Meanwhile, halfway across the world, swimmer Michael Phelps was on his way to winning more gold medals than any other competitor in the history of the Olympics.