WHEN John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, described the decision to play football on Easter Sunday as “glory hunting”, I’m guessing he was referring to the day’s two Premier League games (one live on Setanta, the other on Sky) rather than the Welsh Cup semi-final between Aberystwyth Town and Camarthen (exclusively live on S4C).
If the Archbishop was trying to make the point that the football calendar can’t even make space for days of major religious significance these days, he is right. Football never stops. If you have enough satellite dishes and cable equipment, you can watch several live matches pretty much every day throughout the year. This weekend, S4C had two.
This was the weekend when Channel Four’s Welsh cousin went into overdrive with its League of Wales coverage – on Saturday evening, the top-of-the-table clash between Llanelli and Rhyl; yesterday, the Welsh Cup tie between Aberystwyth and Camarthen, exclusively live from Haverfordwest.
Watching bits of both broadcasts, I was curious at just how fixed the grammar of live televised football has become, regardless of the scale of the match.
It is incredibly disorientating to see a group of Camarthen players file past a pebbledash wall to thumping background music and deliberately jerky ‘yoof TV’ camerawork, intercut with shots of fans grinning and waving flags, while a presenter intones something along the lines of: “This is the big one. There’s a cup final place at stake.”
(I wasn’t sure of his exact words, as I don’t speak Welsh. But I’d be amazed if he was saying: “Tell you what, I don’t know why we’ve bothered coming here. I’ve seen bigger crowds outside Pizza Hut on a Saturday lunchtime.”)
You could be watching a Premier League game on Sky or Setanta, or a Champions League match on ITV, were it not for the fact that the match is taking place in a ground that only has one stand.
OK, so the grounds are far from grand, and the crowds are small – 200 is around the average – but the fans who do travel are dedicated beyond belief, because getting from A to B in Wales is no easy task. You want to get from Rhyl (in the north) to Llanelli (in the south west)? Don’t expect to do it in less than five hours.
It was amazing there were any Rhyl fans at all at Stebonheath Park on Saturday evening. But there were, in a crowd of 689, and they saw Neil Roberts’ first-half header from close-range win the game.
This was one of the biggest games in the League Of Wales’ history, according to the competition’s website. It probably was, although the three children who spent much of the second half playing on the deserted track behind one of the goals didn’t seem to think so.
Against that background, S4C’s decision to close their live coverage with a montage of clips from the match set to one of Coldplay’s more uptempo numbers did seem like overkill.
Here’s another curious thing about their coverage of both of their Easter weekend games: The presentation is in Welsh, but the post-match interviews are all conducted in English – presumably because that’s the only language most of the players and coaches speak.
As for the match commentary, that’s rather more complicated. It is in Welsh, but digital viewers have the option to switch to an English commentary.
This is why, as far as I can tell: For years, Wales matches were televised by the BBC (in English) and S4C (in Welsh). Then Sky picked up the exclusive rights. As part of the deal, they had to provide an alternative Welsh commentary for digital viewers. Then someone (I don’t know who – perhaps you do) pointed out that this should work the other way round for Welsh-language sports programming. And so now it does.
You’ll be glad to know that, in Welsh or English, the cliches are still the same. Rhyl’s victory on Saturday put them within reach of the title, but as Roberts said afterwards: “This win will mean nothing if we don’t get a result at Prestatyn on Monday.” (They did too, winning 4-1. The title – and a place in next season’s Champions League qualifiers – is almost theirs.)
And what of the Easter Sunday glory hunters in that Welsh Cup semi-final? Well, Aberystwyth beat Camarthen 3-2 after extra time to reach the final for the first time since 1900. Sorry, Archbishop, but if you think that’s glory hunting, you need to get out more.