A WEEK or two ago, I appeared on Talksport very late at night, ostensibly to discuss the Europa League, a competition so long-winded that it would probably give poor James Corden an embolism.
While waffling on breathlessly about the chances of Manchester City and Manchester United making it to the final in Bucharest and making small talk with the presenters, I inadvertently blurted out that I don’t have a Sky subscription at home.
“You don’t have Sky?” spluttered Bobby Gould. “I bet that’s down to the wife, isn’t it?”
As it happens, I’m not married, but I couldn’t really be bothered explaining the ins and outs of my personal life on national radio, much as I can’t be bothered explaining them now.
“Absolutely,” I replied. In my desire not to make a fuss, I not only managed to suggest I was a casual misogynist; I also misled the former manager of Wales into thinking that I have a wife. Such are the pitfalls of broadcasting.
To be honest, though, I suspect I could have told Gould that I keep a billy goat in my living room and have a kitchen made entirely out of circuit boards and candy floss, and he still wouldn’t have found that as weird as the idea of a sports journalist without Sky.
I don’t have Sky for two reasons: 1) I spend much of my working week either at football matches or in newspaper offices with access to Sky, so I don’t really need it; 2) It’s expensive. If I want to subscribe to all four Sky Sports channels (which I would have to do if I wanted to see all of their Champions League coverage in addition to their domestic football), it would cost me around £600 a year. Because of what I do for a living, I’m in the fortunate position where I can claim that back against tax. But it’s still a lot of money.
It could be worse, though. At least I don’t run a pub. If I wanted a commercial Sky subscription, it would cost me £700 a month.
It’s true that £700 is a mere fleck of dust in the Premier League’s cash pit – it would hire you Carlos Tevez for about 35 minutes. (By the way, if I could hire Carlos Tevez for 35 minutes, I would use him as captain of the boys’ team on a revived Give Us A Clue, opposite Tulisa from N-Dubz. I’d love to see Tevez attempt to convey ‘A Short History Of Tractors In Ukrainian’ to a bejumpered Brian Conley using only the medium of mime. Sadly, I fear this dream will never come true.)
But £700 a month was too much for Portsmouth pub landlady Karen Murphy, whose legal battle to be allowed to show live Premier League games using a cheaper foreign decoder has dragged on even longer than the Leveson Inquiry.
In short, Murphy paid £800 a year for a decoder from Greece. BskyB started legal proceedings against her, and the case has since bounced between one court and another as various experts tried to figure out exactly what the law is.
On Friday, they finally came to an answer, of sorts. The European Court of Justice has ruled national laws banning the import, sale and use of foreign decoder cards are secondary to the freedom to provide services. The High Court has accepted that ruling. And so Murphy is perfectly within her rights to buy in decoder cards from Greece if she wants to.
Except that this won’t be the end of the story. The European Court’s ruling found that live matches are not protected by copyright, but any branding is – and that includes on-screen graphics, music and film sequences.
With this in mind, the company responsible for providing English top-flight matches to overseas broadcasters has recently experimented with placing a watermark of the Premier League logo in the corner of the screen. You see, the match might not be copyrighted, but that watermark is. And if you show that watermark in a Portsmouth pub using your Greek decoder, you’ll be breaking the law.
I get a bit fuzzy about how the law works from here. I’m guessing that Murphy could, if she wished, place a bit of black tape over the bottom corner of her pub TV screen to blank out the watermark. And I’m guessing that TV broadcasters could then respond by shifting the watermark around the screen at random times. And I’m guessing that, eventually, Murphy will be broadcasting Premier League games by paying a court sketch artist to illustrate key passages of play and e-mail the pictures to her.
But I don’t know. I’m not a legal expert.
What I will say is this: Is it really worth all that faff, all that money paid to lawyers and all those days in court for the right to be able to show – or to black out – a goalless draw between Wigan and Aston Villa on a Saturday afternoon?
Last on MOTD: Wigan 0 Aston Villa 0
Commentator: Alistair Mann
That may not be a question we need trouble ourselves with for much longer. The way things are going, Wigan won’t be in the Premier League next season. They’ve continued to play the right way under Roberto Martinez, but they have let in too many goals and scored fewer than any other Premier League team. It’s not a formula for survival.
But if Wigan do go down, it is to be hoped that Martinez is given the opportunity to get them back up. For one thing, he arguably beat the odds by keeping Wigan up last season, and the squad he has now is weaker than it was then. For another, he stuck with the Latics when he could easily have walked away.
Does Martinez have any regrets at turning down the chance to manage Aston Villa last summer? None that he would publicly admit to. And judging by the struggles Alex McLeish is having at Villa Park, perhaps the move would have done no more than give Martinez a whole different set of headaches.
Villa’s season could yet go one of two ways – a comfortable finish in mid-table or a late-season nosedive into relegation trouble. As things stand, they are eight points clear of the bottom three. But they haven’t managed a home win for four months, and they’ve only won three away league matches all season.
They had their chances at the DW Stadium, but scoring goals has been a problem for Villa almost as much as it has been for Wigan. Darren Bent and Robbie Keane have, between them, scored all but one of their league goals in 2012. Keane is going back to LA Galaxy after completing his loan spell, Bent departed on a stretcher in the second half. It does not bode well.
If there was a positive for McLeish, it came at the other end, with a first clean sheet since the turn of the year. Shay Given, signed last summer for the cost of around 400 annual Sky pub subscriptions, made a couple of late saves to ensure Wigan didn’t steal victory. A few more shut-outs may end up being the key to keeping Villa on the Premier League gravy train.
1. Fulham: 6 (2L: 2, 3L: 2)
2. Aston Villa: 5 (2L: 4, 3L: 3)
3. Wigan: 4 (2L: 8, 3L: 4)
4. Swansea: 4 (2L: 4, 3L: 4)
4. West Brom: 4 (2L: 4, 3L: 4)
6. Norwich: 4 (2L: 3, 3L: 3)
7. Stoke: 4 (2L: 2, 3L: 4)
8. QPR: 4 (2L: 2, 3L: 2)
9. Sunderland: 3 (2L: 5, 3L: 0)
10: Wolves: 3 (2L: 2, 3L: 5)
11: Liverpool: 3 (2L: 1, 3L: 4)
12. Blackburn: 2 (2L: 2, 3L: 4)
13. Tottenham: 2 (2L: 2, 3L: 0)
14. Chelsea: 2 (2L: 0, 3L: 4)
15. Newcastle: 2 (2L: 0, 3L: 0)
16. Everton: 1 (2L: 5, 3L: 4)
17. Bolton: 1 (2L: 4, 3L: 6)
18. Arsenal: 0 (2L: 2, 3L: 1)
19. Manchester United: 0 (2L: 1, 3L: 0)
20. Manchester City: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 1)
2L = On second last (QPR 0 Fulham 1)
3L = On third last (Chelsea 3 Bolton 0)
(Teams receive one point every time they are last on Match of the Day. Teams level are separated by the number of times they are on second last, then by the number of times they are on third last. MOTD2 not included.)