Most people believe that modern football was, for the want of a better word, ‘invented’ in England by the FA in 1863 when the rules of the game as we know it were formalised and set out in an official rulebook.
This was followed, in 1886, when the International Football Association Board (IFAB) ratified those same rules for wherever the game was to be played globally. It is the rules and regulations of the game as laid down and/or amended by the IFAB that are followed by the world governing body, FIFA, to this day.
Much simplified of course. The origins of Association Football merits a book all of its own and one of fairly significant dimensions. But, in essence, the above outlines the origins of the game in England, with it constantly changing and ever evolving in the near 150 years since that first official ratification of the rulebook was produced. Even new amendments to the game as we currently know it – the introduction of goal line technology for example – will be additions to those original rules ratified by the FA and the IFAB.
Sky Television of course, would have you believe different. They would prefer you to believe that football in this country started in 1992 and that they were the people behind the game and all that it stands for today.
Reconciling the creation of the Premier League and the growth of Sky and their massive investment in the game is something of a ‘chicken and egg’ situation. Did Sky grow and flourish because of the Premier League or did the Premier League come into existence, ultimately becoming the broadcasting behemoth that it is today, because of Sky?
It’s a moot point of course. But what cannot be argued is that their relationship is a wholly symbiotic one – could Sky maintain its high level of fee paying subscribers without the lure of live football, specifically the Premier League?
Equally, could the Premier League – or rather the current Premier League clubs – continue to exist if the TV money that they include in their accounts was to suddenly cease?
It is difficult to give a definitive answer to both questions. But I would rather think that each depends upon the other to the extent that their short to medium long term financial future would at least be questioned, if not directly jeopardised, if one was to decide it could do without the other.
In this case, of course, the Premier League has the nap hand. The worst case scenario for Sky would probably be all 20 Premier League clubs negotiating their own separate TV deals with an independent producer and broadcasting their games – live or highlights – in-house or via another broadcaster – such as the Qatari based Al Jazeera.
Another possibility would be Sky TV’s current ‘junior partner’, BT Sport increasing its stake in live Premier League coverage – hoping that a similar policy of ‘speculate to accumulate’ will lead to a mass defection of subscribers from Sky.
BT10’s coverage of the game since they won a slice of the Premier League action at the beginning of this season has had a mixed reaction, however, no matter what you might think of the studio coverage and punditry (sad that such minutiae is such a talking point with regard to televised football) they certainly had a fair deal of top of the range Premier League games on their roster during December 2013. You get the feeling BT, with an income and budget far in excess of Sky’s, will, sooner or later, be *the* major player as far as televised sport is concerned in this country.
Who knows, maybe, just maybe, people will lament the passing of Super Sunday, Jeff Stelling and Martin Tyler just as they do the previously broad canvas of BBC coverage today.
ITV’s coverage of the game is, for the most part, regarded with deep cynicism by most armchair fans. This is perhaps best illustrated by the reaction to Adrian Chiles on Twitter whenever a game is “live and exclusive on ITV”.
Champions League games and England internationals have seen the host trend on the social network on more than one occasion with almost all of the comments made about him being of a critical and insulting nature. Quite how Chiles has gone from being a relatively popular presenter on the BBC to the broadcasting devil incarnate on their commercial rivals is beyond me but the fact remains, both he and the networks football coverage is, and always has been, subject to much criticism.
You can maybe see the logic in the station’s decision to ‘let go’ their coverage of FA Cup and Champions League games when this is taken into consideration.
But whatever happens – and in the world of live sports coverage, anything is usually what will happen – one thing is a cast iron certainty; the fact that the new TV deals for the Premier League that are due to commence in 2015/16 will be the largest yet and amongst the highest ever, in terms of cost, sports franchises in broadcasting history.
Of greater importance to Norwich City fans is will we still be part of things when that deal is signed? Will we, as we did last summer, benefit from the riches it will bring? Figures will be so vast they will, in all likelihood, make the initial contract agreed between Sky and the Premier League in 1992 seem like pocket money.
Back then Sky beat off both BBC and ITV with a bid of £302million to secure exclusive live broadcasting rights for the Premier League for a five year period – an incalculably high figure that blew its terrestrial rivals out of the water and into the wilderness as far as live Premier League football is concerned; as remains the case today over two decades later.
We can now more fully appreciate whilst then Norwich Chairman Robert Chase turned down Robert Fleck’s transfer request at the end of the 1990/91 season – as valuable as Fleck was in terms of possible transfer revenue, the value to the club of guaranteeing its place in the new league with all its assorted financial benefits was far more important. With that in mind, the club broke the habit of a lifetime – and held onto one of its most saleable assets!
As things turned out, it was probably a very wise decision. Norwich struggled for much of the 1991/92 season and it could be argued that without Fleck and his goals (19 in 47 league and cup appearances) Norwich could well have missed the Premier League party altogether.
With Fleck sold to Chelsea and Mark Robins brought in as a cut-price replacement, Norwich happily remained at the top table and happily accepted the dowry provided by Sky, little suspecting quite how much the game and it’s TV coverage would change as a result of the brash and very rich new kid on the block. But club, players and supporters would not have too long to wait.
The Canaries first live Sky game was the Carrow Road clash against Nottingham Forest on 31 August. Sky’s reasoning for selecting this fixture in advance is understandable – both clubs had a reputation for playing attractive football. It was also an opportunity for them to tick a box as regards their commitment to covering the so called ‘lesser clubs’ as soon as they could (they had already done so with QPR) before top loading their coverage as the season wore on with the bigger clubs, bigger names and bigger matches. What they might not have anticipated however, is that the game featured a team that, if it won, would regain its position on top of the Premier League table.
Following their shock 4-2 win over Arsenal on the opening day, Norwich had gone onto win two and draw one of their next four games; leaving them, prior to the Forest match, third in the Premier League table – one point behind leaders Blackburn. A win would take them clear at the top going into September; insignificant maybe in the greater scheme of things but a definite boost to morale and a sign that new manager Mike Walker was doing a more than capable job.
As football clubs and grounds go, Norwich City and Carrow Road were old hands when it comes to televised football and all that went with it. Local TV station Anglia were the first in the country to screen an edited football match on their Match of the Week programme in 1962 (beating the BBC’s Match of the Day by two years), going onto buy the rights to screen highlights of the games featuring the teams in their region – including Norwich – for just £1000.
That sum, agreed with Football League secretary Alan Hardaker gave Anglia the exclusive televised rights to 30 games that season, and, in doing so, made household names of commentators Gerry Harrison and Gerald Sinstadt. Thirty games for £1000!
As football went on to sell its soul, lock, stock and corporate barrel to television, those thirty games ‘bought’ by Anglia can now be seen as the very first shot fired in the ongoing war for football based television ratings; televised sport’s own version of the assassination at Sarajevo. Things would never be the same, with Sky’s pre-eminence in the game and the growing menace of the BT block the conclusion to the ball that Anglia had commenced rolling over five decades earlier.
For Match of the Week therefore read Sky Sports, in association with Ford, proudly presents Monday Night Football. Not quite as catchy! New programme, new station, new presenters and new day and time. Plus dancing girls, fireworks and a garishly featured blimp floating overhead. Match of the Week had never been like this!
Mike Walker’s job was to ignore the hype, glitz and showbiz aspect of the programme’s pervading presence and focus his team on winning the game. He was forced to start without Mark Robins – three goals in his opening two games – but now out with an injury; youth team product Lee Power taking his place, with Ian Crook being preferred to Ruel Fox.
For the in-demand Walker, it became a difficult task to fully concentrate on the game. TV presenters and pundits haunted the corridors of Carrow Road, along with associated producers, directors, camera men, associated hangers on and numerous flunkies.
He and his players would have been expected to give interviews before and after the game – no matter what the result – and, with cacophonous music accompanying the Sky Strikers who were to pre-match entertainment what the average football club pie was to high cuisine taking up space on the pitch whilst the teams attempted to warm up, the football match began to seem like an almost incidental feature of the nights entertainment.
Not that everyone objected to the Sky Strikers. Norwich midfielder Jeremy Goss has since admitted that the players would quite happily aim a pre-match ball in their direction so they could trot over and say “hello” to the girls in question.
Walker would have implored his side to state their case from kick off and the Canaries did. Robins might have been missing, but Power made himself a nuisance from the off. He was ably supported by the energetic Goss and Gary Megson, playing against a former club and with several points to prove (Clough had signed him from Sheffield Wednesday in 1984, only to proclaim, upon Megson’s arrival that he “couldn’t trap a bag of cement, promptly selling him onto Newcastle without making an appearance) to representatives of both sides.
As if Megson’s treatment by Clough hadn’t been enough, his new club’s chairman had been against his recruitment that summer, with Walker having to stand his ground in order to sign him. He had, in fairness, been outstanding in the previous matches and he immediately began to influence proceedings; harrying opponents, chasing them down and causing the Forest players to make errors. One such error led to a Norwich free-kick just a little back and to the right of the ‘D’ on the edge of the penalty area after only a couple of minutes.
Step forward Ian Crook. A sublime freekick that was, in all honesty, destined to beat Mark Crossley as soon as he stepped up to take it, let alone struck it. In celebration, Crook wagged a finger at persons unknown whilst Sky commentator Ian Darke could only say, “…how about THAT?” in admiration.
It was a free kick that went beyond the textbook and into the sublime, struck with elegance, precision and power, one of those goals you see in this country which is followed by the well-worn saying, “…if a Brazilian had done that…”. Yes, it was that good.
Nigel Clough’s equaliser on the half hour should almost have been accompanied by an apology, such was Norwich’s dominance of the match which became more and more obvious after the interval (more singing and dancing) with Bowen beginning to make dangerous runs down the left hand side to support the Norwich attackers. One of these runs ultimately led to Lee Power stealing into the Forest penalty area to dispatch the loose ball home after Bowen’s ball had deflected into his path following the ever energetic Megson’s challenge.
It was Power’s second goal in two games and, astonishingly, after the departure of Fleck, both he and Chris Sutton had now stepped up to the perch to show that the popular Scot need never be missed, such was Norwich’s eager young striking strength in depth.
Norwich’s third goal typified the sheer devil may care attitude of that season. A speculative long ball was played into the Forest area, did I say speculative? Of course it wasn’t; Walker and his team did a lot of things, but ‘speculative’ wasn’t one of them. The ball is, infact, an inch perfect pass to Newman who chests it down directly into the path of the onrushing David Phillips who cracks home (a “right foot rasper”- Ian Darke) the third with all the confidence you’d expect of a talented player at the very top of his game. It’s his fourth goal in six games and takes him to the top of the Premier League’s leading goalscorers table for the season so far – early days, but an accolade to cherish at anytime, more so when it has also cemented your unheralded team’s place at the top of the only table that counts, that of the Premier League.
Phillips is top, Norwich are top of the league and a few thousand pounds worth of fireworks light up the skies above Carrow Road in celebration, courtesy of Sky Sports. Mike Walker has lit the yellow and green touch paper and the footballing world had been forced to stand well back and admire what he had created at Carrow Road.
Will we ever see a night like it again? And were you there? I’d love to hear some recollections and memories of that night – the football included!