Much is being made of the fact that Friday Night Football is coming to our television screens (if we have Sky TV), in the form of Manchester United vs Southampton, and the fans are protesting.
Basically, I’m on their side. The new contract, allowing for ten Friday night Premiership matches in 2016/17, means that live televised football now takes place on every single day of the week. Fans who go to games are, once again, getting screwed in the process: there are hundreds of regular Southampton fans who turn up for the away trips to Old Trafford who are being forced to miss the game, because the last train back home leaves 35 minutes before the final whistle.
And it takes me back, back to 1992, when the newly-formed Premier League, signed up to Sky for the first time, went to its first Monday night game. Which was the reverse fixture, Southampton vs Manchester United, at the old Dell.
There wasn’t half the screaming then, even though the traveling United fans were in the same boat as the Southamptonians will be tonight. Not all of that was down to the classic lack of sympathy the vast majority of fans have towards United, nor the jokes that it made no difference, they all live on the South Coast anyway. It was more that those who could afford Sky, or were prepared to put up with going down the pub of an evening to watch, were happy to have more live football available.
Those of us who remember the antediluvian days, pre-the Premier League, pre-Sky, will remember that it had taken until the back half of the Eighties to get live League football on TV. The two networks had different times: ITV’s like matches went out at 2.00pm on Sunday, the BBC’s at 7.30pm on Friday night. The incredible finale in 1989, the post-Hillsborough Liverpool v Arsenal game that decided the League on the last kick, was on BBC1, on Friday night.
And it’s not like we’ve not had Friday night Football since then: Sky have been running Championship matches in that slot for ages, without the same kind of fuss.
So whilst I support the aggrieved fans, I can’t share the outrage which, though entirely valid, is being expressed not in a losing cause but in a cause lost twenty-four years ago. In a way, I’ve almost admired Sky for nailing its colours to the mast in such a forthright manner, by selecting as its debut Monday Night Match a game that so inconvenienced the away supporters. It stated, plainly, that it’s attitude was FTF – Fuck The Fans. And it’s been that way ever since.
Tonight’s selection is probably not a deliberate reminder of that initial game – it’s probably far more to do with Jose Mourinho’s first competitive match as United manager at home, and the first start of the world’s most expensive player, Paul Pogba – but by its nature it’s a doubly-symbolic gesture. Who gives a toss about the Southampton fans? Certainly not Sky’s TV audience, who see themselves as the fans whose interests have to be put first: there are many more of them, after all, and those primitives who still, bizarrely, want to go to live games, should get over themselves and their sense of entitlement.
Either way, I shalln’t be watching. I’ve made my position plain in respect of Mourinho and there’s going to be precious little live United TV for me this season, not until semi-finals at least. Anyway, I’m going out for a meal with my mates tonight.
Friday Night Football is here to stay. It’s not like it’s a breakthrough, the way Thursday night football was. It’s been around before, when the balance was more finely set. When there was a balance. If it makes Sky money, it’ll stay.
And FTF. Especially the ones getting out of Old Trafford at about 10.00pm tonight and making tracks for Southampton. You – and we – are on the wrong side of history. We are the army of the defeated, who don’t know when to stop fighting, eve when stopping fighting, forcing football to be played in empty grounds, without sound or atmosphere, is the only weapon we have left in our hands.
The ultimate weapon, the Deterrent, the Nuclear Option.
The one thing we could never do.