The Sweeper: Has Television Killed Football?

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“Today the stadium is a gigantic TV studio. The game is played for television so you can watch it at home. And television rules.” So wrote Eduardo Galeano in Soccer in Sun and Shadow.

That has long been the view of the football purist. Such a thought was echoed yesterday by the Guardian’s Jonathan Wilson, a purist if ever there was one, arguing that television’s focus on the moment is killing the game’s broader development, with elite players and teams increasingly falling to the demands of television for speed and flashy skill: “The focus on tricks is a trend only likely to be accentuated by programmes such as Wayne Rooney’s Street Striker, and the danger is that football produces a generation of posturing show ponies incapable of producing the incisive pass or making the right run.”

Wilson’s argument has an awful lot to it that needs unpacking, and seems a little confused in parts. Is it “harum-scarum running and clattering tackles . . .praised as representative of the seductive hurly-burly of the Premier League” that television demands?  Or is it “that players become focused on their showreels at the expense of the game itself, or that young players learn how to flick the ball over their heads rather than learning about the shape of the game”?  How exactly did they both develop out of the demands of the same medium?  Has this worked the same way the world over?

As Richard Whittall comments at a More Splendid Life, Wilson is onto something, it’s just not quite clear what; Whittall makes an alternate suggestion that “The panopticon of live global television has brought us McFootball” because “the frequency and availability of full-length match broadcasts from across the globe that has affected football tactics. You can easily see why; there are no surprises anymore, tactics have become homogenized, formations streamlined, because there isn’t any possibility of surprise when everyone can see everyone else, live on satellite.”

Either way, the impact of television on the development of soccer since the first attempt at a live outside broadcast was made in 1937 has been far greater than could be probably addressed in any piece as short as Wilson or Whittall’s, as it has weaved its way into every sinew of the game. Yet call me a romantic, but I think Galeano would concur: deep-down, even television cannot kill the ultimate unpredictability of football’s development. Upsets, beauty and tactical innovation are still broadcast to us and come in unexpected ways every year regardless of the box.

Let us return to Galeano’s introduction to Soccer in Sun and Shadow:

Play has become a spectacle, with few protaganists and many spectators, soccer for watching. . .The technocracy of professional sport has managed to impose a soccer of lightning speed and brute strength, a soccer that negates joy, kills fantasy and outlaws daring.

Luckily, on the field you can still see, even if only once in a long while, some insolent rascal who sets aside the entire script and commits the blunder of dribbling past the entire opposing side, the referee and the crowd in the stands, all for the carnal delight of embracing the forbidden adventure of freedom

Worldwide News

  • For a breather from the daily grind of following televised sport, the Global Game has an (as ever) thoughtful piece in football in Peru covering a competition you won’t have heard about: “A six-team fulbito tournament in Lima in December concluded a nationwide competition involving more than 40,000 indigenous Andean women, who don colorful skirts(polleras) and play on weekends as respite from hard labors at home and in the fields.”
  • Back to England, and David Conn makes the obvious but telling observation on the financial divide in Manchester: “In simple terms, the lottery of English football clubs being companies up for sale on the open market has delivered a winning ticket to the Blues, not the Reds. Mansour has made an enormous financial investment in City, while the Glazers, since they bought United in their bitterly contested takeover, have given the club not one penny to spend. Quite the opposite.”
  • Outside of Conn, Portsmouth’s perilous plight has meant many more journalists covering the financial madness of the Premier League. Paul Kelso (who to be fair has covered this angle in the past) looks at the debt mountain and comes to the conclusion that — the many jibes against Platini aside — UEFA’s moves towards some financial restraints might just make some sense “to protect clubs from themselves.”

The Sweeper appears every weekday, and once at the weekend. For more rambling and links throughout the day every day, follow your editor Tom Dunmore @pitchinvasion on Twitter.

6 thoughts on “The Sweeper: Has Television Killed Football?

  1. Pingback: Is Television Killing Soccer? | The Final Third

  2. Adrian Ludbrook

    The current saturation of televised matches is a double edged sword, for the US it’s a good thing, giving more exposure to the beautiful game and hopefully converting more people into fans of the global sport.

    However in the UK we clearly see the negative aspects, armchair fans, kick off times to suit schedules not supporters, falling attendances in stadia, and the biggest impact of all, the financial aspect. TV money is killing the English game. The collapses of first ITV digital and then Setanta hit a lot of clubs hard, the clubs that could least afford it. Meanwhile the money that does pour in is not distributed in a way beneficial to the development of English football, i.e. a fair distribution that filters right down the league pyramid, but instead goes to bolster the coffers of the chosen few, creating an ever larger gap between the Premier League elite and the rest of the clubs.

    There was once a time when the beautiful game was accesible to all, and with skilful leadership from the board and the right manager at the helm any club from any corner of the land could challenge for the spoils of the league and cups and even book a ticket to Europe to play on the greater stage. Then came satellite television, ‘modern football’ and demographics in place of defensive formations and success became the property of the elite. That’s why former European champions like Aberdeen, Nottingham Forest and my club, Ipswich, will never have that opportunity again, and why for the silent majority of British fans who stick true to their roots and support their local team are slowly falling out of love with our national sport. Kill $ky, not our game.

  3. Damon

    The article on Manchester United and Manchester City by David Conn is, as ever, excellant stuff. But beneath the article there was something missing i.e. By David Conn, Manchester City fan.

    Conn is a life long City fan, someone who on one side of the coin talks of the ravages of the ‘economic typhoon’ sweeping through Premiership football, and on the other appraising the debts/financial burden Manchester City now find themselves with all with so far, nothing to show for it, bar sacking a manager.

    Manchester City have a long way to go before it can be placed on a wall and lauded as a model of how a football cub should/could be run. There has been really little progress made on the field from the Erikkson days and should Champions League football not be secured Mancini will be next for the chop.

    Behind the scenes at Manchester City Gary Cook is a ruthless ‘yes man’ who would sack his granny if he thought it would improve the brand or progress of Man City. There are a host of players at City possibly unhappy behind the scenes as well.

    Conn (if that is what he is doing) would/should really not measure success simply by trotting out financial jargon and cliche to justify whom is boss on Manchester.

  4. 2nil.com

    As I wrote on my site, the opinions expressed in the article are complete garbage. In sum, Wilson, Sacchi and Valdano have nothing of note to say. Yes, television has affected the game, though not as they argue. Speed is great. Intensity even more so. And specialization allows eleven individuals to create a championship-winning collective. If this is all negative and to be deplored, then let the three men build their ark and wait for the rains to come. I, however, will be enjoying the soccer.

  5. panjur

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