Come the weekend and no doubt like many sport (but not betting) obsessed Brits yesterday I set my cable television controls for the Sky and BT channels – and, to be fair, also for the BBC1’s Football Focus with Dan Walker – in search of something entertaining and/or diverting to watch.
There wasn’t a great deal, if I’m honest.
One’s long-held preferences and prejudices soon surfaced.
In Formula One, yesterday’s the Russian Grand Prix practice session leading to the drivers’ qualifying for grid positions for today’s race was as predictable as watching paint dry.
Granted, in terms of filling up broadcasting time and slots their investment in the TV rights must tick some boxes for those in control of the Sky Sports’ money chest but – unless one is a nailed-on petrol head (which I am not) – it is terminally dull.
About 70% of coverage consists of “hot air” chat generated by anchormen/women strolling around what in my day used to be called the ‘paddock’, aided by various ex-drivers or insiders who’ve done a stint of media training; 10% is allocated to interviewing drivers, team leaders and passing minor hangers-on of note or celebrity; 10% to reviewing stats, videos of previous races; and the final 10% to wholly predictable actual ‘live’ coverage of the qualifying session(s) in which the four ‘top’ teams (i.e. the only ones contending for podium places in any specific race) always end up in the front two ranks of the grid and the rest eventually line up in a descending “tail” of competence and expertise.
For the impartial observer – and here I must add the caveats that I don’t know anything about E-sports and I haven’t actually “got it in” for the sport (I’m just expressing a view) – as a ‘rewarding’ spectacle it come across to me as only about two notches up from watching a motor sport video games powered by an algorithm that generates random outcomes. Apart from anything else … whether the location each week happens to be in Belgium, the UK, Australia, Singapore or Timbuktu … all Grand Prix circuits looks alike.
Ahead of time, from 1.00pm I had decided to watch the Heineken European Champions Cup semi-final match between Racing 92 and Saracens in Paris, simply to see how the defending champions and ‘cheating’ behemoths of English Premiership rugby (soon to be relegated for a season to the Championship as punishment) fared in their last European competition, at least for a while.
The clash was potentially mouth-watering as Sarries’ opponents were one of the current titans of elite French club rugby (whose owners are unfettered by anything as wimpish as imposed-from-above “fair play” financial rules) and – across both teams – was an array of some of the greatest rugby players to be seen in Europe at the present time.
In the event it did little more than demonstrate one of the eternal ‘entertainment’ issues with rugby union that tend to hold back its hoped-for global development. When the chips are really down – especially in knock-out tournaments – the tensions generated in the effort to prevail on the day often lead to a “stop the other side playing first” approach and cagey, safety-first, tactics … with the open, attractive, rugby the teams are (ordinarily) known for being presumably parked, to be used later ‘if possible’.
In the end, Racing 92 won a relatively dull match 19-15 with a desperate but thrilling try/conversion with about four minutes to no-side.
Despite the lung-bursting effort displayed by all and the sheer brute force physicality of the player-collisions, 90% of the play broadly cancelled itself out and – to the moment Racing scored their try – the score-line progressed solely by 3-point penalty kicks.
As an advert or marketing tool designed to spread rugby union around the world, I’m afraid no video (highlights or otherwise) of this game will ever be used.
By the late afternoon I was again in need of watching something (anything).
Sadly for me, the only football then available to me – apart from the West Brom versus Chelsea clash, of no interest to me (a 3-3 draw in the end, I later learned) – was the WSL (Womens’ Super League) FA Cup quarter final in the WSL between Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspurs being shown “live” in its entirety on BBC2.
Fortified by a very large – and for me, very early – gin and tonic, I sat down to see how the English women’s game was developing.
I’ve got to make a confession.
Tuning in to whatever strands of “wokeness” and “diversity” I’ve developed or had drummed into me, I’ve tried my hardest to give women’s football a chance, but there are no two ways around this.
The general standard of play remains woeful. You can pile as much money into it as you like, give it as much “equal” airtime as the men’s game – build into your coverage all the ex-players, pundits and important-sounding “footballing terms” by the hot-air-yard – but, at the end of the day, what is happening on the field of play is of a standard barely equal (in the men’s game) to that of an Under-13 schoolboy match.
The only thing notable about the current women’s game at English WSL level is the fact that women are playing it.
As true football entertainment – except in the last quarter of an hour, in which Arsenal scored three of their four goals on the day against a much-inferior Spurs side visibly running out of puff – it was pitiful.