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8 January 2020

Four live matches on TV – but none on Sky or BT, despite the channels costing me a fortune

They were on something called Amazon Prime Video. What the feck is that when it’s at home?

By Hunter Davies

I was so looking forward to the Boxing Day football. For about 60 years I have always taken my son to Spurs – so touching – but recently I can’t be bothered trailing all that way, so he went with my granddaughter Sienna, the one who is mad keen on football.

It was really because I had looked at the paper and seen, wow, four live matches on the TV. My cup overfloweth. Eight hours of bliss. I just need the Beaujolais out, the log fire lit, some snacks on hand and my day is sorted.

It is so vital to have the day arranged when you live on your own – especially as I am having problems with my girlfriend. (Don’t all rush: but if I get too many offers I promise to pass them to young Nicholas Lezard, who is in need of a pick-me-up.)

So I settled down, bottle opened, only to discover that none of the four games was on Sky or BT, despite me paying a fortune for them. They were on something called Amazon Prime Video. What the feck is that when it’s at home?

I don’t have any of these new channels, such as Nesquik – or is that a drink? – for which you have to pay. Bloody cheek, typical of modern life – and also, alas, football. The whole object of football these days is to make money.

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When did this begin? Well, money did creep into football early doors. Even in the 1870s when it was still an amateur game, run by public school chaps who would never cheat, har har, star players would find a guinea in their boots and good young Scottish players received a well-paid Mickey Mouse job in a Northern factory in order to play for the local club.

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Professionalism came in in 1885, which at least made money-making above board. The first £1,000 transfer fee was in 1905, when Alf Common moved from Sunderland to Middlesbrough. People said that’s the end of football as we know it, money has corrupted the game.

That didn’t quite happen. The maximum wage managed to keep a lid on players getting above themselves until it was abolished in 1961 (when it stood at £20 a week).

The change that really turned football money-mad was the founding of the Premier League in 1992. This was blatant commercialism: the top clubs breaking away from the rest of the 92 league clubs and maximising their TV earnings. The result has been that we punters have had to pay thousands of pounds to watch our fave teams on TV. Lucky for the Prem, football now has a world audience of suckers.

No wonder so many companies are getting in on the act, even those with nothing to do with football – such as Amazon, moving on from cluttering up our streets with its deliveries.

I faffed around for 20 minutes, going online to find how to join Amazon Prime, which I eventually did. The picture on my computer was a bit fuzzy, a touch amateur and disorganised, compared with Sky’s slick coverage, but considering Amazon was covering nine matches live, they did good.

There was a new graphic at the bottom of the screen telling you the percentage chance of one side winning. There was no explanation of how this was arrived at. Presumably on the back of an envelope.

Next evening, I watched Amazon Prime Video again, this time for Wolves vs Man City, which was brilliant, Wolves coming back from two down. But for some reason, the commentary on the screen was for another game. It was also accompanied by appalling jingly music. At half-time, I did at least manage to get rid of the horrible music.

I put BBC 5 Live on to hear the proper commentary and discovered that Amazon’s coverage was two minutes behind the action. Perhaps that’s why they call it video.

But guess what? Somehow I managed to watch those two days of Amazon Prime Video without joining or paying.

Did I by chance access a free trial? Or have I accidentally signed on for life without realising it? Oh God, I will be spitting if I end up being charged. On the other hand, perhaps for the first time in a hundred years, football is not trying to make money out of the fans. 

This article appears in the 08 Jan 2020 issue of the New Statesman, Trump vs Iran