Liverpool v Man City: Not a 90-minute sporting orgasm

Date published: Monday 11th November 2019 9:58

Adrian Liverpool

Liverpool v Manchester City. Did you enjoy it? I thought it was great entertainment. But did it live up to the hype that has been in full effect all week? Of course not.

The days before a significant game can be wearing. Like the people who put their Christmas decorations up in November, by the time the big day comes around, the whole thing has lost a lot of its sparkle.

The game was quite typically but unnecessarily marketed to death. At one point, I’m told someone on a Sky programme stated quite categorically that “the whole world will be watching this game”. I’m not sure how they work that out since Sky has just 23 million subscribers in Europe (not all for football) in a continent of 741 million people. In the UK, Sky’s most viewed game of the season sometimes hovers around three million watching for more than three consecutive minutes. More usually, it is a third of that and this in a country of 66 million people. So there’s your core hype right there: “the whole” rather than the more accurate “a small percentage of” but then Sky, not exclusively, but especially, have been old hands at exaggeration and over-promotion for the last 27 years. It is part of theirs and the ceaseless Premier League propaganda campaign, which is constantly seeking to make itself big and important on the back of our passion for football.

Obviously, it was an important game in the drama of the unfolding season, but it was repeatedly sold as though it was something far, far bigger than the three points available for winning it. There will be other games of importance. For all it was sometimes thrilling, this wasn’t the be all and end all.

“It’s Klopp v Pep” annoyingly intoned the voice on 5live’s trailers, like they were duelling Gods upon Mount Olympus and we mere mortals staring on in wonderment of their infinite greatness and power. But it turned out to be a football match played by humans and managed by humans, not Gods and all this purring was shallow and alienating.

I’m sure we were all excited about the game anyway. The hype didn’t and indeed couldn’t increase that excitement at all. If anything it decreased it as yet another repeated trail played out to tell us how huge this was. Broadcasters don’t always seem to understand the principle that the more they shout, the less we listen.

The irony of heavyweight hyping is that when a big game actually turns out to be a really special match such as the Liverpool v Barcelona game, it is drowned in the thrill of the actuality. So hype either over sells or under sells and is thus always dishonest.

We all know trying to portray each game as though it will be a 90-minute sporting orgasm which will leave us endorphin-drenched, lying in a post-coital wet patch of football love, is simply not appropriate.

We all know football is capable of being amazing, thrilling and dramatic and equally capable of being the exact opposite. You can’t sell it to us as if it’s just another comestible in a shopping basket. It isn’t a product that can be sold with a guarantee of quality or consistency. It isn’t a Marks and Spencer’s production line produced pork pie; the same tasty product this week, as last, as the next. Yet it is sold with superlatives that suggest football is exactly that. No hype ever speculates how boring a game might be, even though football is often quite boring quite a lot of the time. Even yesterday’s game was boring at times. That’s the nature of football. Why not be truthful?

Football doesn’t even need any of this, we have loved it for the best part of 150 years and watched it in huge numbers when there was no hype at all and the only advertising was a fixture listing in the local newspaper. We have also watched it on TV without any hyperbole and without mini-movie ads running for a week. We don’t need all that.

But even though the expression “it didn’t live up to the hype” is common and frequently uttered, still the pretence goes on. Still games are routinely built up by broadcasters to be something they’re not and can never be.

Everton v Spurs last week was given the same big dramatic sell that every game is, and it was possibly the least exciting, entertaining or engaging game of the season. Will it stop the hype happening again? No it will not.

The hype just shouts repeatedly in our face something we’re already very well aware of, thank you very much. Endlessly trying to sell something we already know will almost certainly not be great, on the basis that this time it will be great, is insanity. Better to sell it for what it is, than what it isn’t or what it can almost never be. So I ask again, why does the hype exist? And I think the answer is it exists because the hype isn’t for our benefit at all, it’s primarily and wholly for the broadcaster’s benefit, in order to make them seem, not just important, but the creator and provider of the game; the skeleton holding together the flesh.

The concept of the Premier League and the broadcasting of it are two hands on the same body, each an expression of the same economic model. Each reliant on the other. This culture of commodification of football, has spread like a kind of economic and cultural mycelium across the whole game.

It is a TV-based economic model that has always tried to sell football on hype’s false prospectus. An economic model that doesn’t really work with the broadcasting of football which is why no-one ever made any money showing football behind a paywall. And because it is a square peg in a round hole, it has to be forced into place by the ceaseless hammering of marketing and propaganda in order to make just enough people believe that what they’re seeing is superior enough to pay superior ticket and subscription prices to witness, to believe that the broadcaster is axiomatic to it happening at all and to believe it is worth both the money it earns and the money that has been paid to show it.

When will broadcasters stop aggrandising the game to a level it can’t live up to purely to satisfy its own need to feel important and relevant? It’s a busted flush conceptually. Given how few people actually pay to watch live football on TV, the way things currently are is obviously not attractive, not popular, not desired. You can lock all those top pundits in there for an hour and a half after the game to talk about it but it doesn’t make the game any better. The hype doesn’t pull is in any more. How much longer do we have to not care about your hype? How much longer does the vast majority of the interested audience have to ignore you? How much longer before you get the message? The thing you invented is irrelevant to our love of football. We loved it before you existed and we will love it when you’re long forgotten.

They know this. They’re not stupid. So you’d think they might change. But they won’t. Because that would mean admitting how irrelevant and unimportant they really are to our passion for the sport… and y’know what? Maybe that scares them more than almost anything and that’s why they’re addicted to the hype and why next week it’ll happen all over again.

John Nicholson

Johnny’s book ‘Can We Have Our Football Back? How The Premier League Is Ruining Football And What We Can Do About It.’ is available here: 

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