Sky's football coverage gives them plenty to shout about but they did so too loudly on the day they visited all 92 league clubs
There was an air of Del Boy Trotter about Sky Sports News' ebullient foghorn Jim White during the channel's 92 Live, Thursday's 15-hour affirmation of the broadcaster's commitment to football. The patter was pitch-perfect, his bags were packed for a swift exit and the exhibition of sincerity was calculated to demonstrate Sky shared the passion of fans and were always on their side. He went over the top at 7am at the head of his pale blue shirted battalion, skipped aboard his "Skycopter" and paid ambassadorial visits to eight of the 92 Premier and Football League clubs chalked off on a day designed to emphasise that it has three times more live Premier League games than its upstart rival BT Sport, plus exclusive live coverage of the newly branded Sky Bet Football League and all but one Champions League tie per week.
It has become an annual ritual even if this year the broadcaster surpassed itself for bombast and ludicrousness, not least by fetishising a helicopter in a manner unseen since the heyday of "chopperholic" Noel Edmonds and Airwolf. Each summer the buildup to the season comes earlier and with more hype and the audience is bombarded with slogans such as "Football is our religion", "Once in a lifetime", "Are you ready?", "Every goal matters" and even Eric Cantona gnomically uttering "In uncertainty lies the drama of life".
This burst of clamour and drama that accompanies the trailers from Sky's marketing machine was expertly parodied a few years ago by the Observer's resident football apostate David Mitchell in a sarcastically telling skit lampooning the ubiquitous nature of the game in England and how deeply Sky has striven to embed it in our psyche during the past 20 years.
Marching up the touchline, captured by a hand-held camera performing a giddy dance copied from American cop shows and whipping himself towards hysteria as he previews the coming fare, Mitchell approaches self-combustion as he reaches the peak of his sales spiel. "All the football all the time," he hectors. "Thousands and thousands of hours of football, each more climactic than the last. Constant dizzying, 24-hour, year-long endless football, every kick of it massively mattering to someone presumably. Watch it all here, all the time, forever. It will never stop. It's officially going on forever. There is still everything to play for and forever to play it in. Watch it, watch it, watch the football. Watch it, it's football."
It is only 30 years this season that live English league football returned to British television after a deal with ITV in 1960 was terminated by truculent clubs overwrought about its impact on attendances. Until 1983 we had been forced to get by with the FA Cup final, the European Cup final and our quadrennial fix of World Cup action that was like an oasis in our everyday Sahara. At first the BBC had the rights to show seven live games a season on Friday evenings and ITV the same number on Sunday afternoons but by the beginning of the 1985-86 season, when Manchester United had that stunning 10-game winning start, a familiar dispute with the League over value left the broadcasters shut out for five-and-a-half months and a total blackout of televised English football.
That was hardship enough back then and yet we were used to the governing body rationing our enjoyment. For those of us too young for the pub in the 1970s and early 1980s, Saturday's winter itinerary was bookended by shows of such old‑fashioned restraint that they seem alien to much of the current output.
After a morning of playing the game one would watch Football Focus with Bob Wilson, who had a deceptive image as a rather square uncle in the overgrown Blue Peter presenter mould which sadly tended to eclipse his reckless courage as Arsenal's goalkeeper. Then one would go to a match (with a significant extra frisson if you saw TV trucks at the ground because the choice of games for the highlights shows were kept secret since clubs feared crowds would stay at home) and listen to Sports Report on the way home.
After tea a child had to pass an endurance test during which to betray any twitch of tiredness while braving The Generation Game, The Two Ronnies and Starsky & Hutch meant exile to bed before Match of the Day and Jimmy Hill in an age when video recorders cost twice the average monthly salary. ITV's local package on Sunday afternoons had not only a more civilised slot but offered a frequent if not unvarying chance of seeing your team. And that was it until the following weekend unless one's parents were docile enough to make Sportsnight a midweek possibility.
Before this begins to sound too much like that part of the Four Yorkshiremen sketch where Graham Chapman tops the statement "We were happy in those days, though we were poor" with "because we were poor", one cannot dispute that feast for those who can afford it is immeasurably preferable to famine. And yet there are times too when the gloss renders the fervour inauthentic and manufactured, the constant dreary bray of inconsequential "news" has a banality that is almost toxic and football's mission to inhabit every corner of a fan's life borders on imperialism. It is easy to concede that we have never had it so good but difficult to ignore even when the season is foreshadowed by a man with the indomitable vitality of a cocker spaniel in a helicopter that just because you have something to shout about doesn't mean you cannot turn down the volume once in a while.