Mark Pougatch: Thoughts on sports
Game 39 - A jump too far?
And so the premier league want a 39th game to be played in January 2011 in various parts of the world. The response has been startling: One national newspaper has vowed to ignore the matches, message boards have been swamped and supporters clubs are up in arms. At 5 Live our text console was almost capsized with complaints in the first 24 hours and the emails came in a torrent. Let me try and paraphrase their tone: What the hell do the authorities think they are doing and what about us, the fans?
Ah, the fans. What about them? Let's be honest, those who turn up and pay a not inconsiderable amount of money provide the atmosphere for the games on TV, but the walk up supporters are of secondary importance these days. Yes, they pay very good money but that amount is dwarfed by TV cash and the consumers globally who buy shirts and subscribe to cable and satellite channels. Premier League players now turn up for games in buses with blacked out windows and some clamp mobiles to their ears afterwards so as to avoid the autograph hunters. The gap between the players and their clubs and fans is now a massive chasm and the game's poorer for it.
So where can you go to see that your heroes are human and in touch? I give you national hunt racing. The standard race riding fee is about £125 and for that these jockeys deny themselves, sit in saunas to lose the extra pound, go on diets and then sometimes ride at more than one meeting a day. But you can wait for them outside the weighing room and ask for an autograph and they'll stop and smile and sign and make someone's day And then they re-appear minutes later in different colours and hurl their horses at another set of fences and return to the weighing room splattered in mud. On New Year's Eve I waited for the champion jockey Tony McCoy with my seven year old daughter and I took a photo of them together and she went into 2008 with a massive smile on her face. Football used to do that regularly and it helped form the umbilical cord between those who played and those who paid. If that link becomes permanently broken then football's playing with fire.