Watching Juventus escort Chelsea to the Champions’ League knacker’s yard on Tuesday evening took me back a couple of decades. Back to the first time I was able to watch and admire Italian football on a regular basis. Back, in fact, to exactly twenty years ago when Serie A first appeared on our TV screens every Sunday afternoon; courtesy of the free-to-air Channel 4.
It was the same year that SKY kicked off its first live broadcasts of the new-born Premier League; an exclusive five year deal which ran from 1992 – 97, and for which Murdoch had paid a mere £200 million or so. (That kind of money would only buy you 30 live matches in one PL season these days.)
So C4’s deal with Serie A was one of the smartest moves around. They paid a miserly £700k for the rights to show what, at the time, everyone knew was the best club football on the planet. The great AC Milan side was that jewel in that Italian crown; a perfectly balanced team with the incomparable Baresi & Maldini at the back, and the diamond Dutch triangle of Rijkaard, Gullit and van Basten illuminating the midfield and attack.
The C4 boss of the day, Michael Grade, took righteous pleasure in placing advertising posters adjacent to the brash SKY hoardings which announced, ‘Watch the Premier League, live and exclusive on Sky Sports’, with the rejoinder, ‘Watch the World’s Premier League, live and exclusive on Channel 4’. Nice one.
There was a sparkle of English in Serie A too, back then: David Platt at Juve, and of course, the half-mad Gazza at Lazio. There was also exotic magic. I would call my three daughters down from their chaotic bedrooms on a Sunday afternoon to witness the craft of ‘the little witch’: Juan Sebastian Veron at Parma and, subsequently, Lazio. He may not have looked much by the time he got to Man Utd, but he was absolutely brilliant back then; even better than Pirlo is now.
But there was something very different about last Tuesday’s match in Turin, compared with two decades ago. Watching Serie A in 1992, despite featuring some of the best players in the world playing for the best clubs in the world, it wasn’t the best football in the world for television. For a start, the gigantic, half empty stadiums in which the Italians played sent the subliminal message that it wasn’t worth watching. And the football style – despite, in a very un-Italian way, producing plenty of high scoring games – just wasn’t ‘TV friendly’.
It was on those lazy-day Sunday afternoons that I first developed my patented test for ‘the TV market value of football matches’. It didn’t need a vast piece of research with graphs & pie charts all over the place. The only equipment required for the measuring exercise was an iron, a shirt and an ironing board.
You see Sunday afternoon was when I ironed my shirts. Twenty years ago I began ironing whilst watching Serie A and I discovered that the two went together perfectly. The predictable rhythm of Italian football back then, with its waltzing slow – slow – quick, quick – slow pattern meant there were always regular times to look down at your shirt and readjust it for the next bit of ironing. The ball was with Baresi…No one ever took the ball off Baresi…He would slide it out wide to Maldini…There wouldn’t be any panic or mistakes…Plenty of time to reposition the shirt.
When I did a comparative study, ironing and watching a Premier League game, I burnt the shirt. QED. The PL is better football telly than Serie A. But it isn’t better football.
Watching the match in Turin on Tuesday night; played in a packed (and built for football) stadium, you would have ruined any shirt you were ironing. And Juve’s terrific performance cost Di Matteo his job as Chelsea coach. Now Abramovich wants to ‘Pep’ up his team after Rafa Benitez takes temporary charge. As one sharp wit I read put it;
How can a guy called ‘Roman’ not know that a team can’t be built in a day?
THIS WEEK’S ARTICLES:
CHRIS BRADY: WHAT COMES FIRST?
DELROY ALEXANDER: A BRIDGE TOO FAR
PROZONE SPORTS: MAKING SENSE OUT OF CHAOS – BREAKING DOWN READING 5-7 ARSENAL
KEIR RADNEDGE: THE SHORT, SHARP SACK
Dr Rogan Taylor is the Director of the Football Industry Group at the University of Liverpool. He is also a writer and broadcaster, with five football books and numerous radio and TV contributions. He has acted as a special adviser to The FA, The Premier League and Premier League Clubs.
The views of our regular columnists are independent, and as such do not represent those of Leaders in Football.