Derided for the entertainment on offer, Williamson’s now famous rebuke to disgruntled supporters serves as a warning to clubs and managers in this current socially-distant climate. Especially now the lower leagues are back in action.
Hearts fans have made their feelings known over much of the season and lacklustre performances as they canter to the Championship crown. Similar grumbles were heard after Falkirk continued their lead in League One with a 2-0 win over promotion rivals Montrose on Saturday – two teams at the top of their respective leagues.
“Result is the main thing,” some say in a club’s defence. “At this stage of the season three points is all that matters.”
But, when you’re watching on a computer screen several miles away, is it? And especially when you’re paying for the privilege? Shouldn’t there be a little more? After all, the result will happen whether the game is shown on your screen or not.
There’s no fan input on a Saturday. No influence of a baying crowd’s attempted intimidation of opponents. No rallying roar in support of a struggling player. What will be, will be whether you tune in or not.
‘The end result is the main thing’ doesn’t wash when it’s a case of buying a pay-per-view stream – best to simply wait for the scoreline, available for free at the flick of a thumb at 4.45pm on a Saturday.
Would the same be said for an afternoon in front of the cinema as Williamson suggested in season 2003/04? Especially if the outcome is all that matters? Would fans willingly pay out cash and invest time just to ensure the Titanic sank at the end of the movie - with a free highlights package available a little while later - without the dull bits in between and when the all-important result is already known?
That bit in between, to be paid for, that’s what needs to entice the customers, and there’s a fine balance between pragmatism and product, because clubs need viewers.
There is no ‘day out’ or sense of occasion when plugging in an HDMI cable rather than clicking through a turnstile. There’s no supplementary income from the home kitchen pie and tea from the kettle, no merchandise stall at half-time or programme vendors doing laps of the living room. Or to reference Williamson’s infamous line, there’s no tray of ice creams being sold under a little light in the corner.
Gareth Southgate and Mason Mount also admitted there was a duty to the country for England’s players to put on a show against San Marino after a year in lockdown when spirits need lifting.
The same cognisance is required to entice and hold a pay-per-view football audience. Rather than go to the cinema, football is the cinema right now but there’s a variety of screens, channels and streams vying for attention – and all trying to entertain.
Fans have missed their football – but football has to show fans what they’ve been missing too. They can check the results later.