Sky legacy a mix of light and shade

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THE title is won and the season almost done. But when Sky Sports screens its 1,000th live Premiership match, Tottenham v Blackburn, tonight you can bet your annual subscription fee that it will get the full works.

There will be around 30 cameras, copious different angles, a big build-up and endless debate.

That commitment to dissect a football match, every football match, as forensically as a crime scene investigation is Sky's great strength.

There is no doubt about it. Ever since the day in 1992 when Nottingham Forest played Liverpool in the first live televised Premiership match, the satellite broadcaster has transformed football coverage.

From the score and time in the corner of the screen, a simple but revolutionary breakthrough copied by all the world's major sports broadcasters, to the PlayerCam and interactive service, which allows viewers to watch the match of their choice.

The technical excellence of Sky is not in doubt.

Nor, in my view, is the position of Martin Tyler as English football's most intelligent commentator and Andy Gray as its most incisive analyst.

And if main presenter Richard Keys is famous for the following question to former Liverpool manager Roy Evans "Well, Roy, do you think you'll have to finish above Manchester United to win the league?" then he is often also a lone voice of critical balance among studio guests who at times tend to be bland, bordering on the banal.

Undoubtedly, the money pumped into football by Sky has also allowed football to address many of its ills.

Such as rebuilding dilapidated stadia, helping to eradicate hooliganism and making watching the world's most popular sport a less dangerous and more comfortable experience. So far so good for the legacy of Rupert Murdoch.

But - and you sensed it was coming, didn't you - Sky has much to answer for.

Make no mistake, the average football supporter has paid a high price for Sky and we are not talking just about subscription charges.

What day and what potty time your team plays, down to the moment the referee blows the whistle, is now at the whim of television executives.

Too many matches receive the hype treatment, Sky dressing up the most tedious of games in a way which at times treats the viewer with contempt.

But then, when you are paying 452million per season for a commodity, is it surprising that truth is the first casualty?

Worst of all, however, Sky's money has helped spawn a new breed of journeymen professionals, many of whom earn more in a week than a senior nurse earns in a year

You only had to be at Alan Ball's funeral last week to hear the players of yesteryear, many of them World Cup winners, talk of the way they felt an empathy with the people which simply does not exist today.

These days football is light entertainment, a ratings driver, a product to lure subscribers and attract advertisers in a celebrity-obsessed society.

It has driven Sky's subscriptions past the eight million mark and, in Murdoch's words, is the "battering ram" for pay-per- view television.

It is why Setanta have muscled in, breaking Sky's monopoly for a piece of the action next season.

In short, football is a long way from the down-to-earth, working class passion it was when the only live televised club match was the FA Cup final.

Now you can watch a 'big' match somewhere every day of the week.

But it was Sky who seized the day, as one of their trailers might proclaim, after weighing up the sport's potential which was highlighted by ITV's live coverage of the title decider at Anfield in 1989 which saw a prime-time audience witness Arsenal beat Liverpool 2-0 and Brian Moore's unforgettable phrase: "It's up for grabs now."

Their aggressive domination of the market place since has changed the fabric of football. It has seen the Premiership become a showcase for Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal at the expense of less viewer-friendly clubs.

It has inflated transfer fees and turned the Premiership into the manic quest for success and demented scramble for survival that it is today, even if falling attendances this season have pointed to the danger of over-exposure.

Not that they would ever admit it. From Super Sunday to super, super slow-mo, everything in the world of Sky has to be super.

Irritating? Yes. But if you can afford it you have to admit it is wonderful theatre.


WE TURN back the clock to 1992, when Nottingham Forest faced Liverpool in the first Sky game televised on 16 August.

LEEDS: Howard Wilkinson's side kicked off the Premier League as champions after edging Manchester United to the Division 1 title the previous season.

ALAN SHEARER: Former England skipper had joined Blackburn a month earlier in a then UK record 3.6 million deal from Southampton.

GIANLUIGI LENTINI: Italian winger was the world's most expensive player following his 13 million transfer from Torino to AC Milan.

LAGER: Punters could expect to pay an average of 1.43 for a pint back in 1992.