THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

They may scrape the barrel raw, but each day club sites draw in more and more people like our writer. His name is Sean Kearns and he's a Reading World addict

The headline leaves a lasting impression – like Dave Jones’s eyelashes or Peter Schmeichel’s speech pattern: “Bas gets on his dancing shoes and performs the moonwalk!”

To the uninitiated, it’s straight from a David Brent-esque employee newsletter, but to the afflicted it’s a video of a body-popping footballer in a deserted sports hall. We’re talking, of course, about the World of Official Club Websites! where no exclamation mark is spared in the pursuit of exclusive interviews, behind-the-scenes footage and daring documentary.

Premium TV, the evil mind behind Reading World, and 81 other identikit sites, claims to have 90,000 subscribers and a further 1.5 million registered users. Frankly, I’m surprised it’s not far more.

The player in question is Bas Savage, one of those too-big-to-be-a-winger types who occasionally appears on Reading’s right. He often has trouble standing up, never mind rolling the ball around on his shins, but I studied his “showboat” on the official site several times. As the site said: “Surely Michael Jackson would have been impressed.” And I’ve absolutely no doubt he’s seen it.

At the end of a series of Savage dance moves and knee-ups, you are returned to the website with gentle anticlimax. “Don’t forget full live com­mentary from Thursday night’s reserves final against Cardiff!” I drew the line there – especially as I knew I’d be re-reading the match report 24 hours later.

Double-checking team line-ups in the Sunday papers was, at least, at some basic level, informative. Checking the official Reading website first thing in the morning and on eight or so other occasions throughout the day serves no purpose either, yet seems entirely reasonable. The fact that the “updates” have slowed over the summer hasn’t altered my routine. There is always the possibility of a picture of a tractor car­­rying out essential pitch main­tenance.

Of course the silly (pre-) season poses trouble for many local hacks. While the pride of our tabloid fleet is busy salivating over Sven and co, they have to make do with interminable contract negotiations and char­ity cricket matches. But these slow news restrictions don’t bother Premium TV scribes – they can do superfluous with frightening ease. And sometimes with an editorial style that makes the Romford Recorder read like Le Monde.

Aside from football, and there’s a lot of aside, the content is clearly ludicrous. There’s comedy, “behind the scenes at the players’ golf day”. There’s travel, a former player enjoying a holiday in Trinidad and Tobago. There’s lifestyle, “introducing physio Steve Kemp”. And then, naturally, there’s tenuous celebrity: “Westlife star Nicky Byrne – I hope the Royals get promoted!”

What? The Nicky Byrne? Said that? About Reading? You are compelled to read on: “On Tuesday you’ll be able to see the full interview with Nicky, along with Janine and Robbie from EastEnders and model Jo Guest!” So, this is the answer to complaints about closed shops and crap public relations.

Post-match coverage, as 1.5 million of us know, is as thorough as a Real Madrid medical. Player interviews are cut into tiny morsels, so you get 18 different stories from the same player on a corner that wasn’t. You read every one of them in a strange daze. And you weren’t even at the game.

When there’s a gap in the day (and I reckon they stick something new up at least every ten seconds), these sites call on their extra-strength filler. And they do it with flair, especially if a barely remembered centre-back recalls his special connection with a crowd he played in front of three times. Imagine a 20-minute interview with the bloke who picks the Golden Gamble winner at half-time. In fact, just read it some time next week on Reading World! The headlines are minor works of art. “Micky Adams in ‘constant contact’ with Paul Dickov” and “Win dinner with Dunga” are two recent favourites. Like its television equivalent of rolling news on Sky, everything is breaking, or at least bursting at the seams.

The official Premium TV reporter eats and sleeps First Division football trivia, with bells on. He or she has to imbue the smallest club announcement with backbreaking gravitas. The hype of each pronouncement makes “a whole new ball game” seem care­lessly understated. I’ve just read that the site promises “the best way on the planet to get close to your team!” And with that, I’ve logged back on.

Of course like any sane supporter, I’ve always viewed anything official from the club with deep suspicion – programmes, comedy foam hands, players’ paperbacks, often match tickets – but a website emblazoned with the club badge? I can’t get enough of it. I’ve even started to look around other Worlds – maybe compare designs, wonder why it’s Millers World and just plain Leicester City, see what Shrewsbury’s Jimmy Quinn is up to over the summer.

Perhaps this is my equivalent of slavishly reading Heat or, worse, watching Big Brother repeats, but I fear the addiction is far more damaging. After all, I’m paying good money to watch Bas Savage walk slowly backwards. And that’s official!

From WSC 211 September 2004. What was happening this month

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