THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Mick Collins observed the closing of the transfer window with unease and distaste, unlike Sky TV or others who stand to profit

The business of football is a complicated one, truly understood by only a special few. Unfortunately, those special few have more sense than to get involved, thus leaving it in the hands of opportunists and incompetents. There’s no longer a mystery about this, with winding-up orders and administrators long since letting light in on the game’s chaos. Even while it steams towards the financial buffers, however, stoking the engine with £50 notes, some of us still look for a defining moment.

At which point did the lunatics formally take over the asylum? How did the goose lay so many golden eggs and still leave everyone in debt? And then transfer deadline day arrives, and we need search no further. Transfer deadline day is a Sky-sponsored telethon, held for the benefit of football agents looking to acquire new holiday homes. It is an event at which we are invited to celebrate millions of pounds being siphoned out of the game, never to return. A day when we, who fund it all, whether through ticket sales, TV subscriptions or myriad other ways, watch our money given away to people who didn’t earn it.

Fittingly for just about the bleakest day in the football calendar, there is heavy involvement from Sky. Its presenters stand in club car parks, delivering gossip with a solemnity more usually reserved for a state funeral, and it revels in its own, self-created limelight. While the absurd Danny Dyer has become the monosyllabic totem for the hooligan era, the fight to lead the cheerleading through this latest chapter of the game’s financial meltdown has yet to be won.

There seemed to be less of Andy “three mobile phones” Burton this year; an interviewer who is clearly desperate to be the players’ friend. Burton treats questions as an unpleasant necessity, asking them with the ferocity of a bowler helping the opposing batsmen towards a swift declaration. Making a bid for his place is Bryan Swanson, who combines an urgent air and a touch-screen computer, like an ambitious young Tesco store manager checking his stock. The gizmo is a poor prop, distracting not informing, and as such a perfect metaphor for the presentational pair.

As the cumulative self-importance on display hits dizzying levels, we waited in vain for Alan Partridge to appear outside Carrow Road, knowing he would fit in perfectly, if only Swanson had pressed the button. Others try to gatecrash the event, but failed to convince. Over on the BBC website, Sam Lyon relinquished the journalistic burden by merely reproducing texts and emails from people, guessing where moves might be made as the day unfolded. He then reverted to reporting what Sky were saying about a Tottenham bid for Rafael van der Vaart.

And so the corporation which brought journalism Peter Jones, Bryon Butler and Brian Moore (who began on BBC radio) was reduced to the second-hand reporting of another channel’s rumour, padded with the theories of a million message board inhabitants. There was scarcely time for the agents to plant their own, self-serving tales in between the “My nan’s just seen Ronaldinho at Port Vale” nonsense. Somewhere along the line, judgment has evaporated.

The day is to football journalism what The X Factor is to real music – manufactured and hyped. News is accepted from interested parties and presented as fact, and critical analysis is as unwelcome as common sense. Nobody emerges with much dignity. As the day dragged on, Eidur Gudjohnsen went from Monaco to Stoke, a change of scenery which should, in normal circumstances, only be possible using extradition legislation. Such was the prevailing madness, it seemed quite natural.

Sky’s religious devotion to money is wel established and deadline day is the sort of “price of everything, value of nothing” event they cherish. As Sky Bet liked to tell us “it matters more when there’s money on it”, a phrase which places a Johnstone’s Paint Trophy tie above Sir Roger Bannister’s sub-four-minute mile in the sporting pantheon. Not only have the lunatics taken over, but some of them have got TV cameras.

And within minutes of it all finishing, the agents were heading for the departure lounge, en route to the new place in the sun the day had just earned them. On Sky, the post mortem had begun, but the hype was fading. The money that had just left the game was never coming back.

From WSC 284 November 2010

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