22 September ~ For the few remaining stragglers in Europe who still see the United States as a footballing backwater, the country's television schedules make for an instructive read. With relatively cheap subscriptions to the appropriate channels this past weekend, you could have watched eight Premier League games, another eight from the Mexican League, four Bundesliga match-ups, six from La Liga, five from Serie A, two from Brazil and two from Major League Soccer (and another four if you subscribe to the league's bargain Direct Kick package at around 50 quid a season).
If that didn't sate your lust for ball-watching, you could have tuned in to single games from Colombia, France, the Netherlands and, for the real devotees, the Australian A-League. Not forgetting a time-delayed airing for Hull City v Nottingham Forest, and an extra raft of games online at Fox and ESPN.
Unadulterated bliss for the football fanatic, or super-sized armchair overload? If you've spent six months hiking the Appalachian Trail with nothing but the Bible and a copy of Don Quixote for company, then the idea of flopping on to a sofa and watching non-stop football for 48 hours might be of some appeal. For the rest of us, though, the listing seems to get longer every week. Certainly, it's no burden to turn on the television at almost any point of the weekend and find that, somewhere, there's a game being played that you can possibly fall asleep to. But if you're intent on really concentrating on a game then saturation coverage brings its own problems. Namely, the pressure of making the right choice.
The opportunity to waste so much leisure time is almost overwhelming. It's true that Atlético Madrid v Barcelona at 1pm on a Sunday is a more obvious selection than Gold Coast Utd against Central Coast Mariners at three in the morning (tough luck for anyone who set their alarm for that one – it ended 0-0. Though it's nigh impossible to imagine a single person out of 300 million US residents who actually did). But when you choose the most theoretically attractive fixtures, there's still no guarantee that you'll pick a decent game. You might as well throw a dart at the list. Sure, Chelsea v Blackpool would likely be a one-sided waste of 90 minutes. But what if it wasn't, and you missed another chance to see John Terry burst into tears?
The obvious answer is to disregard the list completely and try to get some sort of a life. For around five months of the year, in spring and autumn, the US football community is mostly occupied with youth and recreational games, and so the choice is made for you. This past weekend, my schedule meant I only had time to watch Manchester Utd v Liverpool early on Sunday morning – an obvious pick, but it probably turned out to be the game of the weekend in terms of quality and excitement. I topped it off with a highlights programme late on Sunday night. When you come home exhausted from two days spent kicking, yelling and gesticulating out in the fresh air under sunny skies, you know that you were in the right place.
But come the encroaching dusks of November, there's a weather-enforced break until late March, and that's when temptation sets in. You may well feel like the game owes you some sofa time with the Eredivisie, or Botafogo hosting Cruzeiro. There's no real reason to go out unless you like shopping or shovelling snow, while the pregnant schedule looks like an object of deceptive beauty. All those matches, all those possibilities! Until, that is, you watch six games in a day, and find that you no longer even know which league you're watching, let alone what the score is.
Too much live football on television isn't necessarily killing the game, as such. It's just bludgeoning the already lazy viewer into passive submission. Don't move, just consume. Like a glutton at the all-you-can-eat buffet, you become too engorged to emote. Congratulations, you have become the modern fan. Ian Plenderleith