Early Doors

Only one winner in football TV row

Early Doors

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Yesterday saw European courts and law reported and discussed all across the British media.

Channel Five's morning chat show The Wright Stuff - a phone-in programme which works as a kind of tabloid 606 - had a discussion item at the top of the show entitled "Foxy Knoxy: Would ya?" The Pulitzer Prize is surely in the post.

Home Secretary Theresa May's speech about the absurdities of the European Human Rights Act at the Conservative Party conference has made Maya the cat a source of division between her and Justice Secretary Ken Clarke and given everyone else a glut of feline puns.

And then there is the landlady of a humble south coast pub who is taking the tyranny of the Premier League to task in the European Court of Justice.

What with it being an international week, the story has been like manna from heaven for football columnists who would otherwise have had to make a big song-and-dance about Danny Welbeck calling team-mate Rio Ferdinand - missing from the current England squad - "a Rolls-Royce of a defender".

Karen Murphy, who runs the Red White & Blue pub in a down-at-heel area of Portsmouth - known to locals as 'Portsmouth' - was claiming victory yesterday after the ECJ backed her right to use a Greek satellite box to show Premier League football to her punters at a cheaper rate than she would have to pay Sky. While the subscription with Nova actually costs more than a Sky package, doing so means she can screen 3pm kick-offs, something which has long been protected to safeguard against attendances dropping at games across the board.

Murphy's argument is that a broadcasting company should not be able to dictate how much she has to pay for their service when she can get the product from another, foreign-based provider for far less per game.

While it is easy to sympathise with anyone trying to run a pub when they are closing up and down the country at such an alarming rate in these difficult times, this is the reality of product licensing. Imagine how Fuller's, the brewery which owns her pub, would feel if she started selling Young's bitter on tap because she could get barrels of it on the cheap.

The story does bring up an interesting discussion of how we consume football during protected kick-offs. For those in the UK who do not delve elbow-deep into the mire that is Sopcast or peer-to-peer streaming online there is Jeff Stelling and his pals in the studio, yelling at monitors that you can't see.

In Spain there is a similar show which has people stationed pitchside during matches, with teasing glimpses of the corner flag as the camera pans from the reporter to the crowd and back.

Sky Italia has Diretta Sport, a more hysterical version of Stelling and co which features - as appears to be customary in Italian television - a buxom young female presenter and a group of old men which includes a commentator you may have seen in a recent advert for a British bookmakers. Tiziano Crudelli makes no secret of his love for Milan, and was recently whipped into a frenzy live on air when the Rossoneri drew 2-2 with Barcelona in the Champions League.

Anyway, the court in Luxembourg agreed with Murphy, ruling that it was against European free trade principals to block her using the Greek box to show games to her customers. The ruling means that, for next 18 months at least, people could be free to buy set-top boxes and subscriptions from any country within the European Union.

This timescale is because that is when the next round of broadcasting rights will be sold by the Premier League, which will be looking to at least match the £3.5 billion it made last time, if not beat it. They have plenty of time to find a way to tackle this thorny issue and come up with a system that will be far more difficult to exploit without getting into trouble.

A major caveat of the ruling - which was decribed by the ECJ as "lose-lose" - was that the broadcast of the Premier League's branding and music used in broadcasts was still officially protected, which in theory still acts as a deterrent. However, no one is going to turn off the set whenever a branded graphic appears on screen, or press mute whenever Kasabian's 'Fire' plays in the moments before kick-off and play the same track on the jukebox to mimic the effect.

If this is to become the new standard by which ownership is determined, then expect to see the Premier League logo stamped in the corner of the screen for the whole 90 minutes and licensed music played during every replay in the not-too-distant future.

The Premier League and its broadcast partners will seek every opportunity they can to derive greater revenue from what is already a premium-priced product and put even stricter controls upon it. At the moment, Premier League managers are constantly briefed and reminded on how they have to call it the Barclays Premier League at all times. Soon they may have to complain a refereeing decision made by Specsavers' Martin Atkinson or praise the clean way that Frank Lampard connected with the Nike Seitiro official match ball as he struck a penalty.

Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson recently bemoaned the tight grip that broadcasters have on the game, saying: "Television is God at the moment."

Ultimately this case may have seen an individual win a battle, but it may kick off an unholy war from which there can only be one winner.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY: "Their striker was trying to get the ball. He was eager and it led to Tom's momentum going onto a full-blooded punch from (goalkeeper Ian Dunbavin). It was like double the force and the fact Tom didn't move when he hit the floor is a concern. The lads immediately knew something was wrong and waved the physio over straight away. The physio admitted it was scary. They didn't want to move Tom and we just had to wait for the ambulance to arrive, which obviously took some time." - Accrington Stanley manager John Coleman after defender Tom Bender was knocked unconscious in their Johnstone's Paint Trophy match with Tranmere. The match was abandoned, and Bender has since been given the all-clear after having a brain scan.

FOREIGN VIEW: Real Mallorca have appointed Joaquin Caparros as coach in place of Michael Laudrup who resigned last week. It is Caparros's first job since he lasted just five games at Swiss club Neuchatel Xamax under the chaotic ownership of Chechen billionaire Bulat Chagaev.

THAT TIME ALREADY?: Gareth Bale won the Wales Footballer of the Year award for the second year in a row. The 22-year-old Tottenham Hotspur star has en... Wait a second! Wales Footballer of the Year? In October? ED knows the summer is well and truly over now, but how is it really so late that end-of-year gongs are already being dished out? It's too late for the end of last season, and there are still three months left of 2011. Can someone help make sense of it all, please?

COMING UP: We put Manchester United defender Phil Jones under the microscope ahead of England's trip to Montenegro on Friday, Swansea manager Brendan Rodgers is the latest boss to take our quickfire '60 seconds' quiz, while Jim White and Andy Mitten will both be filing their latest blogs later today.

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