Category Archives: Sports

Where’s Sky Sports when you need it?

There’s something slightly strange about watching football on television in the United States. For a start, you have to tune into a station called the Fox Soccer Channel. I’ve no idea what this ‘soccer’ thing is, but if anybody has got any insight, do let me know. Nevertheless, if you’re separated from your beloved team by a matter of a few thousand miles, this is the place you have to turn.

I think it’s fair to say that the Fox Soccer Channel isn’t one of the most watched channels on American cable. On Time Warner Cable, it’s down at position 124. In other words, there are 123 channels considered more important than FSC – including the Speed Channel, which is currently showing a programme called ‘Unique Whips’. Mainstream stuff, I’m sure…

The relatively low viewership is particularly evident in the advertisingcommercials that appear around key games. Most of the adverts have been shot on a budget that wouldn’t even buy you a coffee in Starbucks, and I’ve seen better production values in kindergarten art classes. And that’s the good ones.

What’s most alarming though is the nature of the products being advertised. Tuning in yesterday to watch Manchester United’s second half demolition of Newcastle, it was like being forced to sit through the 3- 4am slot on one of QVC’s less successful competitors. Merely being marginally impressed by one of the products on offer would be enough for family members to have you committed. I daren’t even think about the consequences of actually making a purchase.

Among the items being sold were the Teeter Hang Up, a device that hangs you upside down by your ankles so that you’ve got gravity on your side when you’re doing your exercise. It looked ridiculous on the TV, but you’ve got to hand it to the website for their attempt to sell it:

“Used sensibly, inversion is extremely beneficial, and no more dangerous than many other popular and widely practiced fitness activities.”

No more dangerous than other widely practiced activities? Such as boxing blindfolded, presumably.

Also on offer was the Riddex digital pest repeller which apparently “eliminates rodents automatically”. Ignoring the sheer bravado of the product claim for a moment, I was particularly taken by the customer testimonial of one old lady (who was in no way an actress), who claimed:

“Riddex just makes me happy”

After all, who needs love or money when you’ve got a digital pest repeller?

My absolute favourite though was the Forearm Forklifts, a device to help you lift heavy furniture or equipment with the minimum of effort. I’d like to report that the Forearm Forklift is a small and highly mobile lifting device. It’s not. It’s a couple of plastic straps that you and a mate put on your arm to help lever your sofa into the air. They’re selling it for $20 if ever you’re seized by a desire to purchase something that cost 56 cents to manufacture.

Impressively, Fox Soccer Channel doesn’t interrupt the match to play commercials. Sadly that means that there’s no expert analysis at half time, just constant adverts for sleeping aids, home decorating aids and dodgy exercise devices. Clearly advertisers believe that the average football fan is a lazy couch potato whose general untidiness leads to armies of rats invading his (or her) messy pit.

It’s amazing how accurately consumers can be targeted these days, isn’t it?

Prancing on ice

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I spent last night at a big sporting event, supporting a team of red devils who came from two goals down to win 4-2 with a sparkling performance in the last thirty minutes of the game. Nothing odd in that – after all, I’ve been supporting Manchester United for years. But yesterday the green grassy carpet of the Theatre of Dreams was replaced by freezing glassy ice for the NHL clash between the New Jersey Devils and the Dallas Stars.

Given that it was end-to-end stuff, and the match was only finally settled with sixteen seconds to go, I really couldn’t complain about my introduction to major league sport American-style. But I couldn’t help but compare and contrast the big American sporting showpieces with the less glitzy but still highly-charged British football occasions. Particular observations are as follows:

• The city of Newark pledged $210 million to get the Devils to move a few miles down the road to this purpose-built venue, in a bid to regenerate the area. Nevertheless, the 17,625-seater stadium couldn’t have been more than half full. Interestingly the official attendance was placed at well over 13,000, so the new stadium counting systems can’t quite be working yet. The city paid for the stadium, yet nobody goes. Ring any bells, Manchester City fans?

• With low crowds and little gathering of crowds in pubs and bars in the run-up to the game, singing and chanting a la English football is practically non-existent. The team rely on a Hammond-esque organ and organist to whip the crowd into anything above a whimper. The home supporters reserve their one catchy chant to bait local rivals the New York Rangers, with a witty (if close to the bone, for America) “Rangers suck, Devils swallow.”

• Half time or interval entertainment is universally derided the world over, clearly. Four contestants last night were asked to stand on the half way line and put a puck through a tiny hole in the goal. Every single one was booed off the rink for their abject failures.

• You can have periods during an ice hockey match when, due to penalties, one side will be playing with three outfield players to their opponents five. It’s the equivalent of United being forced to play a full strength Liverpool for a short time without John O’Shea, Darren Fletcher, Louis Saha and Mickey Silvestre. Actually, come to think about it…

• As well as being able to drink at your seats, you can purchase all manner of paraphernalia on the squeaky-clean inner concourses of the stadium. I swear though that for as long as I follow competitive sport in stadiums around the world, I will never again be greeted with the retail opportunity that I witnessed last night. I mean, I have no problem with cigars, it’s just that I don’t know if seeing old men roll them on their legs and offer them for sale should necessarily be part of the big sporting occasion, that’s all.

• Everything is so clean. I know this is a new stadium, but my sense is that it’s the same in stadiums all over. For a start, every man seems to urinate in receptacles that were designed for, well, urinating in. That CAN’T be right, can it??

You can’t help but admire ice hockey and its players though. They play with a puck that flies at around 100mph, they get battered into the barriers on a regular basis, and they’re always seconds away from a serious injury. It may not quite match the intensity of a clash of the ‘soccer’ titans, but I’d definitely go back again. Just don’t make me take the half-time shot, OK?

Sporting chance

Apparently the BBC have just signed a deal to televise the next two Super Bowls on free-to-air television. Channel 4 and Channel 5 (or ‘five’, as I seem to remember we’re told to call it) have both televised the Super Bowl before, but could this be a sign that Brits are about to take America’s national game to its collective bosom. Or grant it a quick roll in the hay, at the very least?

Last weekend saw the start of the new season of gridiron (I’m sure it’s only the British who use this tag, as some kind of bitter revenge for the American obsession with calling our national game ‘soccer’), and New York Giants and Jets fans are already pretty much writing off their teams’ chances after opening weekend defeats.

It’s a shame that the Giants (or any of the New York sports teams) aren’t looking like being a force this year. Not just because it would have been good to bask in the happy glow that victorious (American) football, baseball, ice hockey or basketball teams bring to their home cities. But also because this season the Giants will be travelling to the UK for the first ever regular season NFL game outside America, when they take on the Miami Dolphins at Wembley Stadium.

North London actually seems like a pretty good place for the Giants to be playing, given that they’re the NFL’s equivalent of Tottenham Hotspur – a side that has had success in the past, and always threatens to do pretty well, but in the end proves to be little more than a bitter disappointment.

Anyway, New York can’t exactly be said to be a hotbed of sporting success at the moment. The Rangers haven’t won ice hockey’s Stanley Cup since 1994, with the night they won it weirdly coinciding with my first night ever in the United States. The Yankees may be responsible for more baseball caps than Disney, but they still haven’t held the ‘World’ Series since 2000. Although admittedly they did beat the New York Mets to win it.

As for basketball, well the Knicks last won the NBA Finals in 1973, and haven’t even made the finals for eight seasons. I wasn’t even born when the Knicks last won their championship. Even New Jersey have been in the finals more recently than the Knicks. Twice.

With the Giants, you have to go back to 1991 to find their last win in the Super Bowl. That’s a long time for a city the size of New York to have to wait for the prize they desire the most.

Still, however long the wait goes on to win the ultimate title, it’s always comforting to know that Liverpool have waited longer, eh?