http://blogs.birminghampost.co.uk/lifestyle/

Going down

By Jon Bounds on May 5, 08 06:21 AM in Going Out

The thing that worries me most about Birmingham City getting relegated to the Championship is that I might have to go and watch them every week. Even an average Premier League team is on television enough to make it possible to see every goal and costly individual error without setting foot in the ground, but if we go down I might have to go down and that isn't going to be fun.

Up until a few years ago I had a season ticket in the main stand at St Andrews, and was in the habit of meeting the guys I went with around two hours before kick-off in The Sportsman on Garrison Lane. A few pints in a pub shorn of all its furniture to pack more people in, at least I assume that's what happened -- I never went in when there wasn't a game on so the pub could possibly just have had no chairs or tables at all.

A combination of Brady et al deciding to evict a section of the people that sat in the main stand, in favour of people who could pay for padded seats and access to a bar offering us much worse tickets as replacements, and the spiralling price of watching poor football meant that I stopped going to every game. Once out of the routine it's difficult to rouse yourself to go and watch on a cold Tuesday night, or a cold Sunday at four o'clock especially when the game is on TV. Much of my footballing budget was transferred in to watching England more regularly, and while I'm not sure the standard of play was any higher (and the frustration levels are much the same) at least I got to go to Frankfurt or Barcelona rather than Small Heath.

I still go to St Andrews and in truth it probably costs more to do it the way I do (£40 to watch us throw away a two goal lead against Liverpool, £40 to watch Agent Ridgewell put through his own net against the Villa), but this year I've seen almost every game home and away -- through a combination of pixelated internet feeds and darkened rooms in pubs.

In certain parts of London, and in almost every part of the North, it's difficult to find a pub that isn't showing football on a Saturday afternoon. A combination of Scandinavian, Chinese and other foolish countries tricked into buying into the Premier League hype means that there are enough satellite channels to feature even the most obscure games, and the technology to watch them in England has become easy enough to obtain. For one reason or another (tougher local licencing, less teams for people to follow making it not worth the hassle?) Birmingham doesn't have a rash of pubs showing dodgy football streams, here it's an experience a little akin (one assumes) to buying drugs: asking friends where you can get "the stuff", spending time in rooms with the curtains drawn in the middle of the afternoon, socialising only with other addicts and -- in the case of watching Blues this season - that hollow feeling and the knowledge that it isn't doing you any good.

You can get most games over the internet too, if you're willing to download dodgy looking 'peer to peer' applications and spend time trawling Russian web sites that reveal just before kick off whether you're going to be learning the Danish or Malaysian for "high, wide and not very handsome". This isn't the most reliable way of doing things, it took twenty minutes to find a channel showing the recent game against the Villa and when I finally got one it was a good few minutes behind the radio coverage - at times you could hear us concede one goal while still watching, and openly weeping (in a manly way) about, the last.

Even the tiger economies of the far-east haven't been merchandised into enough submission that they'll consider Birmingham's trip to Swansea (and the inevitable Sunday 12 noon kick off) worthy of coverage, so it'll be BBC WM, occasional mentions by Jeff Stelling, and going to the game if you want to see what's going on.

Although it's strictly illegal to show games beamed via other countries, it's inevitable that people will do it -- football wants to reap the benefits of the global economy, it prays to the gods of the free market and as such will have to accept the free movement of its goods. As much as they are attempting to protect their rights, you feel that the days of being able to legally pay for whatever game you want to watch aren't far away. It will come with the end of collective bargaining for TV deals, and it might not be good for the game but so little is these days that it's doubtful those considerations will stop it.

But these, for the next year at least, are likely to be Villa's (and Albion's -- congratulations Baggies) problems -- and doesn't David Gold look silly now having come out so strongly in favour of the 39th game plan. If blues are relegated then they will have more lost revenue to worry about that a few people watching the game with a pint rather than a balti pie and a programme.

There are refreshing things about the Championship though, most games will be at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon, the players won't have to do some daft 'handshake crocodile' to a turgid theme tune, and most of all Blues fans may reasonably expect to win games. You know, it might not be so bad after all, how much is a season ticket again?

2 Comments

b20villa said:

All I can say is that anyone who supports Birmingham City has my deepest sympathy.

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