When I promised my 13-year-old son, Charlie, that we would go to as many QPR games as possible in 2021-22 to make up for not going to any last season, I hadn’t anticipated that the match schedule would be in a constant state of flux thanks to the capricious, all-powerful tyrant that is Sky Sports. It makes trying to plan your life more than a few weeks ahead impossible.
For instance, I booked an eye-wateringly expensive three-day break for the whole family in Margate from 27 to 30 December, meaning we would be in London to watch the Boxing Day fixture against Bournemouth at home and miss only one game on 29 December. But at the last minute Sky Sports has decided it would like to televise the Bournemouth game and insisted that it be moved to 27 December so it won’t clash with the Premier League games on Boxing Day. The upshot is that I’m now going to have to cancel the holiday or miss two games.
It was a similar story with our forthcoming game against Derby. Originally scheduled for 3 p.m. on a Saturday at Pride Park, I bought return train tickets for my two sons and me. Then Sky Sports decided it wanted to show that game, so it had to be moved to Monday night. Not only did I lose the cost of the train tickets, but I also had to break it to Charlie that we wouldn’t be going to that match after all because it’s now on a school night.
Sky Sports was quick to jump on the Black Lives Matter bandwagon last year, issuing a statement of support and pinning BLM badges to all its presenters. What about the lives of 13-year-old QPR fans — or football fans in general? Don’t they matter? Thanks to the scheduling wizards at Sky, our next game to be played at 3 p.m. on a Saturday — home or away — isn’t until 18 December.
You may think no violin is small enough to convey your pity for me, but for the hardcore supporters who try to go to every game these last-minute changes can be costly — and they aren’t all prawn-sandwich-eaters like me. To give just one example, our last home game, which was against Nottingham Forest, was originally due to be played on Saturday, but thanks to Sky Sports it was moved to 7.45 p.m. last Friday. For the travelling support, that meant trying to change their train tickets, losing their booking fees in the process, and knocking off work early.
Mercifully, East Midlands Trains said it would hold the 22.30 from King’s Cross so the Forest fans could get home without having to shell out for a hotel — but then they forgot to do it. Little wonder that in the middle of the game, which was being broadcast live, the visiting fans started an anti-Sky chant peppered with expletives. In a rare moment of unanimity, the QPR supporters joined in.
In one sense, I suppose, we’ve brought this on ourselves. There are 24 teams in the Championship, but Sky Sports chooses about half a dozen each season and decides to focus on their games to the exclusion of most of the others. This time, it’s our turn, along with West Brom, Fulham, Sheffield United and Bournemouth. By Christmas, Sky will have televised 15 of our 23 matches. We could tell ourselves it’s because we’re a decent promotional prospect, and no doubt that’s part of it. At one stage, we’d scored more goals than anyone else in the league. But it’s also because we’re second from top in another, less distinguished table — that of the number of goals conceded. The bottom line is you’re more likely to see goals scored at either end watching QPR than any other team in the Championship. That’s entertainment, as far as Sky’s concerned.
Maybe I shouldn’t complain. I’m a Sky subscriber so if I can’t make it to an away fixture, chances are I’ll be able to watch the game on telly. And all this interest makes it feel as if your team is doing really well, even if we’re currently sitting eighth in the table. We scraped into the Premier League in the 2014-15 season and did so badly that our games were nearly always shown last on Match of the Day. Nothing like that to give you a sense of impending doom and, sure enough, we finished bottom of the table. My heart goes out to Norwich fans, currently suffering a similar fate. Sky Sports is like a femme fatale, lavishing you with attention, telling you to dream big, then looking on with sardonic amusement as you come a cropper in the big leagues.
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