Sky, Sky Sports News, Soccer Saturday, Jeff Stelling, Chris Fucking Kamara. If there’s a nexus point for all the fuckwittery, hyperbole, vulgarity and utterly shit bantz engendered by modern football it’s these quite dreadful things. As if to amplify and clarify just how awful, they’re all at the centre of a raging conflagration of football betting. If I were to line up the things I hate most about the United Kingdom most of these things would feature – and that was before this genuinely devastating Super Boost advert.
I parted ways with football 15 years ago, just aghast at the horribleness of it all. When Newcastle sacked Bobby Robson – one of football’s finest for several decades and a truly great bloke to boot – that was it for me: a totem of how thuggish, stupid, greedy and simply divorced from reality the whole thing had become. Very little I’ve seen since – perhaps apart from the slight blip of the 2018 England Word Cup team appearing to be decent human beings – has convinced me that I’ve ever been wrong.
Football has been bought. Pride in your town / city or conurbation of choice has been bought. The family memories forged through football – bought. Very rich people who don’t live in this country and couldn’t give a fuck about your club – which they have bought, or its players, which they have also bought – own all that stuff now. They are prepared to sell little snippets of it back to you at vastly inflated prices. And that is the relationship you now have with football, whether you know it or not.
Where best is this evidenced? You might think the hilarious prices of season tickets, the terrible food and drink available at matchdays, for which you need to remortgage your home, or the eye-watering mark-up on replica shirts. Or you might look at how much a subscription to Sky costs and think it’s there. But no. The most obvious example of how football has been sold is in how closely intertwined the football, media and betting industries have become is in Sky Bet and this Super Boost advert.
If you like football you will almost certainly have a Sky subscription. With that subscription you basically have a 24-hour Jeff Stelling channel. In fact it’s only a matter of time before Stelling is wired up with seven Go-Pros so he can loudly comment on whatever mundane events are happening around him at any given time. Enjoying his breakfast, giving his wife some flowers or just having his first dump of the day.
And now he’s all over the telly urging you to piss whatever cash you still have into some depressing little Sky Bet app on your expensive smartphone that only exists to rob you of money. Well, that and sit on your smartphone quietly feeding back information about your smartphone use to its evil masters anyway.
Where exactly does Sky Sports end and Sky Bet begin? Is there any real difference between them? And what is Jeff Stelling’s job now – as an anchor on coverage of football or a shill for betting companies? Having Stelling as the face of both seems deeply problematic, a bit like your gynaecologist trying to set you up with prostitutes.
Unconvinced? Here’s a tweet from Sky Bet where Stelling refers to the Soccer Saturday Price Boost. Sky Bet? Sky Sports? Is there any difference?
— Sky Bet (@SkyBet) October 16, 2015
The reason this is so concerning – and why it’s astonishing that it’s even allowed – are the alarming rates of gambling addiction in the UK, a leader in the western world in entwining sport and betting so ferociously.
And Stelling, for all that I dislike what he does and stands for, is a consummate broadcaster. A man who engenders trust, respect, attention. The perfect man, in other words, to encourage you to gamble.
To see him clapping and shouting into your face – like something from 1984 only worse – is to understand how indistinguishable sports are from online betting. The football-chant-like mantra; the handclap; the repetition. The insidious suggestion that football amounts to nothing unless you bet on it.
And I hope that somewhere on the A19 in his plush, expensive car, Jeff Stelling occasionally pulls over onto the hard shoulder and sits, dabbing the occasional silent tear away with his Hartlepool United scarf, thinking about what he’s done.