Band Thom Gibbs
There are many ways to enjoy football. Play it, analyze the tactics, use it as a conduit to release the immense sadness you’ve kept bottled up inside. For some, the main call is transfers and today is Christmas every two years. People used to plan a day around the transfer deadline.
Okay, no “people” per se, more students. And not “plan a day” so much as “design a drinking game”. Now that would be crazy. No one is using precious annual leave on the hazard of confirmation that Anthony Martial arrived at Sevilla before his loan spell started. A good deadline gets you a game-changing deal: Robinho to City, Fernando Torres to Chelsea, Andy Carroll to Liverpool.
These moments, all over a decade and two from the same year, do a lot of work in the public imagination. As the digital clock stopped at midnight at this time last year, the best Sky Sports could offer was Ainsley Maitland-Niles joining West Brom. At this rate, a generation will babble to their grandchildren about how great it all once was.
“Everyone was wearing a yellow tie and Harry Redknapp was talking out of his car window and then Peter Odemwingie came along!” Yes, grandfather, of course. Wouldn’t you like a nap? Or a trip to that pretty clinic in Switzerland? A big part of the fun was the gangs of youngsters who almost certainly should have been in school huddled around reporters outside stadiums. Of course, with rowdy crowds and live TV, it’s only a matter of time before someone assails a reporter’s ear with a purple sex machine.
A year after that incident, with reporters wisely placed away from the horrifying mainstream, the rot had clearly set in. “Thierry, it’s the deadline, are you going to stay another hour?” one of Sky Sports’ enthusiastic presenters asked his new French pundit in 2015. He deadpanned, “Have I got a choice?” It took another two years for deposed Sky Sports king Richard Keys to decisively pop the lid off. “So the window is ‘slamming’ today,” he told his Twitter followers. “The truth is that it just ‘closes’.” Well done Richard, my son is crying now. Attractive.
It’s tempting to think of Deadline Day as a modern juggernaut, Abide With Me’s final Cup broadcast for the Ultimate Team generation. In truth, it’s now just another part of football that’s now more fun on your Xbox. When playing Fifa 22, your controller vibrates over the hours. It’s immediately more exciting than Callum Chambers going to Villa.
Sky Sports now places its journalists outside the training grounds, in cul-de-sacs or in parts away from its Isleworth bunker. The move indoors was fatal as the stadium chorus disturbing reporters provided a distraction when nothing was happening. Jim White’s defenestration last year also deprived his friend of the day.
Now Sky is left with a weird and sterile mix of serious analysis and knocabout fun. With just 45 minutes left on the clock last August, Paul Merson and Kris Boyd were on a large semi-circular sofa, trapped in a hellish joke zone / chill zone making jokes about Merse being the Arsenal director of football with Tony Adams. The broadcaster’s hand is forced here as these times have become calmer. The clubs are mostly too savvy for the cart races of years past, as are the supporters.
When Arsenal completed the signing of Mesut Ozil in 2013, there was almost a bank holiday vibe at Ashburton Grove. How did it finally go? The more we consume, the more we consume the hangover of a deadline day binge. This year, however, a ray of hope. The mood at Everton is livid, Spurs seem compelled to appease Antonio Conte, Newcastle have billions burning a hole in their pockets. Anger, desperation and fresh cash are a terrible combination for high-stakes decision-making, but could provide the recipe for an entertaining day on TV. Enjoy it, but don’t mention the downside of a football culture so desperately titillated by transfers.
If you want to dig deeper into this, ask a Derby fan.