The other night I went to the pub to watch the Brighton-Watford game on TV. It was quiet in there – it was a Monday night, after all – but the pub, not my preferred local it has to be said, had Sky and so was showing the match (it also had Deuchar’s IPA on tap – nice). As I’ve come to expect when going to the pub to watch the footie, I was the only Watford supporter, and the only other blokes who were paying much attention were Brighton fans.
The high point of the game was Fernando Forestieri’s shot getting cleared from what appeared to be behind the line. But the ref and the linesman didn’t spot it, so play continued and it wasn’t long before Brighton equalised at the other end. Gianfranco Zola was fuming, as no doubt were the many Watford fans who’d travelled down to the south coast of a weekday evening.
I was not so angry. This was mainly because, although the TV replay from an angle clearly showed that the ball had crossed the line, the verdict according to the camera directly above the goal showed that the ball hadn’t crossed the line – not so much a case of the camera never lying but of different cameras, like different eye-witnesses, seeing slightly different pictures of the same event. By watching the game on Sky, I got to see these images mere seconds after the event, and on that evidence, I rapidly concluded that, had the relevant technology been in place (as it is in the Premier League and in international matches), the goal wouldn’t have been given.
So on one level, it could be argued that I had a better match-watching experience than those who went to the game. But I was still a little jealous of the fans in the ground – for in my view, watching the game in a pub is a poor substitute to actually being there (especially when it’s an away game, getting to which can be an adventure in itself). It’s a question of atmosphere – at the match, you’re with several thousand fellow-supporters, and for ninety minutes you’re all together in a shared experience whatever the weather. You can shout, swear, cheer, groan and even (yes, even if you’re a grown man) cry a little, depending on what happens on the pitch. That shared communal experience is a key part of what watching football, or any other team sport for that matter, is all about.
The most recent football match I have been to in person was the Barnet-Wrexham game at the former’s new ground in Edgware last month. I do not claim to be a Barnet fan – I have supported Watford since I was seven years old, and I feel that fans of Premier League clubs who say they support Barnet as a ‘second team’ are being mildly patronising. But I do occasionally take in a Barnet match, and I really enjoyed the matchday experience at the Wrexham game (to sum things up quickly – Barnet went ahead early, spent most of the rest of the game trying to defend their 1-0 lead only to concede a goal with a few minutes left on the clock. Oh, and there were three sendings-off – all in the last five minutes).That experience was more fun than sitting in a not-very-crowded pub watching Watford draw 1-1 away to Brighton.
My conclusion is that watching the game on Sky is all very well, but being there is better.