Having just watched another 90 minutes of entertaining play-off football between Leicester City and Cardiff City I find myself once again angered by the tone of the coverage from Sky Sports.
Why they feel the need to constantly remind us that the teams on show are not as good as the top Premier League ones is beyond me. Perhaps they believe that there are people out there who only started watching football in 1992; as if the existence of the other 72 professional clubs has a sole purpose to provide a structure of promotion and relegation that eventually leads to the Premiership.
This is not to say that fans of Football League clubs should have reason to resent Sky Sports. Their live coverage of the play-offs and league games is an excellent option for both fans and neutrals interested in the outcome of these games; just as live Premiership football gives us the opportunity to watch some of the best players in the world week-in week-out. Instead, the issue is the tone used by commentators and pundits when covering league football. How often does one hear a player described as ‘very effective at this level’?
Robert Earnshaw has perhaps been one of the most frequent victims of this label, one of a number of players who aren’t good enough for the Premiership. This is undoubtedly true, he has had opportunities in the top flight and not quite imposed himself, but the very culture that Sky Sports and the Premiership itself creates means that players like Earnshaw, and there are many of them, are frequently underappreciated for their excellence in the Football League because of their inability to shine at the highest level.
If you ask a fan of any club for which players like Robert Earnshaw, Gavin Mahon or Graham Kavanagh have played then you will hear glowing reports as to their consistence and quality. The journeyman footballer evokes images of hard working yet not particularly gifted players moving from club to club in the lower echelons of English football.
This is often not the case and one only has to look at a player like Nicky Forster to highlight the enduring quality of some players. At 36 years of age he has scored 40 goals in 98 games for Brighton, an outstanding achievement from a player who has averaged a goal every three games over a 15 year professional career. This feat has been achieved with a natural talent the like of which so many fans would die for, and there are very few, if any, professional footballers who are where they are as a result of hard work alone.
I recently heard a commentator on Sky Sports describe volleying as a ‘difficult technique to master’ after a player ballooned the ball into the stands from just inside the area. This may be the case for 15 year olds learning the game but for professional footballers earning in excess of £200,000 a year it is just patronising. If a Premiership footballer misses an easy chance then commentators are quick to criticise and the same should be true when one of the many quality players in the Football League does the same.
Indeed, this is all many of us would ask for, to be allowed to watch any televised game for what it is without the constant references to the Premiership. There are of course some outstanding matches played throughout the course of the Premiership season, yet there are also some terrible ones.
Give any avid football fan the choice between a dull, meaningless mid-table Premiership contest and an important, season-defining game in any one of the other professional leagues and they will choose the latter.
This is because we are fans of the game first and foremost, beyond any team or player loyalties, and it is the drama and excitement of it that keeps us watching.
Every so often, Sky could do with acknowledging this and showing us that they are football fans instead of Premiership fans.