I have discovered a new vice. Like all vices it will pall soon enough, but right now I’m really rather taken. It’s the Champions League round-up programme on BT/ESPN, and it allows you to watch all the matches at the same time. But only the sexy bits.
So you go from goal to goal to goal, taking in the occasional missed penalty and red card. None of the dull bits like one player passing to another, none of the stuff of sustained attack and determined defence, none of the narrative that allows a single player to stand out, none of those momentum shifts that can be traced back to a single, apparently trivial incident.
There’s no pattern to what you see, no understanding to be reached. There’s no logic to the events, and for that matter, no sudden drastic break in the logic when a game turns on a sixpence. It’s a cake that’s all cherries… so it’s no cake at all.
And it occurred to me, as I watched yet another dizzying swoop from one crisis to another crisis 400 miles away, that it was a lot like watching a wildlife documentary. Nothing but kills and copulations: action all the way.
I have spent hours with lions in the wild. Literally hours. Literally hundreds of hours. And in all that time I’ve seen maybe half-dozen kills and one copulation. Well, if you sit through 90 minutes of a football match, you may see only one goal, or none.
Perhaps they should make a real-time documentary about lions across, say, 24 hours. Of that perhaps 19 hours would be devoted to sleep. A fair bit more would be given to apparently aimless walking about. Some would be about fruitless stalking, never even getting close.
Footballers aren’t trying to entertain you, they’re trying to win a football match. Wild animals aren’t there to put on a show: they’re getting on with their lives. But sometimes, just sometimes, a human can have the privilege of breathing the same air for a while.
And that’s richer than all the wildlife television ever broadcast. Television can be great — and the best thing it can do is lead you to the real thing. The worst it can do is to create an expectation that the wild world is all goals and red cards. But it’s not. It much better than that…