THERE are only a handful of countries in the world where you will not be able to legally watch Cristiano Ronaldo’s Manchester United comeback live on TV this Saturday.
These include Afghanistan, North Korea… and Great Britain.
This is due to a blackout on matches being screened here between 2.45-5.15pm on Saturday afternoons, to keep the traditional 3pm kick-off time sacrosanct.
And given that United’s home match with Newcastle was not selected for live coverage by Sky or BT — a decision made before Ronaldo’s return to Old Trafford was mooted — you would have to travel abroad or hunt the black market to watch the match on telly.
While those living under the Taliban might have other priorities and while Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un can find a pirate stream, a United fan in Surrey will be denied the opportunity to watch this global icon’s second debut, which is open to a United supporter in Saudi Arabia or Sudan.
What an antiquated load of tosh, eh? Who makes these rules, Barney the Dinosaur?
Are we still pining for the days of classified results with James Alexander Gordon, the vidiprinter and the dividend forecast on Grandstand?
Come on, get with the times, grandad, eh? Well, actually, no.
The Saturday afternoon blackout is a wonderful little museum piece and we should cherish it while it lasts — which may not be much longer.
It proves that football’s TV paymasters do not entirely run the show just yet.
It shows that match-going supporters — so often overlooked, over-charged and taken for mugs — still have some sort of status.
The 3pm Saturday kick-off is perfect for those fans who form the boisterous backdrop to any match — those who, we are frequently told, football is nothing without.
It allows away supporters to travel the length of the country and back in a day and it allows home fans a Saturday morning lie-in and a Saturday night out too.
The broadcast blackout also offers protection to the three divisions of the Football League and the non-league pyramid beneath it — all supported with a volume and level of passion unique in world football.
On Saturday, I was one of 6,037 paying punters at Southend United’s 2-2 National League draw against Wrexham — one of four gates in excess of 5,000 in the fifth tier of English football.
They were queuing round the block close to kick-off, even at a club which had just been relegated from the Football League after 101 years.
And with a strong travelling support making the 450-mile round trip from North Wales to the Essex coast, there was a cracking atmosphere to watch a dramatic, high-tempo game with moments of genuine quality.
You would not find such a spectacle, at a football match five levels down, anywhere else on the planet — and Wrexham even have the pulling power to have been bought out by Hollywood actors Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney.
From the sound of them, most of those at Roots Hall on Saturday were fervent enough about their own clubs not to consider giving their team a miss next weekend so they could tune in to watch Ronaldo’s return, even had that option been available.
But, especially after the pandemic, most lower-league clubs survive on a shoestring — with every gate receipt vital.
And, following the European Super League debacle, the retention of the Saturday afternoon blackout is an important sign of solidarity with the lesser reaches of football’s pyramid.
During a year of behind-closed-doors football, those with Sky and BT subscriptions — still very much a minority — grew accustomed to being able to watch whichever Premier League match they wanted, due to staggered kick-off times.
Yet even when grounds were empty, few people binge-watched, with domestic viewing figures down match-by-match.
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Some of that was due to a significant amount of people zoning out of football with canned crowd noise.
Many of those would have been season-ticket holders and hardcore away supporters, who believe the experience of ‘being there’ is everything and that football without atmosphere is no spectacle at all.
The 76,000 lucky enough to be at Old Trafford will experience a day to remember, as one of football’s all-time greats returns ‘home’ after a 12-year hiatus.
And they will doubtless enjoy the oddity of a 3pm Saturday kick-off at the Theatre of Dreams.
The rest will have to follow Jeff and the boys on Soccer Saturday, or tune into a radio — ideally an old-school crackling one — or go to watch their local team instead.
And, unusually, Ronaldo’s debut is not the only key fixture to kick off at 3pm this Saturday.
Arsenal’s intriguing bottom-of-the-table clash with Norwich and the visit of champions Manchester City to FA Cup holders Leicester are also in the old time slot.
So this will be a Throwback Saturday. A welcome change from ‘Super Sunday’.
We should treasure it before the TV companies call every single shot.
LUK AT PROFIT
AN extraordinary story of the summer transfer window is Chelsea made a £37million profit — yet still managed to strengthen.
While Arsenal were spaffing more than £120million on players of questionable quality, the European champions were displaying a peculiar kind of genius.
They signed Romelu Lukaku to fill their one major hole up front yet raised £120m through selling Tammy Abraham, Marc Guehi, Fikayo Tomori, Kurt Zouma, Davide Zappacosta and Victor Moses.
Sure, this was all built on the wealth of Roman Abramovich allowing Blues to stockpile talent and loan out players extensively to boost their values.
But not too many clubs have won the title after making a transfer profit the previous summer.
Chelsea are very capable of doing just that.
ONE of the strange aspects of a rather feverish night in Budapest on Thursday was the prolonged round of mutual applause by the Hungarian team and the missile-throwing black-shirted ultras at the Puskas Stadium after the final whistle.
If they celebrate a 4-0 home defeat by England like that, then how did Hungary mark Sunday’s 1-0 defeat by Albania?
With an open-top bus parade?
MY mate started an excellent bar-room debate on social media by claiming that, if Gareth Southgate’s current England squad were a Premier League club, they would be title favourites.
Given Manchester City have Grealish, Sterling, Foden, Stones and Walker, and that Pep Guardiola would have loved to sign Kane and Maguire, I make him right.
And you couldn’t have said that any time in the previous 15 years, at least.
WORLD OF PAIN
THE idea of a World Cup every two years, like staging Christmas Day twice a year, is a terrible one.
Arsene Wenger, Fifa’s head of global development, would have hated the idea in his Arsenal time, when he moaned about player burnout.
But the gamekeepers usually forget their poaching days.
OFF THE BAT
ON the first day of a compelling Test series against India, The Sun’s esteemed John Etheridge called this the “worst England batting line-up in living memory”.
Given that Ethers’ living memory goes back further than most in the press box, this was quite a claim.
But England’s final-day capitulation at The Oval yesterday proved our doyen right, as usual.
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