Run Forrest the fans are returning

Published on 22nd June 2020
Author George Dodds

Rather like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates you never know quite what to expect when you tune into Premier Sports or its sibling Freesports.

That’s especially true if during these difficult times you’re planning a night in with Polish speedway.

If Sky Sports is the Rolls Royce of British sports broadcasting, BT Sports the Bugatti and Eurosport a family-friendly SUV then Premier is the market’s Robin Reliant.

The 007 edition. With a rip in its vinyl roof and much of the decal flapping in the wind after losing its stickiness. It will probably get you where you planned in the end but there’s a slightly less than evens’ chance the steering will fail and you’ll end up on its roof … or in a ditch.

Premier’s announcement that it would be showing all this season’s Ekstraliga meetings live on its main channel with a Friday tea-time fixture thrown in on the Free-to-air Freesports was generally well received by the speedway’s twitterati.

As they say, the honeymoon period didn’t last long.

I’m too far down the income pecking order to pay a TV subscription for anything other than the BBC and Channel 4 so my interest was always going to be what was shown on Freesports.

A useful Facebook link from local hero Leon Flint meant that I watched Robert Lambert’s one-man show for Rybnik at home to Stal Gorzow via Russian TV. Linguistically challenged as I am I couldn’t say for certain whether I watched it in Russian or Polish but I can tell you that Eastern European for a reserve being flung high into the air after clipping a back wheel and then being collected by his tumbling machine as he hits the air fence at something akin to Mach II is: “Ay, Ay, Ay”. Clearly a summa cum laude graduate of the Mike Hunter Commentary Academy.

As it happens it seems that I was no less in the dark than those watching Premier’s version.

I accept that commentating from a TV screen hundreds, even thousands of miles, away from where an event is being held holds some challenges.

But, really?

Sometimes I wonder if the Premier has linked-up with the psychology department of its local university. Those minding their own business and simply walking down a venerable corridor see a door marked “TV auditions” open.

“Sit down in front of this TV screen and just tell us what you see,” is the only instruction. Don’t worry about advert breaks., we’ll randomly chuck them in where we see fit – usually mid-sentence if you actually find anything interesting to say.

“If you dry up just read out some tweets”.

“Hi, I’m Baz/Tracy/Tarquin/Stella/Norman/John Smith from Coventry/Belle Vue/Reading/Somerset/HMP Acklington/Dewsbury. Good luck to the Bees/Bulldogs/Rebels/Bandits/Tigers/Rams on Saturday/Wednesday/Tuesday night”.

Now the weather has not been kind to those manning the Premier control room but their performance leaves, to say the least, room for improvement.

TV has come a long way from the potter’s wheel, Andy Pandy and grainy black and white footage.

Rather impressively during Newcastle United’s canter to victory over Sheffield at an empty St James’ Park on Sunday, Sky, which made the match available free-to-air via its Pick channel, managed to include a hearty rendition of the Blaydon Races in a pretty effective faked crowd noise track.

Even the much lamented Live TV with its topless darts, bouncing dwarf weatherman and Tiffany’s Big City Tips at the turn of the century had the ability to scroll live news and current information along the bottom of a screen.

Premier is seemingly incapable of that let alone indulging in the more advanced technology of keeping its EPG and IPGs (Electronic/Interactive Programme Guide) updated of changes so what you get by pushing the remote’s i button bears some resemblance to what you are actually watching.

Because my forays to Freesports on Friday tea-time and Sunday afternoon could have used some explanation.

Friday’s “Live Polish Speedway” turned out not to be Grudziadz against Rybnik but a bunch of bearded blokes playing poor quality cricket in the middle of a field in what I now believe to be somewhere in Sweden, possibly around Stockholm. A little research (try it some time Premier Sports) uncovered that it was in fact the latest round of the Euro Cricket Dream 11 Series.

Now it may surprise you to know that Sweden has 3,000 registered cricketers and a four division national league featuring 42 teams. Or you may not care.

Hoping to catch the back end of the previous Sunday’s repeat speedway, rather than the repeat of Friday’s event which was postponed due to bad weather – all information garnered from sources other than Premier or Free Sports – I stumbled upon the American Ultimate Disc League finals series.

It turns out that seven-a-side Frisbee (presumably not in the title due to licensing and copyright issues) has 25 professional teams in America and Canada and a TV deal with Fox. There’s a women’s league and the sports international presence is overseen by the World Flying Disc Federation. Gob suitably smacked, transition into monkey’s uncle well underway.

Later I flicked back to Freesports looking to catch their Serie A round-up.

True to form what was on the EPG wasn’t what was on the screen.

Instead there was Polish sport. It was live. Unfortunately, it wasn’t Ekstraliga but Ekstraklasa – I wonder if there’s a Polish sports newspaper called Ekstra, Ekstra read all about it.

Professional Polish football as it happens but it looked as if the cardboard cut-outs in the sparsely covered stands were moving. A bit like the Stadium of Light on a regular matchday it was hard to tell at first if they were fake or alive.

Could have been a typically dodgy Freesports’ feed but it turns out that Polish football has been given the go-ahead to allow supporters into the stadiums for last week’s round of fixtures – Hungary did it a few weeks ago and New Zealand’s Super Rugby has been playing to full houses for a fortnight.

In Polish football capacity is restricted to around 25 per cent – roughly 10,000 – no real problem for a league which often attracts a fraction of that at games in normal circumstances.

Tickets can only be bought online and in advance and there is mandatory ID checks and disinfection before entering the ground.

Green shoots perhaps but welcome, nonetheless.

And to think I only know this because of Freesports. Surely the world’s greatest sports channel.

Finally in these trying time I’d like to lighten the mood and share one of my favourite jokes. First heard in Mr Snelson’s economics class at Doncaster Grammar School 1980ish.

“The world is made up of 10 types of people. Those who understand binary and those who don’t”.

Four decades on and it still cracks me up.

George Dodds
George Dodds

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