Ben Harvey – Every Cloud has a silver lining

Well, those ghastly little shoplifters, the Croatians, have done us in quite soundly. Having beaten us by one little goal they’ve deprived England of a place in Euro2008, effectively cancelling the bi-yearly festival of football & alcohol-abuse that graces this green & pleasant land. We’ll have to wait for the World Cup in 2010 until we can next have at crack at any tournament worth bothering with.

2010! Wasn’t that the year we were all meant to be living in giant greenhouses on the moon? Wasn’t that the year that Blade Runner was set it…? How time flies. Anyway, all of this is fantastic news. Fantastic news.

It is. It’s great. Obviously we feel a little gutted now, and, yes, there is the chance that the debacle at Wembley last night means that a number of careers will be destroyed and certain lives wrecked (the reason that goalkeepers have such big gloves, by the way, is so that they’re incapable of tying a rope into a noose after a bad game). And, yes, daydreaming about next summer it does seem, right now, as if we’ll be all the worse off – between the barbeques and the beer in the sunshine – for not having a telly to shout at for half a dozen games or so.

However, that’s all pretty short-term stuff. The reason that England getting knocked out of the Euro2008 finals is fantastic is that we’ll be spared the embarrassingly lame attempts to monetise on the event by every arm of the mobile industry.

And they will be embarrassingly lame, for the simple reason that sport & mobiles go together in the same way that your toaster & your bathtub go together; initially it seems like a good idea, because everyone likes toast, right? And everyone likes baths, right? So combining one with the other must, logically, be win-win. In reality, though, it leads to your rubber-duck melting and your hissing corpse running up an enormous electricity-bill. It’s this kind of reasoning that leads to marketing executives being given a cardboard-box and an escort out of the building by security.

It’s one of the most seductive dead-ends in business, really and, like medieval alchemy, it’s hard for normally right-minded people not to be tempted by the thought of combining sport (vastly wealthy, constantly moving, ravenous audience) with mobiles (vastly wealthy, constantly moving, ravenous audience) to end up with bags full of gold. However, nearly every attempt to do so is a complete car-crash.

In fact, it’s sometimes a quite literal car-crash when an F1 car – plastered with, say, Vodaphone adverts – crunches into a different F1 car plastered, with, say, O2 adverts. I’ve always wondered at the value of sponsorship deals, given the biblical sums of money that companies stump up; people have tried explaining why it’s worth paying five million pounds a year for a matchbox-sized logo above Lewis Hamilton’s left eye, say, but I usually glaze over when they start using words like ‘message awareness” and usually reach for the hammer when the words ‘intra-market appeal” roll out of their soon-to-be-smashed-in mouths. I just think their brand-managers might just like drinking champagne in Monte Carlo or Shanghai, personally, but then again, I always have been a little cynical…

Anyway, I feel I should make at least a pretence at supporting my original premise, so here goes – I’m going to ask you, now, to imagine that it’s next June, and also to imagine that we’d qualified for the finals. It’s the summer; it’s baking hot, your local high street doesn’t have any premature Christmas decorations up and not every girl in the entire sodding world is mincing about in those bloody awful ugg-boots they seem to think are so nice (they’re not, by the way, love, they just make you look like you’re wearing the cut-up remnants of some sheepskin carpet). But – it’s summer and, along with the constant adverts for sunblock, and supermarket deals for enough lager to kill yourself for a tenner, we’re all getting spammed silly with idiot deals from mobile providers & TV channels to get either scores sent to us via SMS or 3G snippets of goals we’re lucky enough to be able to pay a quid a time to see.

Call me ungrateful, but I’d rather just watch the bloody match, myself. Same with cricket, same with rugby; updates and highlights and event-driven message services are all well & good on the internet, on your computer where you have the connection, memory & screens-size to make it viable & enjoyable and to try and compress video-clips down to handset-size is, and always has been, lame. In prior generations of technology it was OK to pretend that the grainy, blocky, ten-second clip of a ball being punted into the back of a net was worth paying for but not now – not now we’re all so very used to all the delights of telly-quality snippets downloaded at not-unreasonable speeds.

The ultimate irony here is that mobiles themselves have always been an absolute godsend to those people wanting to play sport as opposed to watch it – for example, I spent most of my Sundays between April and September playing cricket, and the thought of trying to organise 22 men to be at the same place, at the same time, with the logistics of lifts, kit, food, drink, umpires & emergency-trips to hospitals with phone-boxes is just…just…impossible. how did they do it, twenty years ago? How? Even now getting a team or group of people together to play any sort of sport or game is, in the words of my own skipper, ‘like herding cats”. It’s like trying to imagine working in an office before Facebook – you know generations of people, before you, did it, and lived their lives without it, but just how they did it without going absolutely mental…?

So there we go – my summer will be blissfully free of excruciatingly clumsy attempts to sell me sporting action from whichever group of champagne-chugging ad-boys would’ve been perpetrating such wild & pointless attempts next year and, instead, will be busy making more grainy, blocky, ten-second clips of my own, of me catching cricket-balls with my face again – on YouTube, where they belong.

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