Most Saturdays, my football experience is confined to checking the scores on the BBC Sport website. Correction, one score, since only the fortunes of the Hibees matter in the great scheme of things. It is a blur of constantly-updating statistics, a team lineup and bar chart showing the ever-changing possession. As much as it is a crucial lifeline and link to where I would be if I wasn’t giving reading pleasure and sustenance to a (mostly) grateful public, it is absolutely no substitute to actually being at a game in the raw.
When I was a kid, if I wasn’t at a game, I would usually listen to the football on the radio. Usually Radio Scotland had the big game of the week on, with updates from the others. Occasionally Hibs had the honour of being top billing but usually the latest from Easter Road or Fir Park or whatever came as a 15-second update of the scorer and the lead-up play in between the very much more detailed commentary of whichever of the Old Firm was playing. To get the scoop usually involved going up to Knox’s newsagent about 7pm to buy the Pink, the late edition of the Evening News invariably fresh from the printers and the 30-mile ride down the road from Edinburgh, which featured the results and occasionally a quick, poor-quality still photo of the game that had finished mere hours ago. There was much more insight on the next Monday, when I got my hands on the Evening News sport supplement, which featured in-depth coverage of the trials and travails of Hibs, Hearts and Livingston, as well as other teams and sports, the Hibs bits penned by David Hardie, who is still the Hibs correspondent despite his byline photo not having changed for 20 years.
Now I rarely listen to football on the radio. When Hibs are playing and I am not working, I tend to be there. Radio Scotland has a divided frequency service where they play two games on two of their many frequencies, the rest go online and on medium wave they have an Open All Mics service which sounds like a chummy pub sesh, accompanied by shouts of a throw-in from Celtic Park, Ibrox or Almondvale.
The last Saturday I was off, I went to East End Park to see Hibs win in person, with the added delights of the steak bridies to make the day all the better. The last Saturday I was off before that was just before the exam for my last OU course and the Dumbarton-Hibs game was sold out. What I did, knowing Radio Scotland would severely tempt me to chuck my radio out of the window, was to turn to Hibs TV, which has live audio commentaries for its UK subscribers of Hibs games with a considerable bias towards us, naturally enough, though some folk had (obviously unofficial) streams of the game on Periscope, which was commendable though with risks of RSIs from holding up a phone for 90 minutes, getting said phone confiscated by a steward or it dying through lack of battery life. That was a strange experience. For those used to seeing football sanitised and through the prism of big broadcasters, Periscope is hilarious as you tend to hear the mumbles and chants from fans and the reception tends to ebb and flow, particularly with the sudden movements as the cameraperson celebrates and forgets they are filming. Plus the Periscope and the Hibs TV commentary didn’t quite sync up, with the audio about 15 seconds behind the video.
The next Hibs fixture is on Friday night, in Dundee. I will be there, though the game is live on BT Sport. I am looking forward to it immensely. The next game I will get to after that will most likely be a freezing, wet and cold Saturday night to see Hibs play Morton at Cappielow, which is a 5.15pm kick-off to take account of BBC Alba showing the game live. Scottish football is surreal in very many ways but one of the more absurd elements is that a lot of football coverage on free-to-air television is presented in a language approximately 1.1% of the population speak. To be fair to BBC Alba, and speaking as a person who aims to learn the Gaelic before I die, their coverage is excellent, albeit slightly bonkers as you try to follow the commentary and the only words you recognise are ‘Garry Kenneth’. If I’m honest, and I probably speak for a lot of football fans, I really couldn’t care less what language it is, as long as I see the game. In any event, the football being in Gaelic can only be an improvement over whatever shite the commentators and pundits are talking and it is why sometimes just looking up the result online is much less complicated even if it just isn’t the same as being at a game in the raw.
This post was inspired by reading an article on the Guardian website, taken from When Saturday Comes, ‘Why listening to the football on the radio beats watching it on TV’ by Tony Cowards. Have a read.