News and Views

Money For Nothing

29 August 2013
By Neil Maskell

Count out your coupons and root around for your Club Card. Reading's entirely mediocre start to the new season careered violently into chaos midweek with a 6-goal League Cup thrashing of a disinterested and disorganised rabble of second-stringers and the revelation that the erstwhile Jimmy Kebe has refused to play and has instead negotiated himself a move away from Nigel Adkins and Planet Platitude. You don't need Dale Winton to tell you that the stop-watches have started, time is ticking away before Monday night's deadline to bring in some new desperately needed new blood and to hack desperately away at the deadwood. Much big talk from the management and the owners over the summer has thus far turned up a modest-looking investment in new recruits. Some feeble defending and goal-shy endeavours from the front men has apparently focused some belated attention down RG2 way. We now have to play some rather desperate Deadline Day Roulette. At least we have a Russian or two on our side.

Pushing transfer fees up to extraordinarily depressing new heights every six months and favouring - naturally - the big clubs at the top of the food chain, the closing of the transfer window is a massively unwelcome distraction coming as it does four weeks into a new season. I wouldn't mind so much if this particular circus packed its trunk and trundled off to the jungle at the end of July, allowing us to focus on all the joy of a new season rather than interminable tittle-tattle, but for some ludicrous reason it is allowed to pitch its Big Top throughout the entire summer and to fire sports journalists at will out of a cannon into the landing net of our weary, frowning faces at every turn of page or change of channel. The transfer window is a sodding nuisance for clubs like Reading and frankly it is all so bloody unfair. The last time we competed at this level, we lost our top scorer from the previous season weeks after the new campaign had started and so in turn we went knocking on Rotherham's door, took Le Fondre from them and in turn this left the Millers precious little time to arrange their own replacement.

By the time this drafty window is slammed shut, Football League sides will have played 5 league matches each. Yet it isn't inconceivable that clubs will be fielding a very different line-up from that which they started the season with by the time August is out. Only in football would you get such a farcical state of affairs; you wouldn't stop a Formula 1 race after half a dozen laps and allow Sebastian Vettel to park up his Red Bull and climb into a Ferrari for the remainder of the Grand Prix. A summer and winter transfer window is an entirely ridiculous concept, a false economy based on panic-buying rendering those opening league salvos almost inconsequential. Not least, it is an aggravation for those of us who simply want to watch the bloody football rather than suffer the infernal Monopoly game sideshow. If you were cynically-minded, you could suggest that some of the late deals completed at the top-level even have a whiff of foul play about them; the money-no-object clubs can pick and choose who they wish to do business with and when they wish to do it, simply by airing their dirty linen in public and feeding the ever lazy media a line in order to unsettle their targets, thus ruining the preparations of their rivals into the bargain. In the words of an old music hall song: it's the same the whole world's the poor that has to's the rich that gets the pleasure, aint it all a bleeding shame.

What sticks in the craw yet further is the hyped-up hysteria the closing of the transfer window generates. For a country all too lazily obsessed with celebrity gossip, far too many otherwise rational human-beings salivate over the SKY Sports rumour-mill. Lapping up every tedious rumour-and-counter-rumour; for instance Wayne Rooney being spotted shopping in Age Concern in Islington or Gareth Bale observed choosing Tapas in Gatwick Airport. Bogus sightings tweeted in to the Sky studios by 'supporters' who are in reality most probably reptilian shape-shifting agents posing as punters in order to generate a bit of desperate last-minute interest. The saddest thing of all is that this nauseating ballyhoo is effectively a brain wound which is self-inflicted. 24 hour rolling news only exists to feed the lust of the foaming-mouthed modern fan. You only have to watch for example those regular deadline day cut-aways to SKY's regional correspondents outside empty Premier League grounds - Stoke, why is it always bloody Stoke? - on a chilly night surrounded by gurning replica-shirted gimps who have otherwise no right or reason to be there, in the background way past their bedtime staring down the camera triumphantly singing “we've got Robinho, we've got Robinho”, inadvertently providing a dopey soundtrack to this pantomime. Pass the sick bag.

And - if it were possible - the hyperbole reaches fever pitch when the excitable jock Jim White takes the mic. With only the merest hint of satire, Sky Sports actually previewed their man in make-up last time around, preparing for his Big Night. The deadline day anchor - which should be pronounced with a non-silent 'W' - Jim is about as subtle as a Jim Davidson set and infinitely more offensive with his OTT barking all over the remotest, tiniest inferred transfer development. Sky Sports News understands that Scott Parker's car has a puncture! Over to some work experience boy at the other end of the studio holding two mobile phones who has just received a text from Eric Hall! Keep your Sporran on, Jim. All the while, the final countdown appears ominously on the right hand side of your screen; the sands of time ticking down, there are only 4 minutes and 13 seconds to conclude a deal to bring Adi Viveash to the club. Every so often, some suave fella stood next to a computer-generated version of the Blue Peter Totaliser gleefully informs us how much precious mullah has been wasted in this window. The coup-de-grace, incredibly and with no discernible sense of irony, is the ludicrous cut-to-Big-Ben at the advert break, as if somehow the entire concept and consequence of Time itself needs to be explained and put into context by SKY's roving army of rabid reporters. Money spent divided by time allowed equals viewing figures!

Without wishing to go on to suggest that Borstal should be re-introduced and that Policemen look younger these days, I have no qualms in curmudgeonly venturing to propose that the old days were infinitely more gratifying than this . Back in 1998, injury-ravaged Reading snapped 7 players on one transfer deadline day in March. And how did we learn of this earth-shattering news? A brief passage of analogue on Ceefax, a quick call to Royaline (sponsored by Gowrings, main Ford dealers in Wokingham and Newbury, supporting football in Berkshire), a sneaky peak of the back page of the Evening Post. No speculation over medicals, personal terms, counter-bids. Just the facts. Job done. And of course back in them days players were available for transfer from June through to March, thus the brinksmanship was less prevalent and the whole shebang infinitely less intrusive and irritating. Shame on you if you indulge yourself in all this modern blather. Shut that window and keep that racket out.

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