Thursday, June 21, 2012

My kingdom for a horse sports bar!

Some things are no better in England than in China.

Well, the concept of the 'sports bar' isn't widely recognised here. When Rupert Murdoch's Sky network secured exclusive rights to show most of the major matches in domestic and European club football live about 15 years or so ago, when few people even had satellite TV yet, and fewer still were willing to pay the high subscription for premium sports channels, most pubs quickly acquired a satellite dish and one or two TV screens to start showing the big games. It transformed the atmosphere of the English pub: overnight, almost every bar became a 'sports bar'.

Sort of. But not really. Most pubs had only one or two screens; and often not very big ones. And they tended not to show all sports, only the big football games. Things haven't changed very much in the decade or more that I've been away. Although the terrestrial channels have clawed back some of the rights to domestic league games, and have always been guaranteed access to international events like the current tournament, watching footie down the pub has become entrenched as a central part of national life in the UK. But the pubs haven't gone out of their way to accommodate that demand.

In Oxford, anyway, the situation is pretty dire. The few pubs I used to know that had a reasonable amount of space and more than two screens all seem to have closed. A lot of the pubs have given up having a TV at all (or never bothered with one); no-one has gone to the trouble of getting one just for this European Championship tournament. The pubs I've tried watching a game in all have only one or two small screens... and won't turn the sound up loud enough for you to hear the commentary properly. I've started watching the games at home.

I have been tempted to go down to London for the upcoming quarter-finals, where the beer will be more expensive, but I imagine at least some of the pubs will have a large screen.

I find I am almost missing Beijing's sports bars - ill-organised and inadequate though they are! I am NOT missing trying to stay awake for a 2.45am kick-off/4.40am finish, though.

Supplement - Apocryphal tales on the Internet: I have found an online listing for a proper 'sports bar' in East Oxford, not too far from where I am staying, which is supposedly HUGE: 20 or more screens and the capacity for hundreds of people. I really should go and check that out. Unfortunately, folks I know who live nearby have never heard of it. And its website, which is supposed to advertise upcoming events/matches, doesn't seem to have been updated in about two years - so, I fear it is now defunct (if indeed, it ever existed in the first place, and was not just an elaborate practical joke). I may investigate further, if it ever stops raining.

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