Last month I had something of a dilemma. Valentines Day doesn’t normally mean much to me but this year was different and I planned to treat a special lady in my life. Then Hearts threw a spanner in the works by allowing St. Johnstone’s Cillian Sheridan to score a late equaliser in the William Hill Scottish Cup fifth round tie at Tynecastle and therefore necessitate a replay in Perth. I knew the way my luck goes that the replay would be on Tuesday 14th February rather than the following night when one wouldn’t need an excuse not to say it with flowers. However, it seemed the fates offered this ageing Hearts supporter a rare break when it was initially announced the replay would not be on the Tuesday but on Thursday 16th February instead as Sky Sports had opted to show the game live on television. Halleluiah I cried. I can take my beloved out for a romantic meal and still head to the game. Then, it wasn’t fate that intervened - it was the suits at UEFA who told Hearts and St. Johnstone their game could not be shown on television on the Thursday as this was in direct competition to Europa League ties being televised on the same evening.
This rather bizarre ruling meant I didn’t get to Perth as the game was switched back to the Tuesday. My distraction at checking my mobile phone under the table at the swank restaurant was picked up by my acquaintance who wasn’t the slightest bit amused. Especially as the game went into extra time and Hearts waited until three minutes before the end until netting the winner. Punching the air with my fist and shouting yes several times wasn’t quite the romantic end to the evening she had anticipated…
My disappointment at missing the Gorgie Boys cup triumph - sweet revenge against the team that knocked us out the cup last year - intensified some weeks later (stay with me on this one) when ITV televised Birmingham City’s FA Cup replay with Chelsea - in direct competition to UEFA Champions League games also being televised that Tuesday evening. UEFA stated the English FA hadn’t informed them the cup replay would be on television that night - although it hardly took a genius to work out that a tie involving one of the biggest clubs in England would be on television - but said they would be investigating the matter.
This was small consolation to both St. Johnstone and Hearts who, it is believed, lost more than £80,000 each as a result of the SFA doing the right thing and obeying the rules laid down by UEFA - while Chelsea, one of the richest clubs in the world, were paid handsomely by Clive Tyldesley’s employers. We all know we live in financially difficult times - one only has to look at the plight of Rangers and the very real threat to their existence - and a not insignificant amount of money was lost to the Perth Saints and the boys in maroon last month.
Will UEFA take action? In fairness, they probably will but it will almost certainly be in the form of a fine for both Birmingham City and Chelsea and likely to be far less that the money they received for the game being televised in the first place. This seems to me to be yet another example of one rule for the rich, money-laden clubs of the world and another for those who have to budget on a month-to-month basis.
Television has a hold on football like never before. Sky has led the way, particularly in England, and the fees they pay to clubs in the Barclays FA Premiership are like Monopoly money. The BBC and ITV, to a lesser extent, are also aboard the gravy train and coverage of the national game on the small screen has never been greater. Now we don’t want to go back to the quite ridiculous situation of several decades ago when the Scottish Football Association would prevent terrestrial television channels in Scotland showing a European Cup quarter final live because Albion Rovers were playing East Stirlingshire in a bottom of the league clash and therefore the attendance of three men and a dog might be affected to the extent just the dog turned up. However, a modicum of common sense surely has to be applied here. I seriously doubt if there was anyone in Bucharest on the night of 16 February who would have been torn between going to watch the local team Steaua take on Twente or heading to the pub to watch Hearts taking on St. Johnstone on satellite television.
Hang on, a man in a suit from UEFA has just passed me a note. It’s from Jim the Jambo in Bucharest…