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Bye bye Sky?
By Ian Grant
It's slipped quietly by while the world discusses Gazza and Ginger Spice. In this summer of personal disillusionment, Friday's decision by Premiership chairmen to reject Sky's proposals for pay-per-view coverage of matches is cause for cautious optimism.

The street party is on hold for the moment, of course. The idea that pressure from fans had anything to do with the decision can be immediately dismissed, for a start. That wouldn't be a case of a leopard changing its spots, more of a leopard turning into a fluffy-wuffy bunny-wunny. In short, if fans were anywhere near the top of the list of chairmen's concerns, television rights wouldn't have been sold to Rupert Murdoch in the first place.

So the revolution doesn't start here. But there are changes afoot and they may well be to our benefit, albeit by a roundabout route.

Pay-per-view itself is probably still an inevitability - Premiership clubs don't exactly have a history of turning their backs on cash cows. In some ways, its introduction will be an irrelevancy - those of us who've resisted Sky subscriptions will have no less coverage on our screens; those who've paid must be used to being shafted by now. It will have knock-on effects, of course - such issues as the protection of away allocations and Saturday kickoffs really ought to be the subjects of the Task Force's attention.

So, if we can discard concern for fans and absolute rejection of pay-per-view as motivations for Friday's decision, what was the reason for such a surprising outcome? The likes of Martin Edwards (Manchester United) are not well known for happiness in defeat. Yet they appeared happy on Friday. What's going on?

The first answer is the simplest, the one that doesn't dive into the inviting waters of conspiracy theory. It is that Sky's plan was just not ready for implementation. It has some credibility - there were obvious flaws in Murdoch's masterplan. For example, it doesn't take a genius to work out that Arsenal's desire to have pay-per-view coverage only of games away from Highbury could not be viable - short of playing all Premiership matches in the Outer Hebrides, there will always be a home team and an away team.

It is possible that, despite the plan's backing from some of the big guns, chairmen merely delayed their consent until certain details were worked out. But surely even that fairly wishy-washy decision would've produced more in-fighting than appeared to be the case?

Let's have a look at the conspiracy theory, then. Sky's contract for Premiership coverage expires in the not-too-distant future - three years from now, I believe. Whatever the revenue generated, it is likely that far more could become available if Sky was by-passed in favour of coverage owned and controlled by the clubs themselves. Here's the theory about Friday: chairmen are distancing themselves from Murdoch in anticipation of the day when they do it themselves.

It would explain a lot, particularly the sense of satisfaction that wafted my way from Friday's meeting. It would also make extremely good business sense - especially for the biggest clubs.

And it would present some very interesting opportunities for football fans. As someone who believes that Sky's influence within the English game has been almost entirely destructive, a devilish voice of encouragement inside chairmen's heads, the removal of Murdoch from the equation would probably be cause enough for a street party.

Naturally, we would be presented with something almost as bad in its place. It is difficult to imagine an immediate return to Saturday football - so, for example, we can't expect that the decline of the FA Cup as a prestigious tournament will be halted nor that kickoff times will become any more reasonable. Nor would any significant portion of the income be channelled into making non-armchair fans' lives any easier.

But it would be an important break nonetheless. It is impossible to put any kind of pressure for change on Rupert Murdoch's business empire - if the new Labour government, massive Commons majority and all, recognises and submits to his power, what chance have humble football fans got? When it comes to having a say in the future of the game, how tiny and squeaky and inaudible are our voices when placed next to Murdoch's?

Individual football clubs are hardly bastions of consultative democracy, obviously. Fans' voices are frequently as tiny and squeaky and inaudible when placed next to those of directors and chief executives. But, crucially, there is no reason why an elected government should be afraid of such small-time dictators. The power hierarchy will have changed.

It's a thought, innit?