“That’s a stonewall penalty Ray. What do you think Dwight?”

by Kevin Henning

Whilst reading the Manchester City forum Bluemoon this season, the feeling that the media have an agenda to keep Manchester United at the top of the English game has been overwhelming. A recent topic asked why Sky would want to keep United at the top. Is it the paranoia of City, Liverpool and others throughout the country or is there more to it?

Since the dawn of the Premier League back in 1992, I feel that Sky’s attitude towards Manchester United has changed enormously. Throughout the early years of Sky’s dominance, I religiously sat with my dad as we watched dramatic title races unfold. We often watched United for two reasons. Firstly, we wanted them to lose with a passion. Reds refer to people like us as ABU’s. This is a spot on diagnosis, we would rather anyone but United have lifted those crowns during the ’90’s. The second reason though, is one I have begun to find more intriguing. As I remember it, Sky used to show United’s tricky away games far more than their run of the mill home games such as the QPR and Aston Villa matches of recent weeks. It was as if Sky wanted United to lose. They were trying at the time to convert football fans throughout the country to their systems and what better way than to broadcast the pantomime villlains getting their comeuppance on a regular basis.

Only the plan didn’t quite work out. United overcame each and every challenge and collected Premier League medals the way Lisa Riley collects slap up meals – often and plentiful. Sky began to realise that for every United hater throughout the country, there were 4 or 5 plastic supporters who would subscribe to their package and claim allegiance to a club they had no connection with just to feel part of something. To bask in the reflective glow of United’s success. Don’t get me wrong here, we all know reds who go to games, come from Manchester and just happen to support the most successful team of their lifetime. However, we all know far more people who are as likely to have sex with a supermodel’s mouth as they are to purchase a match ticket to Old Trafford. Sky realised that whilst United bashers throughout the country were heading off to watch their own incompetent side, there was an army of armchair fans whose only realistic chance of watching their heroes was to tune in to Super Sunday once a week.

Now why does all this suggest that Sky prefer United to reign supreme? Well it’s incredibly unlikely that they would want their flagship show becoming a turn-off for the majority of their viewers isn’t it? Sky began to build up each tricky away tie as a challenge for United to overcome. Each Premier League match live from Old Trafford, the latest unruly mob arriving to be given a sound thrashing and be sent packing. Each title race as another feather in the cap of ferguson (sorry about my puntuation there but the only capital he deserves is punishment). Martin Tyler began to excel in it all. His constant auditioning for the next edition of “Grand Slam Sunday” adverts throughout every match involving their preferred four teams saw him screeching “ROOOOONEYYYYY!!!!” or “HENRYYYYYYY!!!!!!” or “GERRARRRRRDD!!” or DROGBAAAAAARR!!!” every time one of his heroes approached the penalty area with the ball. The fact that Sky own a part of MUTV tells us a lot. The more successful United are, the better their televison station will do. The better the station does, the more money rolls in for Sky. The more they keep winning, the more the gloryhunters around the country will keep paying their money over each month for both MUTV and Sky Sports. It’s a snowball effect that threatens to roll over any new challengers to the throne.

The turning point, I believe, was the now infamous night when Kevin Keegan, confronted by a shockingly leading series of questions, blew his top and ranted live on Sky. It was pure gold for the channel. They began to buy into ferguson’s mind games baloney. Managers came and went and Sky did the United manager’s dirty work for him. Keegan, O’Leary, Wenger, Mourinho, Benitez and now Mancini and Dalglish have all been prodded like caged animals into giving a controversial response to a soundbite from the Govan born bully. Benitez was driven to his “Fact” statement which Sky then claimed was proof of him losing to Fergie’s mind games when they dropped points a day later at Stoke City. Arsene Wenger stood in the Main Stand at Old Trafford when sent from the dugout became one of their iconic images of that season. Treatment that would never be served to United’s boss.

Only last weekend, Carlos Tevez was denied a blatant penalty at Carrow Road. Despite the Sky cameras clearly showing time after time that he’d had his foot stamped on, the interviewer’s first question to the hat-trick scoring man of the match was “Did you dive?” When pointed out by studio guest Mike Summerbee how disrespectful it was to open an interview with a man you could ask a thousand different questions to, the presenter defended it by claiming it was said “Tongue-in-cheek”. The very next day, Ashley Young clearly dived to gain an ill-gotten penalty for the second time in a week at Old Trafford. Was he asked the same by Sky? I reckon you can guess the answer. They wouldn’t want to upset anyone who may refuse to talk to their interviewers for the best part of a decade would they?

Rather than dismiss the mention of an agenda against City this season as paranoia, I prefer to think about the differences in the treatment shown to managers and clubs throughout the land in comparison to the media darlings of Warwick Road.