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Sky's the limit in the world of sports, telly and online gambling


A friend of mine had the flu last week, which was unfortunate, but from his sick-bed he was able to watch live coverage of the cricket match between India and South Africa all day on Sky Sports. "It was a cracking Test match too," he said.

As that man would testify, the dedicated sports channel can make you feel better in the course of a day. It can also make you feel considerably worse -- indeed, it might be said to have made at least a small contribution to the fall of Ivan Yates's betting office empire, as we'll see later.

But as it celebrates 20 years of its massive, massive success, we must acknowledge that Sky Sports has had a powerful effect on many of us, not just in the course of a day, but in the overall structure of our lives. And mostly, if we are honest, it has been for the good.

Not only can you watch a cracking Test match from your sick-bed in the middle of winter, you can enjoy an entire culture which has been profoundly altered by the emergence of Sky Sports.

For example, there is no such thing as Sunday any more. There is Super Sunday, or there is Grand Slam Sunday, with two top, top matches from the Barclays Premier League drawing men indoors to the big screen in the pub, or just the big screen in their own homes.

Who could have imagined that centuries of unhappiness might be turned around so completely? Who could have foreseen that the traditional Sunday, featuring fantastically boring activities of all kinds, might be swept away by these massive, massive games? Do we have any appreciation of how much our lives have improved in the last 20 years?

All over Ireland now, and indeed in every civilised country in the world, almost from daybreak you can pick up the buzz of a Super Sunday. The big derbies between Liverpool and Man Utd are viewed with such intensity, it's as if the pride of the little parish itself is at stake.

Men, women and children can be seen sporting their gaily coloured replica shirts, the adrenaline pumping, celebrating a devotion to English football which has deep, deep roots in Irish culture.

Saturdays, too, are different now. For anyone with any sense, Saturday is now Gillette Soccer Saturday, presented by the magnificent Jeff Stelling, which again would have been unimaginable until Sky went and did it. Because, apart from Jeff, you have the apparently ridiculous sight of men looking at football matches on their TV monitors and telling us what they're seeing -- I mean, that would never work, would it?

Well it would, actually, because Sky is doing it. Most of the things that Sky does work.

It has made the darts world championship work at Christmas, to the extent that Christmas, for most serious-minded people, is now essentially a festival of arrows. And these things work sometimes despite the best efforts of Sky Sports itself, and its smart-casual corporate ethos which is never too far away in tone and texture from what can righteously be described as Evil.

Sky seems to have the capacity to withstand its own awfulness, its view of life as seen from the executive washroom, a kind of inane moralising, and a rigidly enforced culture of comatose punditry.

It rises above its own horrible disposition because it understands the endless hunger for sports in the hearts of men, a hunger that is religious in its ferocity -- with the extra dimension that sport can actually be a force for good.

It invented Sky Sports News, and everybody laughed at the notion of a rolling news service with nothing but sport on it, mostly football stories about Crewe Alexandra getting a new physio and so forth. They're still laughing, but Sky Sports News is still going, and in some of the best households it has come to be known simply as The News.

Sky knows that when men are in the presence of sport, any sport, the presenters can be droning all day about Crewe's new physio and it will not diminish in any way the sense of profound relaxation that men feel, just to be living in the light of their faith. And they said we wouldn't pay money just for this?

It is even more relaxing, if that is possible, when the production values are high -- as they invariably are on Sky, which also makes things work by injecting enormous amounts of wonga into them.

And, of course, by encouraging people to bet on it, Sky Sports has made this other massive, massive contribution to the making of the modern world, by bringing us Skybet, which allows us to bet on the action by pressing the red button.

It is right there at the epicentre of the global gambling phenomenon, that

synergy of sport, and television, and online gambling -- often indeed the televised sport will be sponsored by an online gambling company.

And this was partly what did for Ivan Yates, and his betting offices. Because, really, it's mostly poor people who haven't got a credit card who go to betting offices these days.

The game has moved on, baby! And anything that moves in it is bought, and paid for, by Sky.

Sunday Independent