RIP REDDIT’S SOCCER STREAMS: LIVE FOOTBALL’S SECRET UTOPIAN SOCIETY
My dad has Sky and BT Sport. He watches it a lot. I’m not even sure he was that into football until I was born, until I foisted it upon him like a snotty napkin to hold, until I made us watch every game that was on television and yearned for even more.
I think he keeps it safe in the knowledge that it’s cheaper than going out down the pub and better for his health. Also, importantly, more importantly, he has no fucking idea how to use either the Sky or the BT Sport app and, as such, no real clue that I am living my best life away from the parental nest with a simply giant breadth of television football available legally—and, to me, freely—on my laptop.
It’s great. No better salve for a sore head or a tired body than to sit in front of the warming glow of the 13” laptop screen and quietly watch Spurs and Chelsea scrap it out for two-and-a-bit hours including the inane chit-chat. But outside the Top 6 bubble, things aren’t so easy. The obvious solution is “Go to the game yourself; experience some reality, mate; they’ve got beer there”, but I have beer at home, you see, and getting to the match is always easier said than done thanks to allowances of time and money, geographic proximity, work obligations, and a social calendar I am yet to actually calendarise. Nothing can beat the thrill of a live crowd, the smell of grass, or the ineffable pride at knowing You Were There That Fine Day, but, for me, the dearly-departed Reddit channel soccerstreams was often the next best thing.
As a West Ham fan, I’d take any excuse to not visit the London Stadium, but I do miss it. Aforementioned distractions have limited my appearances on the curiously-white-instead-of-claret seats of the stands to something that might be labelled ‘Extinct in the Wild’ on the ICUN's Red List of Threatened Species. But on soccerstreams, it was all there: I could remain in contact. On my laptop while on the train to some distant outpost for a story, on my phone during an emergency hungover lunch.
The streams started slowly. The reliability and quality of picture burned me too many times to count, trying to watch Modibo Maïga through on goal on a choppy vipbox live stream and waiting, desperately to see if he might accidentally score. But soon the consistency upped dramatically: like that year Papiss Cissé decided, out of nowhere, that he was excellent at football. Now you could plan your weekend round it, have it neatly buffer your comedowns. But what was more, more even than having Robbie Mustoe run the rule over West Ham’s debilitating failing on NBCSN colour commentary was the vast array of matches from around the world it offered.
While Eleven Sports have done well to pick up a lot of the continental slack, you’re quite often left standing there with your dick in your hands when it comes to keeping up with games outside the Premier League. While I never ventured into the territory of watching the Eintracht Frankfurt under-23 team so I could make a flippant comment about a new Arsenal signing’s ‘raw potential’ but knowing that I could gave me a buzz. I felt connected to the game in a way I hadn’t in years. I could zip to Getafe or Dijon or Sassuolo or Heerenveen at the click of just a button or two as I ate a cheese and pickle sandwich, crumbs falling about me, safe in the knowledge that it wasn’t being a Sad Cunt With No Life if you could log off at any time. It became something I did often, something I’d let play in the background while I ironed or in my headphones as I washed up. I began to develop affinities, not just with teams—I have taken quite a liking to Red Bull Leipzig, and I don’t care who knows it—and players—Fabio Quagliarella, you beautiful old man—but with streamers. I’d see a name and know it was legit, that I was in safe hands, that I wouldn’t have to sign a Faustian pact to watch games, feigning ignorance when I take my knackered laptop to the shop. Stream2Watch, Watch ESPN, VIPBox, Laola1, and VIPLeague were all sacred. People who hacked Twitch so they could show me El Clásico were people I’d gladly buy a beer if ever they left their damp bedrooms. I could never understand how I was supposed to use AceStream, but I guess I was glad it was there, too.
Anyway, now it's gone. Sort of. There's a new version, apparently, but I'm sure it won't be long for this world. While streams will always exist, soccerstreams felt like a safe haven for people too lazy to learn how to lob themselves into the matrix every time they wanted to watch a game. Everything was just there. It was idiot-proof. It was too perfect to live. The people who frequented the subreddit weren’t all cheapskates, though I’ve no doubt there were plenty. A large percentage were young fans across the world who you’d be didn’t have the means to get these games on the level. The thirst for football is simply greater than the ability to access it, but soccerstreams was the ultimate answer to modern footballs assault on the wallet of everyone who has had the bad luck of being obsessed with the game for their whole lives. And as more and more live televised matches leave the free-to-air channels for ever more esoteric subscription services, the black market of sports streaming was a resolutely socialist one: it was right there for anyone who had access to the internet and the love of football coursing through their veins. Nobody shouldn’t be able to afford to live their passion in whatever small way they can, so, for now, we wait as the brains behind live televised football’s dirty little secret look for a new place to bring football back to the thousands who relied on it once more.
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