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Football STAR of the show

Football just scored the goal of the season on STAR Sports.

After struggling to break through cricket’s resilient defence for four months, Mesut Ozil and Co have dribbled past the likes of “Outstanding Ojha” to restore parity on Indian satellite television.

Football made a quiet but assured debut on STAR Sports 1 and 2 last week, the bastion of cricket having apparently relented to the chorus of pleas from football fans hungry for greater coverage of their favourite sport.

Metro had highlighted on February 8 how football lovers were feeling robbed of live action because of the STAR network’s preference for highlights of old cricket matches over live football on its standard-definition channels.

STAR Sports owns the telecast rights to Premier League and La Liga matches, but had reserved three of its four standard-definition channels — STAR Sports 1, 2 and 3 — primarily for cricket till mid-February. Football, whose fan base globally outnumbers that of most other sports, had been relegated to STAR Sports 4.

In the event of simultaneous prime-time football matches, one used to be shown on STAR Sports 4 and the others on STAR Sports HD1 and HD2, which the vast majority of Calcuttans don’t have access to.

But five days after Metro gave voice to the murmur of discontent among fans, the next round of Premiership matches on February 13 witnessed a rare display of unity among rival supporters of Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester, Liverpool, Barcelona and Real Madrid.

While Arsenal played host to Manchester United on STAR Sports 4 that night, Liverpool and Fulham battled it out simultaneously on STAR Sports 1. On Saturday, Manchester City’s match was telecast on STAR Sports 4 at 8.30pm and Arsenal’s on STAR Sports 2 simultaneously.

After months of relentless angry mails, lampooning and even a campaign on social networks, the battle had been finally won.

“This is simply fantastic. The network has finally listened to our demands. My favourite team is back on television,” exclaimed Rajdeep Mukherjee, 26, an Arsenal fan who had been forced to rely on online streaming through third-party websites.

STAR’s decision to carve out a larger share of the broadcast pie for football even as the Sochi Winter Olympics and Premier League Hockey are underway points to a decisive change in its telecast policy.

The network declined to comment on the change. But the new 30-second promo on the STAR Sports channels is a giveaway. “All the football action on STAR Sports 1, 2, 4, HD 1 and HD 2,” says a voice in the ad.

Man United fan Ayon Basu, 24, is keeping his fingers crossed, though. “I hope the channel won’t revert to its old schedule!” he said.