How Sky improved football (and my life)

I know that it’s fashionable right now to jump on the I hate Rupert Murdoch bandwagon and it’s fair to say that I do. I have no love for his newspapers and quite frankly he comes across as a something of a hybrid between the Emperor from Star Wars and Alf Stewart from Home and Away. But Sky, oh how I’ve grown to love Sky, to the extent that I struggle to picture life without it, or perhaps I just don’t want to.

I watch a lot of football. When it comes to watching live football on the television I want to watch it on Sky. There’s just something better about the way they present it, something slicker, polished, honed and crafted into a package that I enjoy. When I watch football that isn’t on Sky, I immediately start to question it. It doesn’t quite feel right, often it feels exceedingly amateur in comparison.

The high point of Sky’s coverage is without doubt Monday Night Football. You get a solid hour of build up where they preview the game your about to watch but also the key events from the weekend’s action and then close to another hour of analysis after the game. In doing so they utilise the latest in telecasting technology to help illustrate exactly what is going on. The star of the show is Gary Neville.

Who remembers Andy Gray? I never used to mind his co-commentary, in fact I might go as far as to say I like it. He was biased towards his former clubs, he was biased towards Midlands clubs in general but he had an incredible enthusiasm for the game which came across in his commentary, a nifty turn of phrase which seeped into popular culture and an ability to suitably capture the drama of the moment in his summations. “Awwwwww you beauty!” surprisingly not in reference to one of his female co-workers but in fact his response to Steven Gerrard’s goal which saw Liverpool progress in the Champions League on their way to lifting the trophy, he was certainly memorable, tik-a-boo.

Gary Neville has all that. Neville’s quasi orgasm noise when Torres scored against Barcelona will live long in the memory, as will his description of David Luiz as being controlled by a kid in the crowd with a Playstation controller. He’s not quite got his Andy Gray catchphrases yet, but I think he’ll get there. What he does have is an ability to explain football. He’s intelligent, articulate, honest and incisive in a way that Match of the Day pundits can only dream of. He provides genuine analysis, not just reiterated commentary. He offers explanations and reasons, he doesn’t just label players as crap. I had my doubts about Neville at fist, but he’s won me over and then some.

So we’re heading for the final day of the Premier League season and this is where Sky really take command. Every game is on Sunday so they can bring you live pictures of any game that’s taking place. In days gone by I used to tune into Final Score, not any more. I don’t even know who presents it these days for I have room in my life for only one man to bring me the latest scores and that is Jeff Stelling.

Jeff Stelling is remarkably good at his job. He talks quicker than any man I’ve ever seen. He builds up and gets quicker as final scores start to roll in, telling you what it means for each team, telling you about what it means for their season. He goes faster and faster until you start to get scared, scared that he might explode if he keeps going on at this unrelenting pace. He has charm and charisma. He lives the moment, he cares about football, he knows what’s going on and you trust him. When Jeff says “there has been a red card” you know there has been a red card, regardless of what Chris Kamara might think. He is ably assisted by his studio guests (Matthew Le Tissier, Paul Merson, Phil Thompson, Charlie Nicholas) who report on four games and are constantly involved in banter (in the best sense of the word) and a fleet of reporters who keep you up to date with everything that is happening. Soccer Saturday is an orchestral football movement and Jeff Stelling is the conductor.

Sky do it better. There is often a lot of pointless hype and sometimes you can get sucked into “Super-mega-important-clash-of-the-titans-world-ending-Sunday” and to those who don’t have a particular interest in football I’m sure it would seem very silly indeed. But the impression I get whenever I watch football on Sky is that they all love it. They are all so happy to be there and be involved and that’s how it should be. Apart from Graham Souness, he’s a grumpy bitter old git, but he knows his stuff so we can forgiven them for him.

Sky has come to define parts of football in this country. Super-Sunday, Monday Night Football, Soccer Saturday all set the standard for football coverage. Sky Sports News on transfer deadline day is Sky’s very own football soap-opera and deadline day simply wouldn’t be the same without it. As a football fan, Sky’s football coverage is world class and I will accept no substitute.

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