‘We’re ready to take BT Sport to the next level’
What a relief it was seeing the sparkling stars of one of the greatest football teams of recent memory tear into Juventus at the weekend. This is not because I am some sort of closet Torino fan. Nope, in fact, I thought Juve might spring a surprise.
My relief was purely because I wanted football to emerge from one of its darkest periods, and remind us all why it’s ‘The Beautiful Game’.
Over the past couple of weeks I’ve become sick with hearing the remark that “football is corrupt”. It’s dominated news headlines, radio phone-ins and current affairs shows. Even my eight-year-old nephew asked me: "What is connuption, Uncle Jake?"
Well, I say this to people - football isn’t corrupt.
It isn’t capable of being corrupt because it’s simply a game.
Go and watch Mini Kickers in a park near you on a Saturday morning, see five-year-olds playing on a dusty field in Africa wearing oversized Didier Drogba shirts, or join me at my charity in Norwich when we put on a football competition for those with learning difficulties. See the joy on all their faces, and then tell me that football is corrupt.
It is the individuals running the sport who are corrupt. Where there is money, people will abuse the system for their own gain, and football is awash with cash…therefore awash with greed and, inevitably, corruption.
However, now that it looks like the FIFA house of cards is starting to tumble, I honestly believe that the sport so many of us love will emerge stronger for this period. No longer will anyone charged with running the game, our game, believe they can do what they want and get away with it. The world is watching.
And so now is the time to focus on all the great things our game brings, and Champions League football is right up there.
I’m sure you have seen the press coverage – but if it’s escaped you then let me break the news.
From next season, the Champions League will be exclusively live on BT Sport. It will be the only place you can see Champions League games, and we are all aware how much of a responsibility and an honour that is.
I remember when I first left the BBC in 2013 and arrived at BT Sport, I was in a room of just seven people. And that was it. That was every BT Sport employee.
I’m not sure how many thousands of people work across the BBC around the world, but to go from that to a fledgling broadcaster with grand ideas, but little else, was certainly a leap that took guts. It also took me back to one of the mottos I live by – "Never sit in the comfy chair".
And as I sit on this, admittedly rather comfy, train to Norwich, I can barely believe how things have changed in the past two years. From zero to over five million subscribers – yes, that is FIVE MILLION! We’ve been nominated for broadcast awards, sports journalism awards, and even a BAFTA for our coverage of the FA Cup.
It’s been a brilliant journey, but also a challenge. It’s fair to say few groups of sports fans are more forthright and honest than football fans, and from day one we’ve been compared to channels that have been covering football for decades, not months.
However, we’ve held our own, grown our audience, learned a huge amount and done justice to some huge moments for our national sport.
The Premier League’s fastest hat-trick, an incredible 3-3 Merseyside derby, Louis van Gaal’s first league game in English football, Chelsea’s thumping at the hands of Spurs, and Arsenal’s first silverware for nine seasons.
I often remind Gooners that they hadn’t won anything for almost a decade, but then BT Sport appears and suddenly they’ve won back-to-back cups on our channels!! Just a coincidence?
So, it’s been a remarkable two years, but this summer when you’re sunning yourself, we’ll be preparing to take BT Sport to the next level.
We will continue to bring you masses of Premier League and FA Cup games, but from August you can also add the Champions League and Europa League to the list.
Think of those special moments you’ve witnessed in the Champions League over the years.
The Miracle of Istanbul summed up by Jerzy Dudek’s double-save from Andriy Shevchenko deep into extra-time. Zinedine Zidane’s breath-taking goal in the 2002 final at Hampden Park (best ever?), to Manchester United turning the 1999 final on its head in two minutes and 17 seconds.
And as part of our on-screen team we’ll have Rio Ferdinand, who lifted the cup in 2008. One of the players who scored a penalty in that shoot-out versus Chelsea, Owen Hargreaves, is also on board. He won the trophy with Bayern aged just 20.
Add to the mix recently departed Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard, who was instrumental in that incredible final in Istanbul - what a signing that is. Then we have Steve McManaman, man of the match and scorer in the 2000 final for Real Madrid, which isn’t bad when you share a team with Raul!
Paul Scholes will also be with us having won the trophy twice under the guidance of Sir Alex Ferguson. And that is just the start; our presentation team will be varied, experienced and charged with enhancing this remarkable competition for you.
And joining me to host the games, a man who I look at as the greatest football presenter of his generation, and not a bad footballer either – Gary Lineker. When I first heard there was a chance we’d get Gary, I was all for it. I want BT Sport to become the home of the best sport, and best sports presenters. We already have Clare Balding, and now Gary Lineker will add his considerable skills to the mix. Welcome, Gary!
We also have some grand plans for how to make your viewing of the Champions League and Europa League the best ever. On big European nights, BT Sport will be the go-to destination, the hub for all the games, the focal point as Europe’s best do battle.
I am hugely excited about our plans, and promise I will be doing all I can to make sure you love what we do.
As I type, Eva Cassidy has popped on to my iTunes with ‘People Get Ready’. Feels rather apt.
Have a great summer.