“What do you do on a matchday, Jake?”
One of the most popular questions I get asked as I go about my daily business is ‘what do you do on a matchday, Jake?’
I am well aware that it may sometimes seem to the viewer that I turn up two minutes before we’re live, but I assure you I am able to mask our intensive preparation very well!!
My BT Sport week actually starts on a Monday when we have a conference call with the whole production team where we discuss the finer details of the match we’ve just covered. Some of it is praise - for example, I thought Jermaine Jenas and Danny Higginbotham were really insightful, valuable additions to our coverage of QPR and Stoke.
Other thoughts I have will be less complimentary, or a discussion on what we can do better. I learned from David Coulthard that the best way to improve is to focus on the negatives; just flooding yourself with praise will never help you improve. An example from last weekend was that I was really struggling to hear the pundits for the first part of our live show at 12pm which really frustrated me.
'Can’t hear them when they are standing next to you', I hear you exclaim!? Well, because it’s usually so loud pitch-side, we use solid ear defenders, and what the likes of Paul Scholes of Steve McManaman say to me gets fed all the way to the TV truck, and then back down my earpieces. Therefore, if the level of the pundits is too low I suddenly find myself lip-reading and trying to decipher what the guys are talking about.
When that happens it's all a bit unnerving, but it’s part of the challenge of presenting the games pitchside. Of course, I’d appreciate the creature comforts of an air-conditioned studio with autocue, stable wi-fi and tea and coffee on tap. Sadly, I have none of those things.
However, I think the way we do it makes for better TV.
The way we make our show is actually a pretty daunting prospect for a presenter. For the whole 45-minute build-up, I need to remember the links and question I wrote the night before without autocue. I have to be ready for things such as Rio pinging a ball at us at QPR (rumbled!), or the sprinklers suddenly making us £250 for It’ll Be Alright On the Night. The other great things about being pitchside is that you get a real sense of atmosphere, and I think the pundits are better for being there.
It’s such a buzz, so here is how the day unfolds:
I am usually at the ground at 9am, so try and set an alarm for a couple of hours before. The first thing I do is get myself a coffee. Strong, plenty of milk, no sugar. Then I fire up my laptop.
I often write the script last thing on a Friday when we’ve had a nod or a wink about the potential line-ups, and when all the major stories have been discussed in the managers' Friday press conferences.
There is no benefit to me writing my script on a Wednesday, too much happens between then and Saturday lunchtime, so any work would be out-of-date.
So, in bed at about 7.15am, I fire up the laptop and read through what I wrote the day before. I tweak bits, trim it down, and add any news that may have broken overnight. Sometimes, I can’t believe that I thought what I wrote on the Friday evening was actually any good, and I change loads of my words. Other times I’ll change very little. I guess ultimately this is relatively futile as an exercise because the reality when we’re live on air is that I won’t remember exactly what I’ve written anyway. In the end I busk most links, or change my script depending on what we’ve just seen or discussed live on air.
Once I’ve finished changing the script, I have a shave, get my gear together (I do all my ironing the night before!) and then it’s off to the ground at about 8.30am.
This week my chauffeur was a certain ex-Liverpool striker, and Owen Hargreaves was in the back as he was on the F&S Show. I love moments like that. I never had the talent to cut it at the very top, but Michael and Owen made it, and I could pick their brains about football all day long. I still find it surreal that I used to cheer them on playing for England on the TV, and now here we are all working together as mates.
By 9am I’m at the ground, where the same thing happens every week. I walk into our Winnebago, and Robbie Savage will have a pop at my clothes, my hair or my bag. I usually look him up and down, observe his purple jacket and snakeskin jeans, and then keep my retort to myself.
Robbie is actually a great guy, and his banter is all a front. He has built his impressive TV career on dressing room banter and forthright opinions, and it really works for the shows he does like Fletch and Sav. He’s fun to be around.
Once I’ve taken my usual ribbing, I make myself another coffee... I’m addicted to Nespresso. Then we have our production meeting with Dylan, who runs the football output on-site. I first worked with Dylan in 2008 on the Africa Cup Of Nations, and like all of us on the show, he just loves sport and is passionate about making BT Sport as good as is possible.
It is still incredible to think that as supporters stop and ask us about the channel, as we drive past BT Sport billboards, or when an ad pops up during an X Factor break, that we’re just over a season into this. It also drives home how big the challenge is, and how much impact we’ve already made.
However, we are compared to the BBC, ITV and Sky Sports on a weekly basis, and for that reason it's up to us to not let standards slip for one moment.
For that reason, after our initial production meeting we go into the VT truck, and the pundits will watch examples of the topics we’ll chat about pre-match, and change the shots or work out ways to make their point with the pictures that are available. It’s vital, as they have to believe in what they are saying.
Once that’s done it’s off to make-up (minimal obviously!), Macca then gets a blow-dry for his famous locks, and we head pitchside.
The next 45 minutes flies by in a blur as we discuss league tables, reveal OPTA stats, potential areas the game can be won and lost, and hear from managers and players.
By 12.45pm, when the game finally kicks off I’ve been up for almost 6 hours, and I’m yet to eat anything. I can’t explain why, but I can never eat before I go on air. It was like that on CBBC, I did just the same on Formula One, and even now I can’t imagine eating anything until we’re off air.
It’s not nerves; strangely I’ve never suffered from nerves. However, self-doubt is another thing entirely. I’m always insanely jealous of people who seem totally unfazed by the pressures around them, and remain completely sure of their own ability.
I have always felt before every show that this will be the one I mess up, this is the one I get ‘found out’, this is the show I just won’t be able to do. It's daft really as I’ve done this job for almost 20 years without that happening. Perhaps it's a self-preservation thing, something to keep me on my toes.
Anyway, back to the day. Just like you, I watch the game on the TV. However, I do so in the TV truck, sitting alongside the pundits, and we’ll discuss the big stories of the game as they unfold and how we’ll dissect and discuss them for the audience at home.
In what seems like an instant, the game is over and I’m talking over pictures of the players walking off the pitch. I love this part of the job as it’s always about the emotion, the story, the ‘moment’.
This is also the technically hardest part. What you don’t see is that I am usually huddled in an emergency exit with loads of police and stewards for the final few minutes of the game. We can’t go pitchside until the final whistle, but we need to be somewhere inside the ground. Amazingly, at Old Trafford, we’re in a tunnel underneath both the dugouts, locked behind a gate until the whistle blows! Again, it all adds to the challenge.
As the ref puts the whistle to his lips we are then allowed to walk to our pitchside presentation position, but whilst I do that, the commentator will usually throw to me, so on live TV I’m walking down steps, into the pitch, sidestepping stewards, trying to hear over the blaring PA and singing fans, yet at the same time talk about the pictures you can see at home, and work out what a win or defeat means for the league table before throwing to the break.
The last part of the show is fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants TV as the plan is totally driven by the score, the stories, and the interviews we get.
It's such a privilege to do this job, and as we sign off from the game and throw to the next live event of the day on BT Sport, I never fail to count my blessings, or realise what a hard-working and talented team it takes to deliver a live football game.
The day usually ends with me getting home at about 9pm, I pop upstairs and give a fast-asleep Flo a peck on the forehead, and usually say a little prayer that hopefully one day she’ll get to do a job she loves too.
Have a great week – see you at Old Trafford.
See below on a mobile for my photos from Saturday.