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Billy on the Box: Countdown to Friday Night Football is a bit of a conundrum


Jeff Stelling

Jeff Stelling

Getty Images

Jeff Stelling

It should have been good. Jeff Stelling in the driving seat, a top line-up of pundits - and Jamie Redknapp - a fancy new set, two good teams in action and Rachel Riley thrown in for good measure. It was what Friday nights were made for, only it wasn't.

Sky, for so long the pioneers of sporting excellence, have tried a bit too hard to fix something that shouldn't be broken as it hasn't even come out of the box yet, as the first Friday Night Football hit the screens.

"Sky wanted two new faces for this season's Premier League football," said a very happy Rachel, adhering to the memo that all Sky ladies must be sleeveless and whose smug grin was out-smugged by her former Countdown colleague, Jeff.

"They got one and one significantly reconstructed," he added and we quickly got the idea how this was going to go - a bit blokey, with a girl who loves a pint and football, some toenail-extracting moments with Chris Kamara and Tubes from Soccer AM, and who knows, maybe a bit of football thrown in for good measure.

"Friday night, the end of the working week," added Jeff.

"It might mean a pint, eating out, a trip to the movies or the theatre. So sit back, drink in the atmosphere and enjoy the drama of a very special theatre - the Theatre of Dreams, where Manchester United are once again box office." Yes, we get it.

Lowlight of the build-up was a trip to a pub in Manchester to catch up with the team from another new show, In Off The Bar, which featured new presenter Laura Woods - blonde and short sleeved (she will be for the chop, as will the sleeves) - and it was truly awful. Jamie Carragher's face a picture when asked what did he have for his dinner.

"I had a Pret a Manger (other eateries are available) about half 12 today, is that product placement?" came the bemused response and the sooner this cringeworthy feature is removed from FNF the better.

Thierry Henry was sent to interview Paul Pogba; Jeff and Rachel were both needed to talk to Jose Mourinho and Tubes was sent to meet Southampton's Nathan Redmond with consequences as hilarious consequences as having a boil lanced with a javelin.

We also learned that Rachel had a poster of a 'very hairy 90s Ryan Giggs' on her bedroom wall, sending Giggsy into the sort of awkward look probably reserved for family get-togethers.

Jamie Carragher's was Peter Reid, Jamie Redknapp's was Jamie Redknapp (okay, it was John Barnes) while Jeff told us his was Olivia Newton-John. She scored 24 goals for Hartlepool in the 1978-79 season. Very fast, like greased lightning…

The build-up wasn't. It felt a lot like United of the past few seasons - slow, laboured and not very enjoyable but, like Jose's team, it's a work in progress. As Jeff said: 'it's evolution, not revolution' but things are going to have to change if we're going to be hopelessly devoted to FNF.

Belfast Telegraph