Belfast Telegraph

BT and Sky battle commences with the switch on for the big kick-off

By Billy Weir

Imagine the scene on Saturday morning. Clare Balding, with a tear in her eye and standing in her Kauto Star jammies, brushes away some toast crumbs from the corner of wee Jake Humphrey's face, as he heads off for his first day.

In his BT-emblazoned satchel, once adorned with pictures of Sue Barker and John Inverdale, is an IPad, backed with old phone bills, his Young Boy's Book of Footballers' Nicknames, a Norwich City tumbler filled with cordial and a piece box full of horse sandwiches prepared by Clare.

Yes, the first proper day for BT Sport had arrived and Clare's last words in Jake's ears were not to let those nasty big boys at Sky bully him or dirty up his nice new trainers.

Sky were to arrive later on. Their ongoing campaign to rename every day as a football day or night meaning that soon we'll be watching Wednesday Wee Hours of the Morning football but Saturday Night Football gave them their chance to ensure the new boys didn't hog the headlines.

Leading men: BT must love Jake, he genuinely seems so excited to be there and everything was so shiny, new and wonderful that he almost made you forget that first up it was Liverpool v Stoke City. Dave Jones' main fault is, and it isn't his fault, is that he isn't Richard Keys, and that Jamie Redknapp isn't Andy Gray, a relief I'm sure to Sarah Jane Mee.

"Good evening, it's five o'clock and it's Crackerjack," was his opening gambit, well, apart from the last bit, instead he added 'here are your headlines on Saturday Night Football.' And he was spot on in all three in that it was indeed football on a Saturday night.

The setting: Dave was joined by a raucous cheering crowd in a dimly-lit room or perhaps a room lit for the dim as he dandered off to show off a shiny trinket, an inanimate object that has nothing to say but is ever so pleasing on the eye. And Jamie was joined by the Premier League trophy.

Nice new swivel seats for our intrepid duo on which they were surrounded by their cheering pals but BT's mega studio with a giant green pitch that, according to Jake, they could even have the Sydney Opera House on if they wanted. Of course, that would make it only the second most cumbersome object to appear on an Australian football pitch after Robbie Fowler's spell at Melbourne Roar.

Pundits: A tough one for Jamie as he was on his own, unlike BT's cast of thousands. But he can handle it. Referring to Dave's news that 'there was no Bony for Swansea' – health and safety must have stepped in – Jamie revealed that the striker had 'played against Mexico in New Jersey, just outside New York.' Good to see that stint with Thomas Cook has paid off.

Over on BT there was safety in numbers. Steve McManaman was their obligatory Scouser, while Owen Hargreaves, a one-man United Nations, managed to last a full 90 minutes for the first time. They're regulars, Tony Pulis, the former Stoke manager won't be but was excellent even though Jake kept reminding him that he'd been sacked. It felt like he was being asked to watch his old girlfriend in the arms of another, but he soldiered on bravely.

Supporting cast: David James has potential to be either the greatest pre-match interviewer ever or the new Kelly Dalglish – it is a narrow line which he straddles at the moment. Despatched to interview the two goalies at Anfield, we garnered that Stoke's Asmir Begovic was still growing and loved quizzes, and Simon Mignolet can speak five languages.

"Well, that's if you count Flemish as a language," said Simon. "It's a bit like Scottish is English." Quite.

When it came to speaking to the managers, Jamo, as he is known to Jake and Macca, had turned into Stubbsy, or Ray Stubbs, while on Sky, it was a strange day for Geoff Shreeves who had finally removed his head from the lower reaches of a old surly Scottish man and was now dealing with a younger surly Scottish man in David Moyes. At least he didn't say 'well done, Geoff' after he has asked no tough questions.

Commentators: Two hard-working pros in charge on day one with Ian Darke for BT and Rob Hawthorne for Sky, not superstars, but solid chaps, your John McGovern rather than John Robertson.

Darke was desperate for the much-heralded Hawkeye to be needed, as we went to a replay for a shot that a man with no eyes could see wasn't over the line, and said there would be many who would welcome it including 'Frank Lampard and a few England fans.' Indeed, and 80 million German ones.

Rob's highlight was to refer to Michael Laudrup as a 'decent player himself'. Well, he's certainly no Tom Cleverley, I'll give you that.

The companions: It was Michael Owen's first competitive outing for BT, expect him to miss the next seven months with chronic bronchitis, and perhaps it's harsh to expect too much from him so soon, and any man who in 2013 still refers to a player 'going off like a bottle of pop' is okay with me.

Gary Neville is still the class act of the bunch although rather worryingly had started to refer to one player's dominance over another as 'having him on toast.' No mention of pop though.

A little bit extra: BT's big innovation is to have a referee in the commentary box, namely Mark Halsey, who came on before the game shaking like a leaf and as nervous as Graham Poll at a Croatian card convention. Oh, and they also had Primal Scream playing in the studio, said a beaming Jake. Jamie did his best with the spoons but it wasn't quite the same.

So there you have it, the first day done and dusted, Liverpool beating dross at home and Man Utd playing badly and winning 4-1. There's still the feeling that BT are trying a bit too hard while the Sky juggernaut drives on relentlessly even with some lame passengers on board, but I'm already counting down to Jamo's next bizarre outing with the mic.

Belfast Telegraph

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