Ten minutes after the final whistle on Sunday — with Spurs sealing 2nd place for the first time in the Premier League era and completing an unbeaten home campaign, four dozen footballing legends ready to lead a grand farewell to one of the English football’s most famous old stages, and thousands of fans invading the pitch behind them — the conversation in the Sky Sports studio turned, inevitably, to the summer transfer window and whether Spurs would be able to keep stars such as Dele Alli.
Did it not cross the mind of the Sky host, Dave Jones, that this may not be the most relevant debate to be having, right now? Did it not cross his mind that, just maybe, tens of thousands of Spurs fans not fortunate enough to be at White Hart Lane on this historic occasion may be tuning in to soak in the atmosphere, celebrate a superb season, and bid goodbye to an old friend? Sure, it is perfectly reasonable to discuss the future of this Spurs team, the year away at Wembley, and the context of the success, achieved on a vastly smaller budget than the other occupants of the Premier League’s top six. But could it not wait, at least, for one sodding hour?
Even the best of TV hosts, which Dave Jones certainly isn’t, would struggle to wring a coherent thought on Spurs — or really anything — from Thierry Henry, while Jamie Redknapp is a malign and charmless presence, who cannot make it through two sentences without undermining Spurs.
“But can they keep hold of their players? But what if a big, big club comes calling? They should be smashing down the chairman’s door demanding a pay rise!”
Only Graeme Souness, a former Spurs apprentice who has fallen hard for Dele Alli and the strong, tough team Mauricio Pochettino has crafted, offered any semblance of a Spurs perspective on this huge day, But throw Souey a bloodied conversational rag — Spurs in the transfer market — and he’ll dive in two footed. Fortunately, the diggers were waiting to move in and Mauricio Pochettino was standing by in the tunnel, so this segment of the debate eventually came to a conclusion.
Sky’s coverage of Spurs has, to put it mildly, started to grate.
It wasn’t all that good to begin with, and hit a particular low in the run-in last season, with Cesc Fabregas of Chelsea and formerly of Arsenal being granted an undeserved platform to goad his upcoming opponents during one of Tottenham’s string of Monday night matches. But against West Ham, when both lead commentator Martin Tyler and presenter Rachel Riley (who is she?) took it upon themselves to suggest Spurs were bottlers as a nine-match winning streak came to an end during a fourth London derby in three weeks, what little patience was left evaporated.
The problem Sky have, or more accurately the problem we have with Sky, is that their roster of pundits and commentators isn’t built for Spurs being good.
For one season of fluke competence, Spurs being good was fine: a Leicester-lite surprise, who didn’t warrant further attention. But with Spurs showing all the signs of a sustained period of competence, Sky’s lack of a Spurs “voice” has become overwhelmingly apparent. Sending Thierry Henry, of all people, to the White Hart Lane finale was preposterous.
Spurs were selected for live TV coverage 18 times in 2014/15 and 21 times in 2015/16. This season, the final number will be 25. Of these, Sky will show 19 — so exactly half of Tottenham’s total games are being broadcast by Sky. Unless performances drop off significantly at Wembley, a similar number of Spurs games will be shown by Sky next season, in particularly given the lack of the Jose vs Pep narrative that drove a lot of live match selections in the first quarter of this season.
As the number of appearances has increased, the role of Spurs has changed. Spurs, up until now, were shown home and away against Sky’s chosen elite — a handy yardstick and almost certainly an entertaining game. Throw in a couple of London derbies, a goal-fest or two against Everton, something embarrassing against Newcastle and a whipping of Aston Villa, and that was Spurs on TV: repeat for 25 years. It didn’t require any thought, and certainly didn’t require any special treatment.
But now, Sky are aware that the situation is changing and they aren’t equipped to deal with it. Sky have some fine pundits such as Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher, while Frank Lampard is as smart and articulate an ex footballer as there is. But there simply isn’t a Spurs voice in the building — someone capable of offering a counter-opinion when the conversation gets tedious, someone who understands the spirit of the club, and can explain to viewers the transformation that Pochettino is leading.
Excruciatingly, the solution has been to play up the Spurs credentials of Jamie Redknapp. Ahead of the North London derby, Martin Tyler grandly welcomed “former Spurs captain Jamie Redknapp” to the coverage. Once I’d finished vomiting, I had to look it up. Redknapp was indeed selected as captain in 2003/04 by Glenn Hoddle, but played only 17 games that season — and made just 49 appearances for the club in total. That’s five more than Edgar Davids made, but Redknapp wasn’t invited to the legends parade while the Pitbull was: at least Jamie could get a lift home with his dad.
Redknapp, as Tyler himself said on commentary earlier in the season, is a Liverpool fan — and there is nothing wrong with that after making more than 200 appearances for the Anfield club. Just don’t pretend to be something you aren’t: give me honest admissions of bias over false claims of balance, any day of the week.
Does any of this matter? Most of the time, not at all. At half-time, most viewers do the washing up or take the dog out; at full-time, most of us finish watching at the final whistle and do something else. But just occasionally, like on Sunday, as a fan you want to savour every moment, drink in the atmosphere as though you were there. And this is when you realise just how abysmal Sky’s coverage of Spurs is.
It seems that Sky — and many other media outlets — are stuck on repeat. After every victory, the question is whether Spurs can keep hold of our star players; after every dropped point, the question is whether Spurs lack mental fortitude. We won nine goddam games in a row, and Martin Tyler — the most experienced commentator and the voice of the Premier League — was accusing us of throwing away the title.
Is it any wonder Spurs fans feel we’re not getting the credit we deserve? Spurs are playing magnificent football, setting club records and keeping title races alive long after all the other “big” clubs have given up; we’ve got a vibrant young squad that is providing more players for the England team than anyone else; we’re doing it on a tight budget, using homegrown players, while building a world-class stadium with virtually no support from the public purse. Spurs should be a model, lauded for doing things “the right way”; instead, after every fucking game, we’re treated to Jamie Redknapp diminishing our achievements and trying to break us up.
I’m no Sky basher, as those who follow me on Twitter know. I think Sky’s sporting coverage is world class, and its football coverage is far better than BT Sport’s dumbed down approach. It’s just unlucky, really, that Sky are so shit when it comes to covering Spurs.
I know Sky don’t care. Liverpool and Man United are all that matters, in terms of the subscription model. We all regret the decision to give Thierry Henry such a prominent role, Sky Sports management included — only four years and £16m left on his contract, lads.
But, as they plan for the new season, I desperately hope Sky at least consider adding one Spurs voice to their line-up. If Crouchy or Robbo hang up their boots this summer, they’d be a welcome addition, or perhaps Matt Le Tissier, Saints legend and boyhood Spurs fan, could be given be a more prominent role.
To be honest, though, empty chairs and a couple more betting adverts would provide more insight into Spurs than Henry and Redknapp Jnr.
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