Behind the scenes

My matchnight: Jake Humphrey

The lead presenter of BT Sport’s Champions League coverage spoke to Champions Journal hours before he went on air for Liverpool’s Anfield meeting with Rangers in October.

When does preparation start for a game like this? 

Normally the weekend before the game, but I try to wait as late as possible. You can do all the planning you like, then a manager will come out and say something about the game in a press conference that will totally change the conversation.

Before the game kicks off, what does a matchday look like for you? You got here at 4pm today…

I left at 10am, so it is a long day before I get here; I live in Norwich, about 250 miles away. But I am grateful for the long journeys I have. I can listen to the radio, do my prep, read the paper, write my script. I use the back of that car as my office and I spend most of my year in that office driving up and down the country. You need the time when you get here too, to get your head around what you are doing. There is nothing worse than being in a rush – live television is going to start when it starts.

How would you summarise your job?

My job is 10 to 15 per cent talking about football; the other 85 to 90 per cent is getting the show on and off air on time, trying to get the best out of the pundits and listening to the seven or eight voices we hear down our earpieces when we are live on air. I also have to make sure I’m not standing in the light that belongs to the pundit, ensure all three pundits have their opportunities to talk and know the graphics that are about to appear.

Who are those voices in your ear?

There are two main ones: the producer – who is in charge of the creative side of broadcasting – and the director, who is in charge of the more technical side. The producer is listening to the conversation, so if Michael Owen says there is nothing better than scoring in a final, they might press the button and tell me to remind Michael of a goal he scored in the 88th minute in 2005. The director is calling the cameras. For example: “Come into camera 3, camera 3, frame up on Rio; Batcam, can you go up and give me a shot of the stadium.”

Who else?

I am also hearing the production assistant, whose job it is to make sure the show finishes on time; they count down all the parts to the second. Then there is a stats guy who is letting me know if a goal goes in at Frankfurt v Spurs; he would say, “1-0, Spurs, Son.” I am still having a conversation but thinking that I need to find a moment to say, “Just so you know, there’s been a goal in the other game…” Then there are other people like VT ops, and those milling around in the gallery.

Does it all come easily to you now?

After all these years, I could stand in position 10 minutes before we are on air and be able to do my bit. I started in kids’ telly and that was brilliant; it was a grounding for me doing live TV. I rely on the skills I learned then every time I do a football game. But you have to understand everyone else’s job as well; the full crew – it is about 150 today – need their own rehearsal.

Mohamed Salah in shot during his pre-match routine

But do you still get nervous?

It does get easier over time, but I also never want to be at a point where there are zero nerves; it sharpens you up and is good for you. In the mid-1990s I failed my A levels – I got an E, an N and a U. I went to do some work experience at a TV company, which led to me being offered a job, which led to my time on Children’s BBC: 12 hours a day of live telly. Then I was lucky that when they were looking for a new presenter of F1, I was the young up-and-comer and got the gig. I did that for four years and made a name for myself as a sports presenter – then, when the BT job came up, I was able to take that. So now, when I am about to go on air and the nerves are kicking in, I remind myself: “I am only here because I am an A level failure.” That helps.

With so many people involved in a broadcast, do you feel a level of responsibility because you are the face of that?

Yes, I definitely do. I feel it just before I go on air. It’s not just those 150 people: a show like this is weeks in the planning and the rights to broadcast a game like this are in the tens of millions of pounds. So there is that moment when you are about to go on air, when you think that the last thing you want to do is mess up the opening words. But once you have started and have the first bit out of the way, sometimes you can come off air and not even know the score in the game. You are so into what is going on, trying to deliver live television, that you come off at the end saying, “What did you say? What did I say? What actually happened? Who scored the goals?”

How do you get the best out of the pundits?

You realise your job is to be like a referee: you need to keep the game flowing nicely and not be noticed; as soon as people are talking about the presenter, you haven’t done your job right. You need to give them all the freedom they can have, to almost act like they’re not on television, so I will say to the guys, “Don’t worry about what time we are off air, or if you forget the analysis run we’ve planned, or you can’t remember a player’s name – I will give you a little nudge. Relax.” Although you have to be yourself plus 20 per cent: on telly you can’t just be chilling out, or you look uninterested. Then you need to keep them interested and working hard because these guys have money in the bank; they can sit at home and chill, they don’t need to be here. It needs to be fun and rewarding for them.

What do you and the pundits do during the game when you’re not on screen?

We watch the match. Some pundits prefer to watch it in the studio on the TV; the guys who are more tactically minded want to look out the window and see the bigger picture of the game. You are constantly trying to find things people at home don’t see. They can see a good pass, but they might have missed the five or six runs that a player’s made to get that pass and the ball hasn’t found them. That is the key with analysis: it can’t just be goals and tackles. There is more to the game than that. Trying to explain the game tactically to people is important.

So would you say that's part of your role, to enlighten the viewers

We have to remember we are covering a European competition. So if Liverpool are playing Ajax, you are not going to see much Dutch football if you are living in the UK. We have a job to educate people on that team, their form and recent results.

Once you’re done for the night, do you reflect on what went well – and what didn’t?

Yes. Sometimes people see you on TV – it’s like seeing footballers on a screen – and think there is an immunity. But every footballer goes home and looks at a misplaced pass. It’s human instinct, right? I could say 100 good things, or ask 50 great questions, but if I mess one up or get something wrong, it eats away at me for days and days and days. You only get to this level if you are a perfectionist, but you have to be careful not to overthink stuff.

For all the pressure and self-criticism, do you still enjoy what you do?

Yes, especially games like this. You can’t come to the first meeting between Liverpool and Rangers and not think to yourself that it’s not just an opportunity to watch history, but to try to share that history with the people at home. And the pressure is not only on me, it’s on the whole production. This is totally unpredictable live television. There is no script or autocue; once the game starts there is no running order, there is no plan. We are entirely reactive to what happens during and after the game. That is the thrill – and you never lose that.

When does preparation start for a game like this? 

Normally the weekend before the game, but I try to wait as late as possible. You can do all the planning you like, then a manager will come out and say something about the game in a press conference that will totally change the conversation.

Before the game kicks off, what does a matchday look like for you? You got here at 4pm today…

I left at 10am, so it is a long day before I get here; I live in Norwich, about 250 miles away. But I am grateful for the long journeys I have. I can listen to the radio, do my prep, read the paper, write my script. I use the back of that car as my office and I spend most of my year in that office driving up and down the country. You need the time when you get here too, to get your head around what you are doing. There is nothing worse than being in a rush – live television is going to start when it starts.

How would you summarise your job?

My job is 10 to 15 per cent talking about football; the other 85 to 90 per cent is getting the show on and off air on time, trying to get the best out of the pundits and listening to the seven or eight voices we hear down our earpieces when we are live on air. I also have to make sure I’m not standing in the light that belongs to the pundit, ensure all three pundits have their opportunities to talk and know the graphics that are about to appear.

Who are those voices in your ear?

There are two main ones: the producer – who is in charge of the creative side of broadcasting – and the director, who is in charge of the more technical side. The producer is listening to the conversation, so if Michael Owen says there is nothing better than scoring in a final, they might press the button and tell me to remind Michael of a goal he scored in the 88th minute in 2005. The director is calling the cameras. For example: “Come into camera 3, camera 3, frame up on Rio; Batcam, can you go up and give me a shot of the stadium.”

Who else?

I am also hearing the production assistant, whose job it is to make sure the show finishes on time; they count down all the parts to the second. Then there is a stats guy who is letting me know if a goal goes in at Frankfurt v Spurs; he would say, “1-0, Spurs, Son.” I am still having a conversation but thinking that I need to find a moment to say, “Just so you know, there’s been a goal in the other game…” Then there are other people like VT ops, and those milling around in the gallery.

Does it all come easily to you now?

After all these years, I could stand in position 10 minutes before we are on air and be able to do my bit. I started in kids’ telly and that was brilliant; it was a grounding for me doing live TV. I rely on the skills I learned then every time I do a football game. But you have to understand everyone else’s job as well; the full crew – it is about 150 today – need their own rehearsal.

Mohamed Salah in shot during his pre-match routine

But do you still get nervous?

It does get easier over time, but I also never want to be at a point where there are zero nerves; it sharpens you up and is good for you. In the mid-1990s I failed my A levels – I got an E, an N and a U. I went to do some work experience at a TV company, which led to me being offered a job, which led to my time on Children’s BBC: 12 hours a day of live telly. Then I was lucky that when they were looking for a new presenter of F1, I was the young up-and-comer and got the gig. I did that for four years and made a name for myself as a sports presenter – then, when the BT job came up, I was able to take that. So now, when I am about to go on air and the nerves are kicking in, I remind myself: “I am only here because I am an A level failure.” That helps.

With so many people involved in a broadcast, do you feel a level of responsibility because you are the face of that?

Yes, I definitely do. I feel it just before I go on air. It’s not just those 150 people: a show like this is weeks in the planning and the rights to broadcast a game like this are in the tens of millions of pounds. So there is that moment when you are about to go on air, when you think that the last thing you want to do is mess up the opening words. But once you have started and have the first bit out of the way, sometimes you can come off air and not even know the score in the game. You are so into what is going on, trying to deliver live television, that you come off at the end saying, “What did you say? What did I say? What actually happened? Who scored the goals?”

How do you get the best out of the pundits?

You realise your job is to be like a referee: you need to keep the game flowing nicely and not be noticed; as soon as people are talking about the presenter, you haven’t done your job right. You need to give them all the freedom they can have, to almost act like they’re not on television, so I will say to the guys, “Don’t worry about what time we are off air, or if you forget the analysis run we’ve planned, or you can’t remember a player’s name – I will give you a little nudge. Relax.” Although you have to be yourself plus 20 per cent: on telly you can’t just be chilling out, or you look uninterested. Then you need to keep them interested and working hard because these guys have money in the bank; they can sit at home and chill, they don’t need to be here. It needs to be fun and rewarding for them.

What do you and the pundits do during the game when you’re not on screen?

We watch the match. Some pundits prefer to watch it in the studio on the TV; the guys who are more tactically minded want to look out the window and see the bigger picture of the game. You are constantly trying to find things people at home don’t see. They can see a good pass, but they might have missed the five or six runs that a player’s made to get that pass and the ball hasn’t found them. That is the key with analysis: it can’t just be goals and tackles. There is more to the game than that. Trying to explain the game tactically to people is important.

So would you say that's part of your role, to enlighten the viewers

We have to remember we are covering a European competition. So if Liverpool are playing Ajax, you are not going to see much Dutch football if you are living in the UK. We have a job to educate people on that team, their form and recent results.

Once you’re done for the night, do you reflect on what went well – and what didn’t?

Yes. Sometimes people see you on TV – it’s like seeing footballers on a screen – and think there is an immunity. But every footballer goes home and looks at a misplaced pass. It’s human instinct, right? I could say 100 good things, or ask 50 great questions, but if I mess one up or get something wrong, it eats away at me for days and days and days. You only get to this level if you are a perfectionist, but you have to be careful not to overthink stuff.

For all the pressure and self-criticism, do you still enjoy what you do?

Yes, especially games like this. You can’t come to the first meeting between Liverpool and Rangers and not think to yourself that it’s not just an opportunity to watch history, but to try to share that history with the people at home. And the pressure is not only on me, it’s on the whole production. This is totally unpredictable live television. There is no script or autocue; once the game starts there is no running order, there is no plan. We are entirely reactive to what happens during and after the game. That is the thrill – and you never lose that.

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When does preparation start for a game like this? 

Normally the weekend before the game, but I try to wait as late as possible. You can do all the planning you like, then a manager will come out and say something about the game in a press conference that will totally change the conversation.

Before the game kicks off, what does a matchday look like for you? You got here at 4pm today…

I left at 10am, so it is a long day before I get here; I live in Norwich, about 250 miles away. But I am grateful for the long journeys I have. I can listen to the radio, do my prep, read the paper, write my script. I use the back of that car as my office and I spend most of my year in that office driving up and down the country. You need the time when you get here too, to get your head around what you are doing. There is nothing worse than being in a rush – live television is going to start when it starts.

How would you summarise your job?

My job is 10 to 15 per cent talking about football; the other 85 to 90 per cent is getting the show on and off air on time, trying to get the best out of the pundits and listening to the seven or eight voices we hear down our earpieces when we are live on air. I also have to make sure I’m not standing in the light that belongs to the pundit, ensure all three pundits have their opportunities to talk and know the graphics that are about to appear.

Who are those voices in your ear?

There are two main ones: the producer – who is in charge of the creative side of broadcasting – and the director, who is in charge of the more technical side. The producer is listening to the conversation, so if Michael Owen says there is nothing better than scoring in a final, they might press the button and tell me to remind Michael of a goal he scored in the 88th minute in 2005. The director is calling the cameras. For example: “Come into camera 3, camera 3, frame up on Rio; Batcam, can you go up and give me a shot of the stadium.”

Who else?

I am also hearing the production assistant, whose job it is to make sure the show finishes on time; they count down all the parts to the second. Then there is a stats guy who is letting me know if a goal goes in at Frankfurt v Spurs; he would say, “1-0, Spurs, Son.” I am still having a conversation but thinking that I need to find a moment to say, “Just so you know, there’s been a goal in the other game…” Then there are other people like VT ops, and those milling around in the gallery.

Does it all come easily to you now?

After all these years, I could stand in position 10 minutes before we are on air and be able to do my bit. I started in kids’ telly and that was brilliant; it was a grounding for me doing live TV. I rely on the skills I learned then every time I do a football game. But you have to understand everyone else’s job as well; the full crew – it is about 150 today – need their own rehearsal.

Mohamed Salah in shot during his pre-match routine

But do you still get nervous?

It does get easier over time, but I also never want to be at a point where there are zero nerves; it sharpens you up and is good for you. In the mid-1990s I failed my A levels – I got an E, an N and a U. I went to do some work experience at a TV company, which led to me being offered a job, which led to my time on Children’s BBC: 12 hours a day of live telly. Then I was lucky that when they were looking for a new presenter of F1, I was the young up-and-comer and got the gig. I did that for four years and made a name for myself as a sports presenter – then, when the BT job came up, I was able to take that. So now, when I am about to go on air and the nerves are kicking in, I remind myself: “I am only here because I am an A level failure.” That helps.

With so many people involved in a broadcast, do you feel a level of responsibility because you are the face of that?

Yes, I definitely do. I feel it just before I go on air. It’s not just those 150 people: a show like this is weeks in the planning and the rights to broadcast a game like this are in the tens of millions of pounds. So there is that moment when you are about to go on air, when you think that the last thing you want to do is mess up the opening words. But once you have started and have the first bit out of the way, sometimes you can come off air and not even know the score in the game. You are so into what is going on, trying to deliver live television, that you come off at the end saying, “What did you say? What did I say? What actually happened? Who scored the goals?”

How do you get the best out of the pundits?

You realise your job is to be like a referee: you need to keep the game flowing nicely and not be noticed; as soon as people are talking about the presenter, you haven’t done your job right. You need to give them all the freedom they can have, to almost act like they’re not on television, so I will say to the guys, “Don’t worry about what time we are off air, or if you forget the analysis run we’ve planned, or you can’t remember a player’s name – I will give you a little nudge. Relax.” Although you have to be yourself plus 20 per cent: on telly you can’t just be chilling out, or you look uninterested. Then you need to keep them interested and working hard because these guys have money in the bank; they can sit at home and chill, they don’t need to be here. It needs to be fun and rewarding for them.

What do you and the pundits do during the game when you’re not on screen?

We watch the match. Some pundits prefer to watch it in the studio on the TV; the guys who are more tactically minded want to look out the window and see the bigger picture of the game. You are constantly trying to find things people at home don’t see. They can see a good pass, but they might have missed the five or six runs that a player’s made to get that pass and the ball hasn’t found them. That is the key with analysis: it can’t just be goals and tackles. There is more to the game than that. Trying to explain the game tactically to people is important.

So would you say that's part of your role, to enlighten the viewers

We have to remember we are covering a European competition. So if Liverpool are playing Ajax, you are not going to see much Dutch football if you are living in the UK. We have a job to educate people on that team, their form and recent results.

Once you’re done for the night, do you reflect on what went well – and what didn’t?

Yes. Sometimes people see you on TV – it’s like seeing footballers on a screen – and think there is an immunity. But every footballer goes home and looks at a misplaced pass. It’s human instinct, right? I could say 100 good things, or ask 50 great questions, but if I mess one up or get something wrong, it eats away at me for days and days and days. You only get to this level if you are a perfectionist, but you have to be careful not to overthink stuff.

For all the pressure and self-criticism, do you still enjoy what you do?

Yes, especially games like this. You can’t come to the first meeting between Liverpool and Rangers and not think to yourself that it’s not just an opportunity to watch history, but to try to share that history with the people at home. And the pressure is not only on me, it’s on the whole production. This is totally unpredictable live television. There is no script or autocue; once the game starts there is no running order, there is no plan. We are entirely reactive to what happens during and after the game. That is the thrill – and you never lose that.

My matchnight: Jake Humphrey
Behind the scenes

My matchnight: Jake Humphrey

The lead presenter of BT Sport’s Champions League coverage spoke to Champions Journal hours before he went on air for Liverpool’s Anfield meeting with Rangers in October.

When does preparation start for a game like this? 

Normally the weekend before the game, but I try to wait as late as possible. You can do all the planning you like, then a manager will come out and say something about the game in a press conference that will totally change the conversation.

Before the game kicks off, what does a matchday look like for you? You got here at 4pm today…

I left at 10am, so it is a long day before I get here; I live in Norwich, about 250 miles away. But I am grateful for the long journeys I have. I can listen to the radio, do my prep, read the paper, write my script. I use the back of that car as my office and I spend most of my year in that office driving up and down the country. You need the time when you get here too, to get your head around what you are doing. There is nothing worse than being in a rush – live television is going to start when it starts.

How would you summarise your job?

My job is 10 to 15 per cent talking about football; the other 85 to 90 per cent is getting the show on and off air on time, trying to get the best out of the pundits and listening to the seven or eight voices we hear down our earpieces when we are live on air. I also have to make sure I’m not standing in the light that belongs to the pundit, ensure all three pundits have their opportunities to talk and know the graphics that are about to appear.

Who are those voices in your ear?

There are two main ones: the producer – who is in charge of the creative side of broadcasting – and the director, who is in charge of the more technical side. The producer is listening to the conversation, so if Michael Owen says there is nothing better than scoring in a final, they might press the button and tell me to remind Michael of a goal he scored in the 88th minute in 2005. The director is calling the cameras. For example: “Come into camera 3, camera 3, frame up on Rio; Batcam, can you go up and give me a shot of the stadium.”

Who else?

I am also hearing the production assistant, whose job it is to make sure the show finishes on time; they count down all the parts to the second. Then there is a stats guy who is letting me know if a goal goes in at Frankfurt v Spurs; he would say, “1-0, Spurs, Son.” I am still having a conversation but thinking that I need to find a moment to say, “Just so you know, there’s been a goal in the other game…” Then there are other people like VT ops, and those milling around in the gallery.

Does it all come easily to you now?

After all these years, I could stand in position 10 minutes before we are on air and be able to do my bit. I started in kids’ telly and that was brilliant; it was a grounding for me doing live TV. I rely on the skills I learned then every time I do a football game. But you have to understand everyone else’s job as well; the full crew – it is about 150 today – need their own rehearsal.

Mohamed Salah in shot during his pre-match routine

But do you still get nervous?

It does get easier over time, but I also never want to be at a point where there are zero nerves; it sharpens you up and is good for you. In the mid-1990s I failed my A levels – I got an E, an N and a U. I went to do some work experience at a TV company, which led to me being offered a job, which led to my time on Children’s BBC: 12 hours a day of live telly. Then I was lucky that when they were looking for a new presenter of F1, I was the young up-and-comer and got the gig. I did that for four years and made a name for myself as a sports presenter – then, when the BT job came up, I was able to take that. So now, when I am about to go on air and the nerves are kicking in, I remind myself: “I am only here because I am an A level failure.” That helps.

With so many people involved in a broadcast, do you feel a level of responsibility because you are the face of that?

Yes, I definitely do. I feel it just before I go on air. It’s not just those 150 people: a show like this is weeks in the planning and the rights to broadcast a game like this are in the tens of millions of pounds. So there is that moment when you are about to go on air, when you think that the last thing you want to do is mess up the opening words. But once you have started and have the first bit out of the way, sometimes you can come off air and not even know the score in the game. You are so into what is going on, trying to deliver live television, that you come off at the end saying, “What did you say? What did I say? What actually happened? Who scored the goals?”

How do you get the best out of the pundits?

You realise your job is to be like a referee: you need to keep the game flowing nicely and not be noticed; as soon as people are talking about the presenter, you haven’t done your job right. You need to give them all the freedom they can have, to almost act like they’re not on television, so I will say to the guys, “Don’t worry about what time we are off air, or if you forget the analysis run we’ve planned, or you can’t remember a player’s name – I will give you a little nudge. Relax.” Although you have to be yourself plus 20 per cent: on telly you can’t just be chilling out, or you look uninterested. Then you need to keep them interested and working hard because these guys have money in the bank; they can sit at home and chill, they don’t need to be here. It needs to be fun and rewarding for them.

What do you and the pundits do during the game when you’re not on screen?

We watch the match. Some pundits prefer to watch it in the studio on the TV; the guys who are more tactically minded want to look out the window and see the bigger picture of the game. You are constantly trying to find things people at home don’t see. They can see a good pass, but they might have missed the five or six runs that a player’s made to get that pass and the ball hasn’t found them. That is the key with analysis: it can’t just be goals and tackles. There is more to the game than that. Trying to explain the game tactically to people is important.

So would you say that's part of your role, to enlighten the viewers

We have to remember we are covering a European competition. So if Liverpool are playing Ajax, you are not going to see much Dutch football if you are living in the UK. We have a job to educate people on that team, their form and recent results.

Once you’re done for the night, do you reflect on what went well – and what didn’t?

Yes. Sometimes people see you on TV – it’s like seeing footballers on a screen – and think there is an immunity. But every footballer goes home and looks at a misplaced pass. It’s human instinct, right? I could say 100 good things, or ask 50 great questions, but if I mess one up or get something wrong, it eats away at me for days and days and days. You only get to this level if you are a perfectionist, but you have to be careful not to overthink stuff.

For all the pressure and self-criticism, do you still enjoy what you do?

Yes, especially games like this. You can’t come to the first meeting between Liverpool and Rangers and not think to yourself that it’s not just an opportunity to watch history, but to try to share that history with the people at home. And the pressure is not only on me, it’s on the whole production. This is totally unpredictable live television. There is no script or autocue; once the game starts there is no running order, there is no plan. We are entirely reactive to what happens during and after the game. That is the thrill – and you never lose that.

Penalty Pedigree

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When does preparation start for a game like this? 

Normally the weekend before the game, but I try to wait as late as possible. You can do all the planning you like, then a manager will come out and say something about the game in a press conference that will totally change the conversation.

Before the game kicks off, what does a matchday look like for you? You got here at 4pm today…

I left at 10am, so it is a long day before I get here; I live in Norwich, about 250 miles away. But I am grateful for the long journeys I have. I can listen to the radio, do my prep, read the paper, write my script. I use the back of that car as my office and I spend most of my year in that office driving up and down the country. You need the time when you get here too, to get your head around what you are doing. There is nothing worse than being in a rush – live television is going to start when it starts.

How would you summarise your job?

My job is 10 to 15 per cent talking about football; the other 85 to 90 per cent is getting the show on and off air on time, trying to get the best out of the pundits and listening to the seven or eight voices we hear down our earpieces when we are live on air. I also have to make sure I’m not standing in the light that belongs to the pundit, ensure all three pundits have their opportunities to talk and know the graphics that are about to appear.

Who are those voices in your ear?

There are two main ones: the producer – who is in charge of the creative side of broadcasting – and the director, who is in charge of the more technical side. The producer is listening to the conversation, so if Michael Owen says there is nothing better than scoring in a final, they might press the button and tell me to remind Michael of a goal he scored in the 88th minute in 2005. The director is calling the cameras. For example: “Come into camera 3, camera 3, frame up on Rio; Batcam, can you go up and give me a shot of the stadium.”

Who else?

I am also hearing the production assistant, whose job it is to make sure the show finishes on time; they count down all the parts to the second. Then there is a stats guy who is letting me know if a goal goes in at Frankfurt v Spurs; he would say, “1-0, Spurs, Son.” I am still having a conversation but thinking that I need to find a moment to say, “Just so you know, there’s been a goal in the other game…” Then there are other people like VT ops, and those milling around in the gallery.

Does it all come easily to you now?

After all these years, I could stand in position 10 minutes before we are on air and be able to do my bit. I started in kids’ telly and that was brilliant; it was a grounding for me doing live TV. I rely on the skills I learned then every time I do a football game. But you have to understand everyone else’s job as well; the full crew – it is about 150 today – need their own rehearsal.

Mohamed Salah in shot during his pre-match routine

But do you still get nervous?

It does get easier over time, but I also never want to be at a point where there are zero nerves; it sharpens you up and is good for you. In the mid-1990s I failed my A levels – I got an E, an N and a U. I went to do some work experience at a TV company, which led to me being offered a job, which led to my time on Children’s BBC: 12 hours a day of live telly. Then I was lucky that when they were looking for a new presenter of F1, I was the young up-and-comer and got the gig. I did that for four years and made a name for myself as a sports presenter – then, when the BT job came up, I was able to take that. So now, when I am about to go on air and the nerves are kicking in, I remind myself: “I am only here because I am an A level failure.” That helps.

With so many people involved in a broadcast, do you feel a level of responsibility because you are the face of that?

Yes, I definitely do. I feel it just before I go on air. It’s not just those 150 people: a show like this is weeks in the planning and the rights to broadcast a game like this are in the tens of millions of pounds. So there is that moment when you are about to go on air, when you think that the last thing you want to do is mess up the opening words. But once you have started and have the first bit out of the way, sometimes you can come off air and not even know the score in the game. You are so into what is going on, trying to deliver live television, that you come off at the end saying, “What did you say? What did I say? What actually happened? Who scored the goals?”

How do you get the best out of the pundits?

You realise your job is to be like a referee: you need to keep the game flowing nicely and not be noticed; as soon as people are talking about the presenter, you haven’t done your job right. You need to give them all the freedom they can have, to almost act like they’re not on television, so I will say to the guys, “Don’t worry about what time we are off air, or if you forget the analysis run we’ve planned, or you can’t remember a player’s name – I will give you a little nudge. Relax.” Although you have to be yourself plus 20 per cent: on telly you can’t just be chilling out, or you look uninterested. Then you need to keep them interested and working hard because these guys have money in the bank; they can sit at home and chill, they don’t need to be here. It needs to be fun and rewarding for them.

What do you and the pundits do during the game when you’re not on screen?

We watch the match. Some pundits prefer to watch it in the studio on the TV; the guys who are more tactically minded want to look out the window and see the bigger picture of the game. You are constantly trying to find things people at home don’t see. They can see a good pass, but they might have missed the five or six runs that a player’s made to get that pass and the ball hasn’t found them. That is the key with analysis: it can’t just be goals and tackles. There is more to the game than that. Trying to explain the game tactically to people is important.

So would you say that's part of your role, to enlighten the viewers

We have to remember we are covering a European competition. So if Liverpool are playing Ajax, you are not going to see much Dutch football if you are living in the UK. We have a job to educate people on that team, their form and recent results.

Once you’re done for the night, do you reflect on what went well – and what didn’t?

Yes. Sometimes people see you on TV – it’s like seeing footballers on a screen – and think there is an immunity. But every footballer goes home and looks at a misplaced pass. It’s human instinct, right? I could say 100 good things, or ask 50 great questions, but if I mess one up or get something wrong, it eats away at me for days and days and days. You only get to this level if you are a perfectionist, but you have to be careful not to overthink stuff.

For all the pressure and self-criticism, do you still enjoy what you do?

Yes, especially games like this. You can’t come to the first meeting between Liverpool and Rangers and not think to yourself that it’s not just an opportunity to watch history, but to try to share that history with the people at home. And the pressure is not only on me, it’s on the whole production. This is totally unpredictable live television. There is no script or autocue; once the game starts there is no running order, there is no plan. We are entirely reactive to what happens during and after the game. That is the thrill – and you never lose that.

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When does preparation start for a game like this? 

Normally the weekend before the game, but I try to wait as late as possible. You can do all the planning you like, then a manager will come out and say something about the game in a press conference that will totally change the conversation.

Before the game kicks off, what does a matchday look like for you? You got here at 4pm today…

I left at 10am, so it is a long day before I get here; I live in Norwich, about 250 miles away. But I am grateful for the long journeys I have. I can listen to the radio, do my prep, read the paper, write my script. I use the back of that car as my office and I spend most of my year in that office driving up and down the country. You need the time when you get here too, to get your head around what you are doing. There is nothing worse than being in a rush – live television is going to start when it starts.

How would you summarise your job?

My job is 10 to 15 per cent talking about football; the other 85 to 90 per cent is getting the show on and off air on time, trying to get the best out of the pundits and listening to the seven or eight voices we hear down our earpieces when we are live on air. I also have to make sure I’m not standing in the light that belongs to the pundit, ensure all three pundits have their opportunities to talk and know the graphics that are about to appear.

Who are those voices in your ear?

There are two main ones: the producer – who is in charge of the creative side of broadcasting – and the director, who is in charge of the more technical side. The producer is listening to the conversation, so if Michael Owen says there is nothing better than scoring in a final, they might press the button and tell me to remind Michael of a goal he scored in the 88th minute in 2005. The director is calling the cameras. For example: “Come into camera 3, camera 3, frame up on Rio; Batcam, can you go up and give me a shot of the stadium.”

Who else?

I am also hearing the production assistant, whose job it is to make sure the show finishes on time; they count down all the parts to the second. Then there is a stats guy who is letting me know if a goal goes in at Frankfurt v Spurs; he would say, “1-0, Spurs, Son.” I am still having a conversation but thinking that I need to find a moment to say, “Just so you know, there’s been a goal in the other game…” Then there are other people like VT ops, and those milling around in the gallery.

Does it all come easily to you now?

After all these years, I could stand in position 10 minutes before we are on air and be able to do my bit. I started in kids’ telly and that was brilliant; it was a grounding for me doing live TV. I rely on the skills I learned then every time I do a football game. But you have to understand everyone else’s job as well; the full crew – it is about 150 today – need their own rehearsal.

Mohamed Salah in shot during his pre-match routine

But do you still get nervous?

It does get easier over time, but I also never want to be at a point where there are zero nerves; it sharpens you up and is good for you. In the mid-1990s I failed my A levels – I got an E, an N and a U. I went to do some work experience at a TV company, which led to me being offered a job, which led to my time on Children’s BBC: 12 hours a day of live telly. Then I was lucky that when they were looking for a new presenter of F1, I was the young up-and-comer and got the gig. I did that for four years and made a name for myself as a sports presenter – then, when the BT job came up, I was able to take that. So now, when I am about to go on air and the nerves are kicking in, I remind myself: “I am only here because I am an A level failure.” That helps.

With so many people involved in a broadcast, do you feel a level of responsibility because you are the face of that?

Yes, I definitely do. I feel it just before I go on air. It’s not just those 150 people: a show like this is weeks in the planning and the rights to broadcast a game like this are in the tens of millions of pounds. So there is that moment when you are about to go on air, when you think that the last thing you want to do is mess up the opening words. But once you have started and have the first bit out of the way, sometimes you can come off air and not even know the score in the game. You are so into what is going on, trying to deliver live television, that you come off at the end saying, “What did you say? What did I say? What actually happened? Who scored the goals?”

How do you get the best out of the pundits?

You realise your job is to be like a referee: you need to keep the game flowing nicely and not be noticed; as soon as people are talking about the presenter, you haven’t done your job right. You need to give them all the freedom they can have, to almost act like they’re not on television, so I will say to the guys, “Don’t worry about what time we are off air, or if you forget the analysis run we’ve planned, or you can’t remember a player’s name – I will give you a little nudge. Relax.” Although you have to be yourself plus 20 per cent: on telly you can’t just be chilling out, or you look uninterested. Then you need to keep them interested and working hard because these guys have money in the bank; they can sit at home and chill, they don’t need to be here. It needs to be fun and rewarding for them.

What do you and the pundits do during the game when you’re not on screen?

We watch the match. Some pundits prefer to watch it in the studio on the TV; the guys who are more tactically minded want to look out the window and see the bigger picture of the game. You are constantly trying to find things people at home don’t see. They can see a good pass, but they might have missed the five or six runs that a player’s made to get that pass and the ball hasn’t found them. That is the key with analysis: it can’t just be goals and tackles. There is more to the game than that. Trying to explain the game tactically to people is important.

So would you say that's part of your role, to enlighten the viewers

We have to remember we are covering a European competition. So if Liverpool are playing Ajax, you are not going to see much Dutch football if you are living in the UK. We have a job to educate people on that team, their form and recent results.

Once you’re done for the night, do you reflect on what went well – and what didn’t?

Yes. Sometimes people see you on TV – it’s like seeing footballers on a screen – and think there is an immunity. But every footballer goes home and looks at a misplaced pass. It’s human instinct, right? I could say 100 good things, or ask 50 great questions, but if I mess one up or get something wrong, it eats away at me for days and days and days. You only get to this level if you are a perfectionist, but you have to be careful not to overthink stuff.

For all the pressure and self-criticism, do you still enjoy what you do?

Yes, especially games like this. You can’t come to the first meeting between Liverpool and Rangers and not think to yourself that it’s not just an opportunity to watch history, but to try to share that history with the people at home. And the pressure is not only on me, it’s on the whole production. This is totally unpredictable live television. There is no script or autocue; once the game starts there is no running order, there is no plan. We are entirely reactive to what happens during and after the game. That is the thrill – and you never lose that.

Penalty Pedigree

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