Behind-The-Scenes At Sky Sports News On Deadline Day

Last year, Esquire experienced the highs and lows of the biggest day at Sky Sports News. We revisit the article as Jim White and his crew bring down the curtain on a frantic Deadline Day 2014.

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Andy Cairns, tall, warm, Cockney, Executive Editor of Sky Sports News, leans in with a pleasing thought.

"On Match Of The Day, they sort of sit almost with their backs to you, don’t they? Like you’re eavesdropping on know-it-alls in the pub... We don’t do that. We say: ‘come and sit at our table’. We put you in the room with us."

Just beyond his office in long blue television studio, a team of producers, editors and writers are getting ready for the biggest night in their relentless 24 hour schedule, a night they’ve successfully turned into something that is, for football fans, almost as ritualistic as the opening fixture of the season. It’s Deadline Day.

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5 hrs, 10 mins till Deadline. Aston Villa sign Libor Kozak from Lazio.

‘Putting you in the room’ on Deadline Day is the legendary enthusiasm of anchor Jim White. So legendary some fans call it ‘Jim White Day’. So legendary fans hold up homemade signs bearing his name when the action cuts to the crowds outside stadiums. So legendary Jack Wilshere later tweets:

It is the Scotsman’s relentless energy that keeps Deadline Day oiled, giving each story update the feel of a Ferrari whizzing out of a tunnel when really it’s no more than a Fiat moving slowly through the gears.

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Jim sits at the canteen, twenty minutes before he’s due to go on air. He seems pumped for the slog ahead. As pumped as a 57-year-old man caked in an inch of orange make up can look.

"It’s become a massive day in the football calendar!" Jim shouts, patting his co-anchor Natalie Sawyer’s waist gently.

"We love it! We have a blast!"

You think of Mark Lawrenson, barely able to muster a single enthusiastic sentence over 90 minutes commentating on a live World Cup game. You look at a man who can make a proposed loan deal involving Rochdale feel like the final minutes of the 1999 Champion’s League final.

"Tonight is going to be fantastic! The Gareth Bale move has kick-started everything!"

Jim White and his co-anchor leave. The dominos in football’s day of theatre are expected to start tumbling soon.


3 hrs, 24 mins till Deadline. Several papers call Mesut Ozil’s move to Arsenal. Sky Sports News hold off for confirmation from the club.

The desk you see on television is just a desk. There’s a waste paper bin underneath it, bottles of water, food cartons, rubbish. It faces a series of unmanned cameras that move via robotics. It backs into the strangest newsroom you have ever seen.

The onscreen motif of shiny blues and sprawling yellow bars unfurls into the newsroom its self. A snaking walk way separates the editorial desk from the production team, who pass messages along each other that ultimately end up in Jim’s ear.

"Fellaini may be able to hand in a transfer request…"  "Does anyone know anything about Bendtner?”

Everyone moves with purposeful calm. Everyone has at least 3 screens in front of them.

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2 hrs, 8 mins until Deadline. Fellaini hands in a transfer request. Cameras 2 and 3 break.


"We’re going to have to move them manually for now," the producer frowns during an ad break.

Jim White spends the respite on his phone. He is trying to track down Dave Whelan, the Wigan owner. The are rumours of an impending Everton bid for James McCarthy. 


1 hr 51 mins untill Deadline. Demba Ba’s proposed move to Arsenal falls through.

"There are constantly several voice going off in our ears. We’re hearing the director, the director’s assistant, the producer, the co-producer and just any other conversations going on in the background - the vision mixers, the technical directors…"

Natalie Sawyer is wearing a yellow dress to match Jim’s yellow tie to match the yellow ticker on the screen: Deadline Day yellow. Lots of the background staff wear yellow too: a gesture of solidarity with their indefatigable anchors.

"There is a constant noise in your ear you have to get used to," she continues. "While we're presenting the show, we’re hearing everything that goes on in the gallery."

The gallery is like the cockpit of a space ship. There are 40… 50… 60 different TV screens blaring different pieces of footage at once.

Situated beneath the studio, it is the nerve centre of the show, co-ordinating the onscreen bells and whistles and the cut aways and in-studio segments you see on screen.

At the front in the centre is the programme director, speaking softly into a long microphone, conducting.

"Sorry we had to come off you there,” he’s telling one the 20 reporters they have stationed around the country, one for each Premier League football club.

"People were making rude hand gestures behind you."


 

1 hr 23 mins till Deadline. No news.

Nothing on Fellaini. Nothing on Ozil. There is a lull in the action. Except there can’t be. This is Deadline Day.

Jim puts a call in to Mo Farah. He’s a big Arsenal fan. He agrees to come on air and talk.

"I’m very excited about Ozil!" the Olympic Gold medalist says down the phone from the South of France.

"I don’t have a tele but I’m watching it all happen on social media!"

"OK great to hear from you Mo!" enthuses Jim. Another ad break.

A runner brings Nat some sushi. She hasn’t eaten all day. She’s allergic to shellfish. "Sorry I can’t eat that," she tells the runner, polite but famished. The runner slopes off, disappointed with himself. Cameras 2 and 3 are working again.


58 mins untill Deadline. Manchester United’s proposed deal for Ander Herrera has fallen through.

Ad break. Niall Quinn and Darragh MacAnthony, guests for the evening, swap horror stories from their time as chairmen having players poached by bigger clubs. Jim is on the blower again, chasing the end of the night’s longest running sagas. MacAnthony shovels food in his mouth from a plastic carton.


28 mins untill Deadline. Ozil is finally confirmed.

"My Dad was Rangers man so I was always taken to Ibrox. A lot of people up there still think I have an affection for Rangers, which I do to a degree. But I don’t not have an affection for Celtic. It doesn’t really bother me one way or another," Jim White insists unconvincingly.

"I am Brentford fan so I’ve been in touch with them all day," Natalie says with a grin.

Football journalists: only ever allowed to pretend to be neutral, or to say they support a lower league team. Which of course is the same thing.

2 mins untill Deadline. Fellaini confirmed for Manchester United in £27.5m move.


End Game. There are some loose ends to tie up till midnight or so, but Deadline Day is effectively over for another year.

Exhausted, wired, voices still ringing in their heads, Jim and Natalie finally remove their microphones and come off air. Sadly, there is no time for celebration, no traditional trip to the pub. They are going home to bed.

Andy Cairns, tall, Cockney, part of the Sky Sports team since its inception, says this is a different world now.

"24 hours news. It doesn’t stop. Right away tomorrow we’re going to begin planning for the next Deadline Day."

He doesn’t seem to mind.

"We can be a lot more agile these days,” he smiles. "We've made this day our own."

Originally published on 3 September 2013.

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