By Tom Warden
When the subject comes up years down the line, there will be many more than the 23,971 who were in the stadium for City’s defeat of Arsenal who will claim that they were actually there, I may be one of them. With a 6:30am start the following day and no possibility of a day off, there was no chance I could have made this match, so I was forced to watch it in enemy territory (North London). Accompanied by a fellow City fan and a friendly Gooner, we marvelled at Arsene’s team selection and settled in to a pub where we had to get them to change the channel as they had been showing an Ibrahimovic inspired PSG cruising to victory on ESPN.
We had expected a classic cup tie broadcast, the kind where they show Ronnie Radford scoring for Hereford as part of the opening montage, but refreshingly, what we were provided with was a little different. The programme opened with a respectful montage which covered City’s recent history. Narrated by Mark Lawn (who made a brief appearance in the dressing room sporting a Dickensian beard/sideburn combination), it touched on the fire and the Premier League days, whilst projecting an image of City as a ‘friendly, family club.’ So far, so good.
The step into the studio got even better, the pundits provided were two ex-City heroes in Peter Beagrie and Don Goodman, who were led by Ben Shephard. Both ex-players seemed genuinely fond of the club, but Beagrie in particular spoke with a particular warmth about how the team and the fans ‘deserved’ this calibre of game after the last decade. Shephard however, seemed to be under a remit to sell the game as a David v Goliath battle, putting particular emphasis on the cold and the state of the pitch, wondering wether this would adversely affect the Premiership players. Talk turned quickly to Arsenal putting out such a strong side and wether this was a statement of intent to show that they wanted to end the seven year trophy drought. There was no real mention of a possible upset and (rightly so), all involved seemed to think an Arsenal victory was, barring something extraordinary, a formality.
It was after this that things started to go a bit ITV. Both Parkinson and Wenger were asked loaded questions about whether the pitch would be a problem for the away side; and even after Wenger dismissed it quite amusingly, this was Sky’s chosen focus. Going into the ads, Pictures of Arsenal’s stars were shown in slow-mo looking uneasy warming up, wrapped up in hats and seemingly struggling with the cold. Wether this was a sign of things to come or Sky trying to big up the ‘don’t like it up ‘em’ nature of this kind of cup tie I’m not sure. I mean, surely it gets this cold in Newcastle? Or Wigan? There was also a misleading shot of Bacary Sagna covering his mouth whilst whispering pre-match prayers which was made to look like he was warming his hands, but the scene was set, big v small, the freezing north v the pampered, cultured south, a classic cup tie.
It didn’t continue as I thought it might though, Bill Leslie and David Pivon are not a commentary partnership I can say I’m familiar with and there were a couple of little slips, Nahki was pronounced as ‘Necky’ (thankfully only once) and there was a moment when Gary Jones was referred to as ‘the old warhorse Hughes’ but credit where credit is due, they provided a knowledgable and balanced outlook on the game. Imagine the hysterics had this been on ITV. Andy Townsend would have been going apoplectic about the magic of the cup and plucky little Bradford which would have, for me, spoilt the viewing experience a little. Yes, there were mentions of James Hanson being a former shelf stacker, but there were very few of those clichés uttered and Pivon in particular offered good tactical insight into how City played, their stats from the season so far and the strengths and weaknesses of City’s style of play.
There were references to the pitch intermittently, making me think that Sky had chosen to focus on this as a talking point, which it just wasn’t. As an aside, I have seen comment from people who were at the game saying that Arsenal’s fans were fairly quiet, whereas the coverage made them seem to be outsinging their City counterparts quite often, perhaps the Sky microphones had been placed near to them to make it seem that way? Who knows, but they seemed in mighty good voice for a set of fans whose team were on the end of a serious embarrassment. At no point was there any lack of respect for Bradford City evident in the commentary, and the research was evidently done thoroughly. Any excitement and surprise was at moment when there genuinely should have been some and the commentators at no point spoilt the viewing.
The post match analysis was full of disbelief and smiles, the widest being on the face of Peter Beagrie, yet there was no condescension, only praise for a fantastic performance and a deserved victory, which topped off a broadcast that I was more than pleasantly surprised with, although the use of KISS’s ‘Crazy Nights’ over replays of the goal was not something I enjoyed.
I went into watching this game expecting my football club to be slightly belittled, meaning that the recording of it I have would remain unwatched, instead, what I, and many other City fans have, is a fantastic memory of one of the best nights in my clubs recent history; and I really have to hand it to Sky for that.