Tonight, I had to begin my acclimatisation. As the first league game of the season kicked off on Sky Sports, I had to finally accept the fact that I support a club that is in the Coca Cola Championship. I’m a Newcastle fan, and Pam is a Middlesbrough fan, so as you can imagine last May was a fun time in our household as we both had to come to terms with the fact our teams were hopeless.
The fact that I had put a fiver on Boro to go down at 16-1 at the start of the season was scant consolation as I watched the burning wreckage of Newcastle follow them down on the final day of the season.
The big Championship kick off is tomorrow afternoon but Sky never knowingly accept an existing schedule and have pulled the Middlesbrough – Sheffield United tie forward a day in order to boost their Friday evening ratings. It’s nothing new for Sky to be showing Friday evening Championship games, but it is new to me.
Having become used to, and comfortable with, the Sky Sports mega-hype that surrounds even the most meaningless Premiership tie, I was a bit disappointed that Andy Gray couldn’t even be bothered to turn up. Presumably he’s still on holiday with Richard Keys, topping up the tan and reading his Rothmans.
Instead, we were welcomed to the 2009-10 season by some anonymous Sky Sports Newsreader over the theme tune of “You’ve Got The Love” by Candi Staton. Tragically, he was joined on the gantry by Championship standard “experts” Neil Warnock, Kevin Phillips and Peter Beagrie. Peter Beagrie! Imagine being in a league so crap that Peter Beagrie is considered an adequate pundit.
Neil Warnock is a pleasingly objectionable presence on any panel, but Kevin Phillips (depressingly, once again a Premiership striker this season) is possibly the most boring man in football. His voice is very similar to that of David Beckham, but he makes Becks look more flamboyant than The Great Soprendo. There was a point at half time where he launched into a soliloquy about Leroy Lita’s pace, and I actually lapsed into a coma. I only came round when Pam tried to steal my beer. Beagrie is actually the definition of the perfect Sky pundit – he only talks in tabloid headlines, tonight for example he constantly referred to the away team as “Sheff Yoo”
A pre-recorded interview with Boro manager Gareth Southgate before the match was unnerving in its intensity. It was a couple of minutes before I realised why. He was talking direct to camera rather than to the usual off-camera interviewer. Have Sky cut back by getting rid of Geoff Shreeves and implementing a Diary Room style interview?
Perhaps Southgate insists on this as part of his contract with the club. He does have a big nose but it is a bit self-conscious of him demanding to be filmed exclusively from this head-on angle
As the game started, Southgate emerged pitchside in his Italian suit and club tie, but the Sheffield United manager, Kevin Blackwell, in his cheap nylon Blades training top, was almost taunting him. This is how we do it down here, Pinocchio.
As the action progressed, commentated on by some bloke called Bill Leslie, ably assisted by Don Goodman, the attention inevitably strayed to the Premiership. Cutting away to the lurking figure of Martin O’Neill in the stands, there was much speculation over which players he had come to see. With the transfer window still yawning, and any half-decent players still vulnerable to poaching, it is going to be a very long season.