The 72 interviews: Sky Sports presenter David Jones
When you turn on your television and tune in for some live Football League coverage, the chances are that you will see Sky Sports presenter David Jones beaming back at you. David was kind enough to devote some time to talk, both about his career and the Football League in general, with The Seventy Two…
One of the reasons I set up this site is that I get the sense there is an increasing degree of unity between supporters of Football League clubs, especially given the recent financial problems suffered by many of us.
Do you think there is a divide between the Football League and the top flight?
I think there is a certainly a “them and us” feeling. The Premier League can often feel quite separate, but there are clubs which bridge the gap – such as Blackpool, a club that some would consider a Football League team playing in the Premier League.
Blackpool have done a disservice to a lot of Championship clubs in the sense that managers will go to chairmen in search of funds and will be getting the answer that Blackpool didn’t need huge resources! Players like Luke Varney, who have often struggled at Championship level, have been a success in the Premier League this season. How can you legislate for that?
I agree. Blackpool have constantly astounded me this season and I certainly feel as though they are representing the Football League in a way.
Moving on to another newly-promoted team, what do you make of the current situation at Newcastle?
We covered a lot of Newcastle games last year. It was a joy for us at Sky because they guaranteed a great atmosphere. Everywhere was a sell-out.
At the end of last season, I started asking “what happens next?” I got a lot of criticism for asking that question, but I felt that the owners there had ‘previous’, so to speak, so we had to ask the question.
The owners had proven themselves so inconsistent in their decision-making that it was impossible for people to say Chris Hughton would be the manager going into the Premier League. I started getting vibes that this wouldn’t be a long-term arrangement.
I did a League Cup game up there against Arsenal and, even then, there were whispers going around that the owners weren’t happy with the fact Newcastle had collected so few points at home against the likes of Blackpool and Stoke. The owners appear to have been looking for a way out.
A poor run of results provided that.
So was it just a case of Newcastle not getting enough points so far this season or is there some sort of ulterior motive at play, in your opinion?
I think Mike Ashley feels the club are in a false position in the league because they have mainly played lesser teams. There is also a feeling among the club hierarchy that anyone could have got them out of the Championship last year.
We’ll never know whether that would have been possible for anyone else to do. You just didn’t know whether they could be turned around that quickly.
You support their great rivals Sunderland. I’ve always wondered, do Sky recommend that you keep the team that you support secret?
No-one has ever come up to me and said “don’t say that”. Sky give you a free hand and it’s up to you whether you make a success of things or not. It’s more difficult to be a supporter of a club in higher divisions.
Some presenters, such as Jeff Stelling perhaps, support a lower league club and it all adds to the package of him being a real football man. I don’t recall Richard Keys shouting about being a Coventry fan, although it’s fairly well known.
I’ve got a Sunderland game coming up in a couple of weeks time, which is my first as a presenter. It works well in a way because you end up being more critical of your own team.
You know them inside out, so you know what fans will be frustrated about and what they think about how certain players have performed over the season.
For example, when Sunderland won 3-0 at Chelsea recently, I found myself assessing mentally where Chelsea went wrong and trying to find reasons why we won, rather than going around saying that was the best Sunderland performance I’ve ever seen.
I had a quick look on Wikipedia in preparation for this interview! It says on there that you worked as a news reporter for the Derbyshire Times and then went straight from there to Sky Sports News.
Is there anything missing or is that exactly how it worked out?
That’s true. I did a History degree, followed by a postgraduate journalism course. The first job on offer was at the Derbyshire Times in Chesterfield. I decided to go for it as there were so few options around.
As a news reporter on a regional paper, you get a fantastic grounding in lots of different types of writing. Everything from murder trials to politics. Tony Benn was the local MP which always provided a bit of interest.
It was a coincidence that, while I was there, Chesterfield went on an FA Cup run that took them to the semi-finals. I lived next to the ground, so I went to see them when they were at home and ended up writing on the cup run as the paper had to call on greater resources than just the sports desk.
Suddenly, I had a portfolio of sports writing through that. I wanted a job with a national newspaper really.
I was an early subscriber to Sky and I saw an advertisement in The Guardian for roles when Sky Sports News launched in 1998. I chucked in a CV, went down to London and was offered a job as a scriptwriter, which I did for six months.
The whole thing was a case of right place, right time. A junior reporter left and I got his job, working around London and started doing more pitch-side interviews and things like that.
I did that for Premiership Plus, the pay-per-view channel, and then the bosses said they wanted me to present, so I did four years on the Sky Sports News afternoon shift with Georgie Thompson.
My current boss took me in, in a way, as he liked that I was a newspaper lad – the same as he had been. When you’re trained as a journalist, it becomes a discipline to write your own scripts, to choose your words carefully and to be concise even as a presenter.
Talking of newspapers, many are now making the link with bloggers and reaching out to their audiences via Twitter and other forms of social media.
Do you think there is any scope for television to make a similar link?
The problem with that is two-fold.
First, you have to convince an audience of a guest’s authority. With newspapers, you can choose whether to read them or not whereas television is more forced into your living room.
Channels will use ex-footballers as they have the authority to open their mouths because they’ve played the game.
The other issue is the format. To me, blogs often seem a bit like jazz music. You can write without deadlines and without worrying about making a point within a constrained word limit. That doesn’t really work with television, which is obviously a visual thing.
Sometimes on Sky Sports News, they might find a fanzine editor to give an opinion on something. You could call a blogger instead perhaps, who could offer the same authority and possibly speak with more eloquence in some cases.
Personally, I think there are three main presenting jobs on Sky that stand out to me as being really interesting to do other than your own – Jeff Stelling on Soccer Saturday, Richard Keys presenting the Premier League coverage and Mark Bolton covering Spanish football.
If you had to replace one of those three, which would you pick?
It would have to be the Premier League job. What I like about my job is going to football matches, seeing them with my own eyes and experiencing the atmosphere at grounds.
That adrenaline buzz of live coverage is fantastic. It’s a strange job in many ways as the week all leads up to one show, which happens very quickly.
Jeff makes something incredibly complex look incredibly straightforward and the prospect of following him is a bit like following Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United.
I enjoying watching the Spanish football coverage and Mark does a great job, but I love the physicality of going to games and I don’t think Mark would give his job up in a hurry anyway!
Going back to the Football League, what’s the best match you’ve covered in recent years?
It’s hard to look past the play-off final last year, purely for the combination of Blackpool’s way of playing and the feeling that it had to end at some point after the way they demolished Forest in the semi-final second leg.
Talking of Forest, their win at West Brom was the best performance I saw last season. It was possibly the best away performance I’ve ever seen in the Football League.
The Wolves team that went up with Ebanks-Blake in it were always good to watch.
You have to bear in mind, though, I’ve presented about 250 live games and I can’t remember who I watched last week!
How much research do you do for each game?
It’s a very individual thing. I’d prefer to be overprepared than underprepared as I’m a bit of a statto at heart. I was a huge cricket fan as a kid and I carried the Playfair and Wisden annuals everywhere with me.
I probably do about three days of research for each game, scanning newspapers and websites related to the two teams.
I like to go into games knowing everything that’s happened in the last couple of years at each club, so I can speak with authority about a manager or player.
It’s not just about what’s been reported in the paper that morning. A player might score ten goals but the real star might be the guy laying the chances on for him each week.
You need to know these things because that is the expectation our viewers have.
Are there any players that have particularly stood out to you this season? Adel Taarabt seems to be the stand-out performer in the Championship.
I saw the worst of Taarabt in the game we covered at Bristol City. Things didn’t go his way and he was just having one of those days where his team-mates became increasingly exasperated every time he gave the ball away or tried to beat one too many men…
That’s the difficulty I find, that you have to reflect Football League opinion and a certain player might be widely seen as the best around – but it’s tricky if you’ve only seen a couple of games and they didn’t play well.
That’s true. Actually, Kyle Walker was absolutely electric in that same game and looked every inch a Premier League player.
Looking to the future, how do you see things panning out in the Football League from a financial perspective?
Well, parachute payments have gone up so there will be strong clubs coming down from Premier League.
It will probably become a league within a league in the Championship, because there are six or seven in the Premier League and then the rest are much of a muchness from there downwards.
The worry is what happens to the rest – ten teams might end up fighting it out in the Championship each year.
Hopefully the others can keep producing their own players and selling them to bigger clubs. That’s how they’ve survived in the past – it’s just a question of whether there is still a marketplace for that sort of activity.
I usually see at least two Championship games each week, but struggle to see anything much from League One and League Two.
Do you think fans of clubs in those divisions might feel there is the same problem in Sky’s coverage whereby the focus is on the top league in the same way that people complain about saturation coverage of the Premier League?
We have a contract which means we have to cover a certain number of League One or League Two games each season. I find that I have to work harder on League Two games because I don’t support a League Two club so the knowledge doesn’t come as easily.
A League Two team might have seven or eight different players in their starting lineup from one season to the next. There certainly seems to be less continuity the lower down the leagues you go.
League One is great. There are plenty of good stories there, mainly because of the bigger clubs that have been involved in the recent past.
I would go so far as to say the best teams in League One are better than the worst teams in the Championship. Norwich and Leeds have done well, like Leicester the year before, by keeping that winning mentality.
I find it difficult to come to any real conclusions about teams in the Championship. You might see a team two weeks running and decide they look pretty awful and then they will win their next three on the bounce. It’s a cliche but that’s exactly the kind of division it is.
Bearing that in mind, who do you think will end up in the top six?
I can’t see beyond the current top two for automatic promotion – QPR and Cardiff.
Despite their already unbeaten start, I can only see QPR getting stronger rather than weaker. They might have to lose at least one along the line but they have strength in depth and a manager with the bit between his teeth. They will be more consistent than other teams.
Cardiff are having an off month rather than an off day, but I rate Dave Jones. He’s a great man-manager who gets the best out of his top players.
As for the play-offs, I can’t see Coventry staying up there. It would be an amazing achievement for Leeds to stay in the top six too. Derby have impressed me.
Burnley have to be more consistent. They were one of my tips but they haven’t impressed as much as I thought they would yet.
Forest were another tip and they have room to improve. If they get Aaron Ramsey fit and it doesn’t compromise the way they play, they should be in there.
It goes all the way down to Leicester. The teams between Leicester and the play-offs will win one and lose one through the season but Leicester strike me as a team that could win eight games on the bounce if they buy well in January.
Anyone who knows my particular allegiance will know that seems a fitting note to end on!
Huge thanks to David for devoting a large portion of his time to chat. You can follow David on Twitter and catch his coverage of the Football League each week on Sky Sports.
He also occasionally writes for the Football League Paper which is out following the league fixtures every Saturday.