World Soccer Talk

Review of Friday Night Football, Sky Sports’ new night for Premier League TV coverage

Premier League soccer on a Friday Night will take a bit of getting used to for watchers of the English game’s top flight.

Opinion is split on the new slot on the weekend schedule. For some, mainly home supporters, the prospect of a live game to round off the working week is an enamoring one, while those sat at home have something to tune into on a night when the TV guide otherwise leaves much to be desired.

Naturally, the timing of the fixtures has raised criticism as well. Supporters of Southampton and Liverpool, who have made long away trips in the two Friday games so far this season, can’t have been particularly pleased, while the scheduling has set the Premier League weekend out of sync for plenty.

The broadcast of the matches hasn’t helped either. Sky Sports’ coverage of the beautiful game has been rightly lauded in the main, with the analysis excellent and commentary gripping. Yet their approach to Friday Night Football—shortened to FNF—hasn’t appealed to most.

Jeff Stelling and Rachel Riley have reunited from their Countdown days to front up the show, which still contains a plethora of high calibre pundits—Jamie Carragher and Graeme Souness were in the studio for the Reds’ clash with Chelsea. The theme, evidently, is to play into the classic casual Friday mindset. But it’s not clicked yet.

Indeed, while Sky’s Monday Night Football program has drawn praise for it’s immersive and intelligent look at the Premier League, so far FNF has indulged in a lowest common denominator type of coverage. While MNF assumes the viewer is attuned and intelligent in their football knowledge, FNF is belittling by contrast.

Like the typical office goer, dress codes have been relaxed for those in the studio on a Friday, with no ties or suit jackets necessary. The pundits lounge on a couch too in a style not too far removed from Sky’s light-hearted, Saturday morning show, Soccer AM.

The features have reflected that laid-back approach, although they’ve been far from informative. On a previous Friday, Carragher took on Sadio Mane in a free-kick competition, while “Tubes” — a member of the Soccer AM crew — faced Gary Cahill in a tennis ball, keep-up competition. Another segment involved Jamie Redknapp, a pundit, alongside former cricketer Andrew Flintoff and comedians Jack Whitehall and James Corden.

We all enjoy seeing the human side of footballers, but, as aforementioned, there are other platforms Sky have for that. Liverpool’s visit to Chelsea was a significant game with potentially enormous connotations. It should be treated as such by the primary broadcaster.

Additionally, in the first airing of the show, when Manchester United played Southampton, the panel took questions from supporters in a pub, while Chris Kamara, of Soccer Saturday fame, spent an uncomfortable amount of time explaining where Jose Mourinho would sit in the Old Trafford dugout.

Of course, at the end of the working week, it’s preferable to put something on the TV that’s not strenuous to concern. But the rudimentary take on such a significant contest in the Premier League dampened the enthusiasm that had been bristling for the game all day.

In an age when soccer coverage and broadcasting can be moribund and awash with tired cliches, Sky do deserve credit for trying something different with this fresh facet of the Premier League weekend. Just two shows in, there will naturally be some teething problems too, especially for a program with such a laissez-faire ethos.

Even so, the emphasis of the Friday night coverage is unlikely to shift; the program that follows FNF, Carling’s In Off the Bar is a jumble of ghastly gimmicks, guffaws and banter.

That’s unlikely to appease supporters. While there times throughout the week, especially on a Friday, when standards can be slackened in many aspects of life, one thing most followers of soccer are unbendingly serious about is the game itself.

Sky have a fine track record for stimulating their viewers and with so much at their disposal in terms of personalties, technology and access, have the potential to do so again with this new addition to the Premier League calendar. But for the time being, FNF feels a little forced and has left plenty longing for the traditional broadcasting style.