THOSE Southend United fans that opted to watch last night’s game against Oxford from the comfort of their armchairs will have seen a typically slick Sky Sports production.
But what they will not have seen is all the effort that went into making it such a seamless show.
An impressive 65 Sky Sports staff members—there can be up to 95 at big Premier League games— were working hard at Roots Hall from as early as Sunday to make sure everything was in place to broadcast the game around the country and, indeed, the world.
Production trucks took over the car park behind the North Stand, the commentary gantry was extended above the West Stand and cameras and miles of cable rolled out to get everything ready.
Overseeing it all was production manager Andy Holmes who admitted that despite Roots’ Hall’s ageing infrastructure, Southend’s home was fairly accommodating to live television.
“It is not too bad setting up here,” said Holmes who has been in charge of production at Roots Hall for play-off and League Two matches in the past.
“Obviously it’s not like the Premier League clubs where everything is set up for television and you just have to turn up and plug everything in, but there aren’t many clubs below the Premier League where that is the case.”
Among the things that makes Roots Hall so amenable to television crews is the studio that already exists at the ground from which host Natalie Sawyer and special guest, Burton manager Gary Rowett, could be seen presenting from last night.
The Sky team only need to make slight cosmetic changes to the studio, just as they need to make a slight extension to the commentary box, which they do by getting in a scaffolding company.
The only slight problem the team encountered was fixing the cameras in position. Because of the tightness of Roots Hall, not all of the nine cameras filming the pitch were manned, instead a handful were operated remotely from inside the production truck.
But all these things were minor hurdles to overcome compared to the editorial challenges the game presented.
Southend versus Oxford was originally chosen as a live game because both sides were challenging for automatic promotion.
Fast forward two months and the battle for both now is just trying to get into the play-offs.
Sound Engineer Jim Ogden
Mark Payne, producer of last night’s match, said: “The fixtures are chosen weeks in advance, but there is always a story line to games and this one threwup a number of them.
“We started planning the content of the programme on Friday and then, of course, things changed with both sides’ results on Friday night.
“Then Oxford appointed Gary Waddock and things changed again and we had to think again about how we would use the 15 minutes we had before the match started.”
As the fans made their way home last night, the Sky crew was busy taking down everything they had put in place over the previous 24 hours, ready to roll on to the next game.
The trucks which house all their production facilities travel continuously up and down the country throughout the football season.
“The truck we used last night will cover 99 per cent of all the Football League games screened by Sky,” said Holmes. “It’s not often the truck is not on the road and it will be getting ready for the next game as soon as possible. That can be challenging, particularly during the play-offs when there are games almost every day!”
Blues fans will be hoping that one of those stops on the truck’s play-off trail is back at Roots Hall.
Sound Engineer Steve Crisp