BT Sport: Gone And Hopefully Soon To Be Forgotten 

A Champions League ball on a football pitch
Rhys Thomas

This year’s Champions League final was BT Sport’s last dance before the channel transitions to TNT Sports later this year. Rather than generating a standing ovation from millions of onlookers, though, BT Sport’s farewell ended with tomatoes strewn across their multiple stages. From the carnage (and not in the good way à la CBS) of their punditry to their hopeless social media presence, BT has come under fire, and rightly so. Rhys offers his view. 

Having suffered through BT’s simply uninspiring semi-final coverage, not many had high hopes for their Champions League final offering. The all-Milan tie was particularly notable for its poor treatment. In James Richardson and James Horncastle, BT have two Italian football experts on their payroll, both familiar and popular with British audiences. Despite this, the two were used so sporadically they may as well not have had any expertise.

At their expense, BT rolled out its typical lineup of pundits who struggled to inject much insight. Even as a Liverpool fan who idolised Steven Gerrard, I must question quite what he was doing covering Inter vs Milan. Perhaps it was another opportunity to reference Istanbul 2005? 

Having to hear Lescott struggle to find new ways to tell us he felt nervous every 300 seconds was a tough listen

Similarly out of place was Joleon Lescott, whose journey from the studio to gantry between halves seemed to entertain BT’s stars more than the game itself. Reprising his semi-final role as nervous-City-fan-born-in-Birmingham-having-made-more-appearances-at-two-other-clubs, Lescott’s job was simply to tell Darren “Fletch” Fletcher and Steve “Macca” McManaman how he was feeling every five minutes. This gag was painfully overdone 20 minutes into last month’s semi-final, so having to hear Lescott struggle to find new ways to tell us he felt nervous every 300 seconds was a tough listen.

Furthermore, his pointless anecdotes replaced the typical analytical angle afforded to the lesser spotted third commentator, which would have been fascinating during such a game. If this role was a must-have for BT, Lescott – who managed 107 league appearances for City (212 at Wolves, 113 at Everton) – was an odd choice. You can’t blame him for taking a comfy pay-check to transmit his nervousness every so often, I guess. 

Like their co-co-commentator, the rest of BT’s coverage was devoid of any cutting analysis. Whilst the Champions League final is definitely more of an emotional occasion unsuited to in-depth data analysis, some more perceptive punditry could have gone a long way in improving the coverage. For a game that actually didn’t follow the predetermined script of a City whitewash, the most insightful tactical offering from the studio didn’t actually occur in said studio. Cesc Fabregas, a fantastic choice as a pundit (and who was criminally underused), tweeted 13 minutes into the game about City’s tactical shape in possession. Even this brief commentary offered more than those calling the game.  

Steve McManaman, who was on co-commentary, did at least manage to marvel at Inter’s surprisingly high press over and over. Later, though, he predictably contradicted himself by assuring us that even though it was still 0-0, this was nothing we hadn’t expected to see. Additionally, quite why McManaman, who was born in Bootle and is a Liverpool icon (perhaps legend) was quite such a staunch City supporter was beyond me. Yes, he did play for the club a whopping 35 times in the league between 2003-2005, but I’ve had the pleasure of hearing plenty of his admiring comments during Liverpool’s European games which indicate he is still evidently a supporter of the Merseyside club.  

If you’re being sinister, the Manchester City he played for in the mid-2000s may as well be a different club to the current treble-winning juggernauts, so gaping are the differences. Perhaps that is unfair, and if you have been a City fan for decades, you’ll certainly disagree. Whatever the case, McManaman’s fanboying over Pep and City was representative of the entire BT operation. 

Maybe it isn’t such a crime to support an English team in Europe if you’re English. What was incomprehensible, though, was Darren Fletcher’s surely premeditated line as the full-time whistle blew.  

“The greatest club story in history has an ending!” 

Effectively state-owned by the UAE, there is nothing remarkable about how far City have come

The what? A truly astounding piece of commentary, and not in an impressive way. Aside from the fact that all stories have “an ending” in some form, to place Manchester City’s rise to the pinnacle of football at the top is quite ludicrous. Effectively state-owned by the UAE, there is nothing remarkable about how far City have come. Their near-limitless spending, army of lawyers, and mega-contracts made it an inevitability the moment would come when they became champions of Europe.  

The club currently faces 115 Premier League charges for allegedly breaching the league’s financial regulations. You wouldn’t have known that immovable piece of context though, had you recently emerged from under a rock and turned BT Sport on. Across five and a half hours of broadcasting, they failed to mention the charges even once. That is poor journalism and negligent presenting. Whether resolved or not, this surely leaves a huge asterisk over their recent success. In February 2020, City were banned from the next two Champions League seasons by UEFA, and with court delays if the ban was upheld they would have been banned from this season’s edition. However, on account that most of the alleged breaches were time-barred or not established, the Court of Arbitration for Sport lifted the ban. City still faced a €10m fine for failing to cooperate. 

Fletcher’s obsession with saying Internazionale every time the Italian side were in possession was also irritating if nothing else. Fair enough for insisting on using the full name, but if you’re going to say that then I suppose you may as well go for the home run of Football Club Internazionale Milano. As it happens, you’re allowed to just call them Inter. 

How Britain’s second biggest sports broadcaster could omit such obvious and high-profile achievements is difficult to understand

Another insult to viewers and followers of BT Sport came on social media, where their English Champions League winners graphic ignored the achievements of Nottingham Forest and Aston Villa. How Britain’s second biggest sports broadcaster could omit such obvious and high-profile achievements is difficult to understand. Presumably they would point to the fact that ‘Champions League’ instead of ‘European Cup’ was specified, but it is another very strange occurrence. 

More comical still was Des Kelly’s interview antics. Having dragged several players and staff away from the celebrations, he wasted the last part of his chat with captain Ilkay Gundogan asking for his autograph. At best this was unprofessional. At the time, he told the German that it was a memento he would “cherish forever”. The morning after, Kelly tweeted that he would be auctioning it for charity, likely after been told off by his higher-ups. The whole ordeal clumsily summarised BT’s partisan coverage. It’s fine to favour the country’s representative, but from studio to gantry it was done in a cringe-inducing, awkward manner. 

City have assembled a truly awesome superteam

Of course, irrespective of their financial superiority, City have assembled a truly awesome superteam. Players like De Bruyne, Rodri, and Haaland deserve to win the biggest titles such is their quality. The same can be said of their manager, whose tactical innovations are seemingly endless and nearly always effective. It is something of a miracle that it took until 2023 for this combination to achieve their European dream. 

Whilst this feels like it could be the beginning of a period of European dominance for City, the 2023 final marked the end of the road for BT Sport. When they become TNT, it will be a new era, hopefully with new faces and a fresh perspective. The extent of personnel changes are yet to be revealed. Jake Humphrey has already confirmed he will be taking his ‘world class basics’ elsewhere, and perhaps other colleagues will be replaced in the search for high performance. As we look in envy to American viewers who are blessed with the seamless chemistry and expert insight carefully intertwined by Abdo, Henry, Carragher, Richards and others at CBS, one can only hope that the TNT era brings something just as good. 

Rhys Thomas

Featured image courtesy of Janosch Diggelmann via Unsplash. Image use license found here. No changes were made to this image. 


In article image 1 courtesy of @cesc4official via Twitter. No changes were made to this image.? 

In article image 2 courtesy of @btsportfootball via Twitter. No changes were made to this image.? 

In article image 3 courtesy of @btsportfootball via Twitter. No changes were made to this image.?  


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