by Andy Robinson

Currently the football fan world isn’t very friendly with that of the broadcasting one. With match coverage long past saturation levels the viewer is rapidly approaching the point where his remote control or boot is going through his TV screen when it comes to presentation and punditry. The awful performance of ITV’s coverage on our very special FA Cup 3rd Round day and the continued banality and comfort zone cliché of the Match of the Day team being the most notable instances.

In an ambitious move yesterday lunchtime Sky News decided to celebrate 150 years of the work and role of the Football Association. Presented by in my opinion their number one boy Simon Thomas and the glamorous Hayley McQueen who surprisingly beat the supremely professional Natalie Sawyer and the giggly but stunning Charlotte to the gig; Sky News left me flabbergasted as they really pulled the whole thing off.

First in to bat for the joy of football was the chairman of the Football Association, the nicest man on the planet Sir David Bernstein who gave an excellent keynote speech outlining the philosophy of the FA – “Vision, commitment and teamwork and inclusion for all remain our inspiration”. How on earth was Aston Villa fan Prince William supposed to follow that? – he couldn’t but he made a hell of an attempt though. From this the show moved swiftly on to its first guests and there were hundreds of guests both live at the event and from interviews recorded earlier. Roy Hodgson, Michael Owen and Dave Clarke who has scored more goals for England than Charlton, Lineker and Owen together for the National Blind team were first up as Owen discussed his magical moment against Argentina and Dave explained the work and role of the FA Ambassador in this celebration year. The success of the show was built around this ethos, no matter which celebrated football guest got given airtime it was the person from football’s wider community who always stole the show.

People such as Amir Khan, most often thought of as a bit of a knob but whose youth club and work in his own community and sponsorship of three local sides has seen crime in the area reduce by 50%. Sir Trevor Brooking, national treasure that he is explained how the new and outstanding St George’s Park facility was going to develop the right coaches at the right time to bring our international standing up to the level where it matches that of the Premiership in world terms. Howard Webb (I can hear the derision from here) talked about the 27,000 referees in the game.  Alex Horne, General Secretary of the FA and the man ultimately responsible for the 7 Million players, 300,000 Coaches, 24 national sides and every single school field and park pitch in the country the buck will stop at him and for once you felt it was in safe hands.

Back to the famous and infamous we heard from Alex Ferguson and John Barnes (best goal ever for England) and Gerrard and Lampard and Mcmanaman (best goal in a European Cup Final at Wembley), Sol (more appearances for England in major championships than anyone) and representing the BBC Alan Shearer.

From world football, Arsene Wenger led the way speaking in glowing terms about what this organisation has given the world and the FA was then congratulated by Pep and by Carlos Alberto , Oliver Bierhoff and the legend that is Lothar who talked about the joy of Euro 96 and French grandmasters Desailley and Viera spoke about the glory of being FA Cup winners. The devil worshippers Blatter and Platini too ashamed to show their faces after giving the World Cup to Qutar and gangsters in Russia did video pieces as did Jose Mourinho rambling on in the most surreal manner and looking remarkably like “The Hood” the villain from “Thunderbirds”. Even Hayley couldn’t resist a dig with a comment about the special one congratulating himself.

Back to the celebrations for and from the wider FA community. Beckham wasn’t at the event which was a shame because seriously after the Queen and Steven Fry there really isn’t anybody better anywhere at public speaking. Sir David of Peckham then, one of the most gifted speakers of the day thanked the work of the parents who get the kids to the game at a weekend.

One of the joys of the programme was the constant celebration of the women’s game. It wasn’t given a couple of minutes during the show it was constant and all the way through the show. England manager Hope Powell spoke of her dreams as a kid to one day work in football, ex England star Marianne Spacey and Faye White spoke about work as Regional Community Development Officers and the massive growth in the game at junior level for girls and the forthcoming Euros in Sweden where without Japan and the USA (obviously seeing as it’s the Euros) our girls should do rather well. Even allowing for Mr Bernstein’s wonderful opening speech it was the work of a girl in football and the future of women’s football that proved the highlights of the show.

Taome Caville a young lady coach for Darwin Rangers girl’s team is the current football Volunteer of the Year. Taome explained how her life as a youngster was rapidly going downhill until she became involved in football and is now a mentor to others from similar backgrounds. At this point the camera panned to former England manager Graham Taylor wiping away a tear! Topping Taome however was the stunning announcement by the presenter Simon Thomas. The women’s game is the third most popular team sport in the nation. The FA are not going to stop pumping money in and spreading the word until it reaches the number two spot. It really was as if he had stood up and said “Stuff you rugby; we are going to rip your head off and spit down the hole”.

Areas that were missed by the show included very little coverage of the past. Sir Bobby Moore’s widow Stephanie got a nice round of applause but that was it as far as 1966 was concerned and that’s with Sir Bobby Charlton sat next to David Bernstein; it was a surprise he didn’t speak and although the show didn’t contain any adverts we were still Sky Sports News and we had the yellow bar at the bottom of the screen. Milton Keynes Dons have refused Blackpool permission to speak to Karl Robinson apparently. With the highest level of the game celebrated along with the work and effort of those mentioned already we had nothing from the lower leagues. Space surely could have been found for a youth team coach or education officer from Torquay or Carlisle United. Lastly – and it’s a trifling point – the charming Hayley announced that this year is also the 90th anniversary of Wembley Stadium. Actually sweetie it isn’t we knocked the old girl down a few years back but like I say it’s a trifling point.

As it was shown at lunchtime I expect most of you didn’t get to see it but hopefully Sky will give it another airing at the weekend. The show was fast, furious, full of facts and will be the only football celebration show ever not to show Aguerro’s goal. This show didn’t need it. Its most important point shone through. Love for the best game in the world and love for its first ever organization. If that isn’t worthy of a celebration I don’t know what is and for once the broadcasters delivered.

Well played Sky.