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Sky Sports News turns 25: From the beginning – an eyewitness account | News News


Oct 2, 2023

Sky Sports News launched 25 years ago - from left Dave Clark, Carrie Frais, Kelly Cates, Clare Tomlinson, Julian Waters and (front) Mike Wedderburn

Sky Sports News launched 25 years ago – from left Dave Clark, Carrie Frais, Kelly Cates, Clare Tomlinson, Julian Waters and (front) Mike Wedderburn

London, spring 1998. A million miles away and now more than 25 years ago. A 21-year-old journalism graduate dead set on getting his career started arrives for his first day at work at Sky Sports.

His lack of any broadcasting experience radiated from every pore – but his relief and joy at getting a start in something – anything – in sports journalism drove him beyond the nerves and bewilderment.

That graduate was me – but this story isn’t about me… it’s about the adventure that started a few months later and has been rolling ever since.

Almost as soon as I arrived and started work on a daily 30-minute sports bulletin show called Sports Centre, the questions from those around me started: “What do you think of the idea for this new channel?” … “Do you think it has a chance?” … “Will anyone watch 24/7 sports news?”

The truth was I had no idea what they were talking about. No mention had been made of any sports news channel until now – and I was just concentrating on making sense of everything around me. Once I started to ask questions, the rumours were confirmed: a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week sports news channel was in the offing. You’d never seen anything like it before, because there had been nothing like it before – certainly not in the UK.

Taking inspiration from the wall-to-wall coverage of sport in the USA, the decision had been made to feed the fans’ growing appetite. Matchday was still acknowledged as the centre of the universe, but the spaces in between were vast and vacant. There was simply no checking the phone every 10 minutes for info – if you had a phone, it was for calls or texts. WhatsApp did not exist. The internet was still coming to life – and to prove the point, only one in four computers in the Sky Sports offices at the time had access to it. True story.

Sky Sports News studio 1998

Sky Sports News studio 1998

If you wanted sports news, you turned on the TV or radio and waited for the very end of the main news in the hope it got a few minutes. You went to teletext (ask your elders), or you bought a newspaper the next morning. And that was it. But it was about to change.

The people chosen to spearhead this new venture were already working at Sky. They were Andy Cairns, an experienced Sky News producer (and former reporter – we saw the evidence!) and Karen Willmington, a supremely talented, pioneering TV director and manager. They turned ideas into action and got things moving, and they did it all with considerable support from above. There were also plenty of doubters in the shadows, determined that it couldn’t and wouldn’t work.

The Cairns vision was broad and deep, but it always came back to one central tenet: we are going to connect with sports fans and tell stories better than anyone else. If you were going to find out what was going on, you were going to come to us. This was your home of sports news.

That sounded great – but so many things do as a statement. What it needed to make it true was good production staff, reporters, news editors, picture editors, presenters and directors.

A week before Sky Sports News went on air, Paolo Di Canio pushed over a referee Paul Alcock...

A week before Sky Sports News went on air, Paolo Di Canio pushed over a referee Paul Alcock…

A huge recruitment drive saw new colleagues arriving throughout the summer of 1998 – and after just three months I was no longer the new kid. Not even close! When people arrive, it is impossible to know that they might play a huge part in your life, let alone your career – but that is exactly what happened.

Plenty of the names from this era you will know – Kelly Cates, Mike Wedderburn, Dave Clark, Rob Wotton, Julian Waters, Clare Tomlinson, David Jones. For every one of them, imagine another 10 behind the scenes you have never heard of or seen. These were people working late into the night, or getting up in the middle of the night, to make it happen.

All played their part in building something new and different as we settled into a newly built studio, which was christened the Sky Sports Dome. It was not shaped like a dome, but that is not important right now.

As plans moved on, a summer of rehearsal showed just how much work we had to do – but it also revealed that there was real potential. All of a sudden, a launch date was put forward: October 2 1998. It was happening. It was really happening.

That morning at 7am, the red light went on, and Mike Wedderburn was cued into the opening words of the channel alongside Kelly Cates. The channel has not stopped broadcasting since – and both presenters remain at Sky Sports to this day.

The constant reminder that stories were everything rang in every ear. And what stories we had. As we went on air, the Premier League was into its seventh season. The Manchester United-Arsenal rivalry was sparking like never before. Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira were brilliant players – but their battles gave us a truly exceptional narrative.

A week before we went on air, Paolo Di Canio had pushed over a referee. Within four months, the England manager of the day had been removed for making controversial comments about reincarnation. Within seven months, Manchester United had made history by winning a treble. Again, it was happening. All day, every day, it was happening.

Enthusiasm and talent was driving things forward – and all of a sudden the channel seemed to be everywhere. One of our reporters came back to the office after being at West Ham and was beaming: “Harry Redknapp had us on in his office!”

What came next was years of building, effort, learning and sacrifice – but also achievement, fun, friendships and memories. That may sound a little bit greetings card twee – but this is a birthday, after all.

Happy 25th to Sky Sports News and to all who have played, and continue to play their parts.

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