A Week in the City - BT Sport's Liverpool Love-In

Joe Butterfield

So, on Thursday night Manchester City went to Stamford bridge to play against Liverpool. Only Manchester City weren’t actually playing, it was just Liverpool involved in the game. Sure, there were tributes to Liverpool from Frank Lampard, Pep Guardiola and Christian Pulisic, however it was Liverpool’s night. As Liverpool warmed up on the pitch, ready for their game against Liverpool, it was clear to see that there was no way Liverpool could possibly lose the title.

Or, at least, that’s certainly how you might have felt if you had tuned into BT Sport last night.

I think every Manchester City fan has had some level of grievance with BT Sport’s coverage of City games in the past, and often for good reason, whether it’s hilariously biased coverage of our Champions League games in the past or whether it’s Steve McManaman being chosen to co-commentate basically every single City game featured on BT in the last two years despite them being in a title race with the club he supports, therefore almost certainly going into every City game hoping for a defeat in order to help his boyhood club.

Admittedly, things have recently improved. City games are now, for the most part, actually pundited by people who are either neutrals or people who have played for City, whether it’s Joe Hart, Richard Dunne or Joleon Lescott, some representation is finally making its way onto the television.

Of course, that all went out of the window last night.

It didn’t even start with the coverage, it started at about 2pm with an utterly bizarre tweet from BT Sport presenter, Jake Humphrey, which has since been deleted. In said tweet, he announced that Liverpool winning the title “on his watch” would be a career highlight, on par with Jenson Button winning his only World Championship and watching Chris Hoy break olympic records in London 2012.

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To put a Liverpool title win on par with two instances of individual awards which have been won on behalf of Britain is hilariously odd. Chris Hoy won his Olympic medals for Scotland & Great Britain. Jenson Button won his World Championship as a British representative in Formula One. Liverpool are winning the title for.. well, Liverpool.

Humphrey is a Norwich fan, which he’s never had to hide because Norwich aren’t good, so to be getting so giddy about another club’s title win is utterly weird. It’s even more weird because he won’t be overseeing a club winning the title, he’ll be in a BT Sport studio whilst Liverpool’s title rivals play a game over 150 miles away. His career highlight will apparently be watching a club lose a game which means that Liverpool win the title by default while they’re all sat at home, not able to celebrate with fans in the aftermath of a global pandemic.

It’s all nonsense, because we all know that Jake Humphrey’s real career highlight was Bamzooki, and no amount of iconic sporting moments will ever deny that fact.

Anyway, this was the first instance of BT Sport’s utterly desperate attempts to pander to the inevitable scouse audience that was due to tune in to the evening’s game and it only got worse from there.

There’s an obvious disclaimer to make here before we begin. I’ve no problem with Liverpool’s title win being mentioned at some point and would fully expect it to completely dominate the post-match coverage should it go their way. Pre-match, however, dedicating a five minute segment to it, maybe by interviewing Klopp or even just asking a couple of ex-players what it would mean to the club, would have sufficed in the build-up to the game.

Of course, anybody who happened to accidentally switch on BT Sport in the peak of lockdown when there was no football on will know that the coverage rotated between three things - Champions League highlight packages, people playing FIFA20 and Liverpool documentaries. Whether it's Fowler and Owen reliving their careers, "Macca" looking back on his time at the club or the replay of Istanbul over and over, the entire channel has been borderline LFCTV for the last three months, so it should be no surprise that the theme has continued as soon as the opportunity has arisen.

Those who were unfortunate enough to tune into BT Sport’s pre-match coverage will have been under no illusion of what the real story was. It wasn’t Chelsea trying to widen the gap to the top four to get away from the chasing Manchester United, it wasn’t Manchester City trying to take the title-decider to the Etihad or trying to spoil the party, no. This was to be Liverpool’s coronation, whether we liked it or not.

The pre-match interview with Frank Lampard came, where obviously he was asked about how he felt about Liverpool supporting Chelsea for the night. This then, bizarrely, gave way to a giant Zoom conference with multiple Liverpool fans, who were all allowed to wistfully look back on their glory days and look ahead to the wonderful times to come when they win the title that literally everybody has known they’re about to win for six months.

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This skype call took up at least 10-15 minutes of pre-match build-up, in which there was no mention of any kind of tactics, no spotlights on players or teams. Only Liverpool.

We were then introduced to the full range of pundits available to us on the day. Steve McManaman would be co-commentating so that scousers could feel comfortable while they watched the game, safe in the knowledge that, in the absence of Jamie Carragher, they are still represented somehow in the match experience. Next, we were introduced to a green room where Peter Crouch, ex-Liverpool player, and Joe Cole, ex-Liverpool and Chelsea player, were sat together to watch the game. Combine this with the leading duo of Jake “this will be the highlight of my career” Humphreys and United legend, Rio Ferdinand, and it’s pretty grim viewing for a City fan.

Rio Ferdinand was literally the only person involved in the entire set-up who would have been hoping for a Manchester City win, purely for the fact that he’ll have been hoping Chelsea would drop points to allow United to edge closer to fourth place, and when Rio Ferdinand is the only person on the punditry panel who might want City to win, then you know there’s a problem.

Then came a quick pre-match interview with Pep, followed by an interview that somebody had with Christian Pulisic, in which the interviewer, desperate to bring the interview back to Liverpool, asked him if he would be calling up Klopp to take the credit, should he help Chelsea to win the title. The question turned out to be quite prophetic, however the assertion that Pulisic owes Klopp anything in his career is just lazy and wrong. Klopp managed Dortmund, Pulisic played for Dortmund, yet the two didn’t overlap. Pulisic was kicking about the Dortmund U16s when Klopp got the sack and the American didn’t make his debut until Thomas Tuchel handed him one the following season. Yet this “Klopp will be thanking his former player tonight” narrative somehow persisted throughout the entire match.

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Then the game kicked off and we were introduced to the fans watching at home. City and Chelsea fans were sat in front of their laptop cameras, ready to watch their teams play and react to… hang on, there’s a third set of fans. Liverpool fans were also included, watching the game from around the world in front of their YNWA posters and eagerly awaiting the outcome of a game that their team wasn’t directly involved in.

Whether BT Sport like it or not, there were City fans and Chelsea fans watching the game last night. Chelsea went on to actually win the game but it didn’t even get a mention. Pulisic’s goal was Liverpool’s goal, not Chelsea’s. It was Liverpool who got that penalty to make it 2-1, not Chelsea. The commentary throughout was surprisingly fair and relatively neutral, with the obvious occasional references to how big this could be for Liverpool which are legitimate and expected. However, as soon as the game hit half-time or returned from an ad-break, Jake Humphrey was quick to remind you which team really mattered.

You’d be interested to know what the reactions of the Chelsea fans were when the goals went in. Well, so would I, but unfortunately we never actually saw them because every single action in the game was only ever viewed through the prism of Liverpool and their fans. Pulisic scores the opening goal? Liverpool fans. Kevin De Bruyne equalises? No fans shown at all. Kyle Walker clears the ball off the line? Liverpool fans. Willian penalty? Liverpool fans. Honestly, if you were a Manchester City or Chelsea fan involved with BT’s fan cams last night, you might as well have whipped your member out and started doing the helicopter in your living room because you’d have had no chance of making it onto TV either way.

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I switched the channel the moment the final whistle went, however before the game was even over BT were already showing camera footage of dozens of scousers gathering outside an empty Anfield, breaching social distancing rules and doing the one thing that the Premier League and the FA were concerned that Liverpool were going to do before they decided to go ahead with Project Restart. Yet this was treated by the commentators as a bit of a jolly old time for Liverpool fans that they should be making the most of and celebrating appropriately, with no mention of the potential implications of said celebrations.

If you’re like me and you instinctively just switched over the BBC One, you’d have found no respite as the 10 o’clock news decided to bring you the breaking story from the streets of Liverpool, with Dan Roan grinning from ear to ear as hundreds, and eventually thousands, of scousers swarmed the gates of Anfield. There was no condemnation here, however, as there had been of images of Bournemouth’s beaches earlier that very day, only joy and delight at Liverpool’s long-awaited victory. This means more, don’t you know?

BT Sports’s coverage of the game last night was nothing more than a desperate attempt to appease the scouse masses. It was blatant shilling for Liverpool in a way that alienates the 90% of the footballing audience that doesn’t want Liverpool to win the title. We all have no problems with the post-title interviews with Kenny Dalglish, Jordan Henderson crying as he realises that he’s about to rob Kevin De Bruyne of a Player of the Season award which the Belgian deserves far more than him, Jurgen Klopp and his wonky, fake-toothed grin, have it all once the title is actually won.

But to treat the entire build-up to the game as nothing more than a tribute to Liverpool when there was every chance that Manchester City would turn up and beat Chelsea was a joke. If City had won the game and the title was pushed back another week, BT would have looked like absolute chumps.

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Joe Cole and Peter Crouch would have been sat in quiet disappointment as they’d have realised that it was all ultimately for nothing and that the situation hasn’t changed. The Zoom call with the pre-match fans would have been immediately dropped on the final whistle. King Kenny would have had to go to bed. Jake Humphrey would have had to live knowing he was one career highlight down.

I suppose it’s all kind of irrelevant, because City did lose and Liverpool did win the title, so their expensive gamble was all worth it in the end. However, this desperate fawning won’t be forgotten quickly.

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You can follow Joe on twitter here: @joebutters

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