'The hills are alive with the sound of Odemwingie.' My Transfer Deadline Day behind the scenes at Sky Sports News
Tom Peck goes behind the scenes on deadline day to see how Sky bombards us with reporters in car parks, electric windows and 'breaking news yellow'
On the top right of a giant bank of television screens, a Land Rover comes to a gentle halt outside the gates of a west London Football Club, and suddenly the hills are alive with the sound of Odemwingie.
Phones are picked up. Phones are slammed down. A woman in a sprawling television gallery is frantically shouting into a microphone. Notes are being hurried on set by frantic floor managers in headphones while iPads are rushed up and down corridors like cardiac patients. But the only word anyone seems to be saying is "Odemwingie".
If modern football is a corporate monster, welcome to the heart of Mammon. In the gleaming, turbo-charged south-west London headquarters of Sky Sports News, a digital gold banner stretched in front of the gleaming, turbo-charged presenters tells you today is transfer deadline day, and there's a countdown clock too. It is a fixture in the sporting calendar effectively invented by the channel, then rammed into the public consciousness with every bit of whooshing, whooping, breaking hyperbole it can conjure.
After 12 long hours of broadcasting, including a shock Parisian unveiling of David Beckham, the story of transfer deadline day has arrived in the unlikeliest of forms. Peter Odemwingie, an ageing Nigerian journeyman striker has, we think, taken it upon himself to drive from West Bromwich Albion to Queen's Park Rangers, without permission, to force a deal through himself.
"This a situation completely unprecedented in transfer deadline day history," bellows the silver Scotsman Jim White. And he would know. Despite the appeal of Natalie Sawyer, resplendent in "breaking news yellow", as per every year, he is very much the face of transfer deadline day.
"Have we unleashed a monster?" he confides later. "Well if it's a monster, it is a good monster. Everybody buys into it. The clubs buy into it, the players buy into it. It's become a must-watch for football fans."
Sky Sports News has more than a hundred cameramen and reporters stood outside grounds all over the country, waiting for news that not only may never come, but was possibly never real to begin with, so widespread has the speculation on speculation become.
"No official line coming out of Norwich City just yet, whether to confirm or deny what's happening with Gary Hooper," reporter Kate Riley bravely informs viewers, after being stood both literally and figuratively in the dark outside Carrow Road for several hours. "The manager is still here, watching the Norwich City youngsters here at the stadium behind me," she claims, just in time for two young male fans to start dry humping against the gates in the background.
Earlier one of the assembled crowd had been waving a banner containing the words "Smash and Grab" causing the same frantic gallery woman, sat behind six empty coffee cups, to scream: "Get rid of that smash and grab guy. I'm not going to you till he's gone. Not with the word smash. No way." The ghosts of Richard Keys and Andy Gray still linger.
Countless screens show Beckham gurning, Mario Balotelli training, and everywhere cars coming and going, interview-hungry reporters hovering around them. If you were the man that invented electric windows, tonight's the night to gather the grandkids round the television. Jermaine Jenas is skulking around behind frosted glass with the QPR logo on – the hidden lounges and anterooms of football clubs that you only see on transfer deadline day. In one corner, the BBC's Nick Robinson is strolling round a sunny Algerian street. The overtures to war are building in North Africa, but this is Odemwingie's night.
"That's the most terrific aspect about transfer deadline day," says White. " If you asked a bunch of newspaper headline writers what they would end up writing, it wouldn't have been 'Odemwingie Frozen Out'. You have no idea what's going to happen. In a cup final you have a story about two clubs. Here you have umpteen clubs, umpteen stories, umpteen players. Who's to say Beckham's people didn't orchestrate it so that he would get maximum publicity? He could have signed any day in the last three weeks."
In the end a big telethon style totalliser graphic shows the total spent in the January transfer window has reached £120m, down on the bumper Torres-Suarez-Carroll £225m fest of two years ago, but still double your average Comic Relief, and enough for around 1,300 Bentleys.
"The big one didn't happen," White adds, a little forlornly. "I was hopeful that one of the London clubs might do a sizeable deal, but there wasn't a huge one. In the end I was badgering the Swansea chairman in the ad breaks. That's what you're reduced to."
When the window slams shut at 11pm (it is never closed gently), details of deals might yet drip through. Then there is the question of what it all means. Who's done well? Who's done badly? What were the deals that did not go through? It's 1am before the deadline day juggernaut nudges into the buffers. No champagne corks are popped or beers cracked open. There will be yet more Odemwinging to be done in the morning – and it's only seven months until the next one.
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