MNF star Neville takes Sportsmail behind the scenes of the TV show making fans fall in love with punditry again
11:04 GMT, 19 December 2012
It is 4.30pm and although Gary Neville is midway through rehearsals for that evening’s Monday Night Football, he is still going through his first item in painstaking detail. Things have to be right and he is unapologetically demanding and meticulous in his preparation.
‘What do we think about this’ the former Manchester United full back asks producer Scott Melvin, as a chart flashes up on his touch screen. ‘I don’t think that’s good enough.’ He is over-ruled. ‘Fine,’ he says, but his arms are folded — it is clearly not fine.
‘Are we comfortable with that colour on this graphic’ is the next question. ‘It’s disgusting,’ Neville continues, without waiting for a reply. ‘I’m not a colours man but… can’t you change it’ It is duly changed.
Oh what a night: Sportsmail's Laura Williamson joined Gary Neville and Ed Chamberlain in the Sky studio to see how the hugely popular Monday Night Football has become such a big hit
Neville has been at Sky’s studios in
west London since 9.30am, but he is still like a man on fast-forward,
running ‘at 100 miles per hour’.
His intensity, willingness to work
hard and genuine vigour for his sport are startling. It seems the same
qualities that characterised him as a footballer are the ones that mark
him out as a pundit.
‘This is different to football,’ says
the 37-year-old, ‘but there is pressure — and I think that’s the thing
that keeps me excited and stimulated. It’s got to be right.
‘I think information and the detail
are the most important things for me. Nice goals or a lovely finish or
an incident, that will get done a thousand times by everybody else and
there isn’t really much more you can say.
‘I prefer information. I try to do it as if I was looking at it as a player or a coach rather than as entertainment.
‘I don’t think, really, I’m a perfect
broadcaster by any stretch of the imagination. I think it’s more around
the information for me. That’s all I can do. If you want a pretty face
or a nice voice then don’t come here.’
Ed Chamberlin, the host of MNF, laughs. ‘Well, I won’t argue with that,’ he says.
The pair have been working together
for barely 18 months but have taken the format made famous by Richard
Keys and Andy Gray and made it their own.
There is little ego or arrogance about
Chamberlin, who works without an autocue and fully understands his role
is to ensure Neville is the star of the show.
The presenter continually tries to
tease extra insight and information out of a right back who won 85 caps
for England, constantly asking ‘why’ and ‘how’, which seems to amuse and
frustrate Neville on alternate occasions.
Practice makes perfect: Chamberlain and Neville can be in the studio from 9.30am on the day of the game
NEVILLE'S MANIC MONDAY
9.30am Arrive at Sky’s studios in west London.
10am Production meeting. Neville has been feeding ideas to the production team since the previous Wednesday. They discuss what he wants to talk about and the order the pieces should run.
11.30am Neville goes through all the video clips, while Ed Chamberlin studies the running order and familiarises himself with all the links and music.
3pm Rehearsals start on set.
7pm On air. An hour of analysis from the weekend’s games and to preview that night’s Barclays Premier League fixture. Also includes interviews with the managers, live from the ground.
8.45pm Half-time analysis.
9pm Second half.
9.45pm Full-time analysis, a look back at the weekend’s goals and a Twitter Q&A.
11pm Off air.
‘Ed doesn’t offer opinions on
football,’ says Melvin. ‘It’s different with (Match of the Day
presenter) Gary Lineker. He was a footballer and you would never
begrudge him an opinion.
'But, for me, the presenter’s job is
to probe the guys who have played football. Ed drives it and keeps it
on the rails because otherwise, God knows what would happen.’
It is no mean feat keeping Neville in
check, that’s for sure. He revels in his Aladdin’s cave of touch-screen
boards, slow-motion clips, high camera angles, statistics and league
The former England defender even had a
screen installed in his Manchester home for nine days to practise
before he started at Sky, only to go bonkers when he found out they had
updated the technology when he arrived in London.
‘I’m obsessed with charts,’ Neville
says, laughing at the nerdy nature of his words. ‘I’ll say, “Make me a
chart, make me a chart”. They argue I don’t need one, just to say it,
but I want everyone at home to know those statistics are there.
‘Every time I do a piece I don’t just
get the clips, I get the statistics. I want statistics to back it up,
so it’s not just my instinct. It’s easy to get caught up in thinking,
“Arsenal are rubbish”. But where are they rubbish Why They can’t be
all rubbish, or all good.
‘You’ve got to offer some perspective. Everything’s so sudden, everyone’s always screaming.
‘I think that’s what people inside
football do better than people in the media because in the media there’s
a need to make everything so dramatic. But, inside football, you
analyse it. You look at it bit by bit and think that’s OK, that’s not
bad, rather than everything being bad or good.’
Neville’s proximity to the game, however, could easily compromise his willingness to say what he sees and how he feels.
He spent all his career at Manchester
United and has a four-year contract with the FA to work under Roy
Hodgson and coach the England senior team, after all.
Finishing touches: Neville is still new to football punditry but is brilliantly professional in his preparation
But as Neville watches Arsenal’s 5-2
win at Reading — from a ‘big, wide high camera angle’ because ‘that’s
the only way you can analyse it properly, you can’t watch the ball’ —
there is only a flicker of his allegiance to the national side. When
Jack Wilshere crumples to the ground in the build-up to Reading’s first
goal, Neville suddenly becomes even more animated.
‘Oh! Oh!’ he cries. ‘Wilshere’s done
his knee ligaments. Oh no. Or is it his groin Oh dear.’ Then, ‘Oh,
phew, he’s OK. What price 5-4 Reading now’
Neville’s affiliations make him more
accountable than most but he insists he remains deliberately detached
from the insular, pally world of football.
His reasoning is as clear as the
straightforward manner in which he is able to talk through a set-piece
or analyse the build-up to a goal: you cannot criticise someone on live
television one day and go for a pint with them the next.
‘I don’t speak to too many people,’
he says. ‘I think if you speak to too many people you become friendly
with them and it might not be as honest an assessment.
‘You get to know people — “All right,
how are you mate” — and a week later they think you’re stitching them
up. Don’t get too close. I do know people but I spent my life at one
‘People at the start, understandably,
were asking how it would work, but I think I’ve been as honest as I
can be about United games and most people seem to have accepted the fact
that I’ve praised or criticised their team.
‘I think fans are pretty honest. They
don’t want rubbish. If their team play well they know they’ve played
well. If they haven’t, they know that, too. You try to show why or how
because they know the rest themselves. You’re always looking for the
most interesting bits. Less fluff, more gruff.’
And they're off: The show has received rave reviews this season thanks to Neville's expert analysis
The enjoyment Neville derives from his
new role is obvious, even if he can barely contain his energy, pacing
up and down during advertising breaks and badgering the producer with
ideas as early as the Wednesday before a show.
This opportunity to have the last
word on the weekend’s action is, after all, both the programme’s
strength and its continual challenge — how do you be significantly
different from what has gone before, on television and social media
and in the newspapers
Neville consumes information from all these outlets but still has to offer new insight on a Monday night.
As you can probably imagine, he is not
short of ideas, although the transition from player to pundit has not
been as straight-forward as you might think.
‘The more I relax, the more I become a
little lighthearted,’ says Neville. ‘But on the first show last year, I
was 100 miles per hour. I was like a train with no brakes. I used to
get an incredibly dry mouth because I was so nervous. I’ve not done
anything like this before in my life.
‘And my hands! Oh my hands. That was a
massive problem. What do you do with them when you’re standing at the
touchscreen Now I carry my pen with me because you’ve got something to
‘I was everywhere — my hands were
terrible. I got a lot of feedback: hands and my hair, which is a
continual challenge — I’ve just given up on that.’
Giving up That must be a first for Neville, surely.
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