The Sunday Supplement football discussion show on Sky Sports, featuring newspaper sports journalists, is to be cancelled next season by the broadcaster after almost two decades on air as an enduring feature of its coverage.
The show was presented by broadcaster Jacqui Oatley before the March suspension of the league season and has survived many changes to the Sky schedule while developing a niche following as the original football discussion programme for journalists.
It is understood that the show had been squeezed out by scheduling demands with more games being packed into a shorter timeframe next season, as well as Sky’s capturing of all exclusive live rights to the Scottish top flight, the SPFL.
The broadcaster has not ruled out the show returning at some point in the future, although that is by no means guaranteed. A spokesman for Sky said: “The huge volume of live football since the restart and a condensed season that has already begun means we must look at how best to deploy our resources for the benefit of our customers.”
The simple appeal of the show was conceived by the former Sky Sports managing director Vic Wakeling, himself a former newspaper reporter and began in 1999 on a Friday evening as “Hold the Back Page”. On a Sunday it was first presented by the veteran broadcaster Jimmy Hill along with three invited sports journalists from British newspapers, the guests changing every week. It went through different guises, including a change of set to a kitchen which was intended to create a more relaxed Sunday morning breakfast mood in keeping with the show’s scheduling.
When Hill was eased off the show in 2007, his kitchen endured, as did the orange juice and croissants that would only very occasionally be consumed live on air by the guests. The journalist Brian Woolnough, of The Sun and then the Daily Star, was presenter from 2007 until his death in 2012. He was succeeded by Neil Ashton, most recently of The Sun, who stepped down earlier this year when he switched a career in newspaper journalism to launch a sports media strategy consultancy.
Oatley was the first female presenter of the show which in recent years had reflected the changing face of the British sports media – greater diversity and the representation of online publications as well as the traditional print media.
For many journalists, including those at the Telegraph Sport, it was a chance to present their stories and opinions to a different audience - an audience that was not slow to voice criticism in the social media era. The show’s success came despite an often hostile response from the viewers towards the journalists featured. Indeed, the audience often disputed the journalists’ eligibility to pass any comment on the game at all and took it upon themselves to tune in regularly to check they still felt that to be the case.
As well as fans, the show was also watched by many who worked in the game who liked the independent views of the newspaper journalists which were unfettered by any loyalty to clubs, governing bodies or individuals.
The show was produced from Sky Sports’ headquarters in Osterley, west London, although since the March lockdown contributors’ had been patched in via Zoom calls from home, making the flow of the impromptu discussions and the occasional disagreements less smooth. Following the suspension of football in March, Oatley, a freelancer, was replaced on a temporary basis by in-house Sky presenters.