David Ford – The man behind deadline day
By Joseph Macey
August 31st 2017 at 2300, football fans stopped what they were doing to tune into Sky Sports News HQ to follow the last minute transfers.
In 2014 a peak audience of 975,000 tuned in at 2255, just before the window slammed shut. A rise from the 197,000 that watched the show the previous week. The series of platforms the show is now available on has meant its popularity has grown. The emergence of Twitter has pushed transfer news and transfer rumours into a new age of immediacy.
For most reporters it was a case of waiting in a depressing car park for managers to drive through or getting hit with objects by fans who just couldn’t keep a lid on their excitement. For me it meant sitting in my living room in front of the TV with my mates, laptop and phone in hand waiting for the breaking news as it happened. No words needed to be said amongst us, just watching and waiting.
The man with the idea of turning deadline day into a broadcasting event, rather than a backroom exchange of faxes, was David Ford (above). From 2004 to 2012 he was the executive producer at Sky Sports News and was at the forefront of making this day a highlight of the football calendar. I was introduced to him at a local rugby match and he spoke about transfers, yellow ties and chasing Dimitar Berbatov.
What did you study at university? Did you enjoy university life?
I studied English Literature at Sheffield University. I really enjoyed it. I wrote articles for the student newspaper and the arts magazine. I’ve always been really keen on music so it was a great way to get into all the university gigs for free and meet the bands. Plus that experience really helped when it came to finding a job. I went on to be the weekly music columnist at the evening paper in Bradford, the Telegraph & Argus.
What made you want to go into this field?
I wanted to be a journalist from being a young kid. I always enjoyed writing and finding out about things. Seemed like a good way to earn a living.
Perks and struggles of such an intense job?
I’m lucky to have a job at CNN that I really enjoy so I don’t find it too intense. I’m the Executive Producer of London programmes so it’s always interesting, especially in the era of Trump and Brexit. The hours can be long – at least ten hours most days, 12 or longer when we’ve got a extra shows. And overnight shows are pretty common for elections and special events. But I work with some very committed and interesting people, which also helps.
How do you find a balance between work and life away from work?
Always tricky because I can never really switch off from CNN. I’m answering emails and making editorial decisions before and after work plus every weekend. It helps that I’m a big runner – training for marathons is great way of emptying your mind and relaxing. And when I’m watching Manchester City that’s all that matters. My wife’s also a journalist so she understands the nature of it all.
You have held a lot of fantastic job roles at Sky Sports, BBC and CNN. What has been your favourite? And why?
I like my current job best. The international agenda suits me and my role is really demanding and rewarding. I like launching new shows and we’ve done that twice this year including CNN Talk – the first news panel show that’s streamed live on Facebook and TV so we can get instant comments from viewers all over the world. It’s on at noon on Mondays and Fridays – worth a look.
How did the idea for making Deadline Day occur?
Deadline day had been around for a few years when I joined SSN but it was just another day in the schedule. I thought it had real potential to become a TV event in its own right. So we ramped it up in true Sky fashion. We invested heavily by putting reporters and satellite trucks outside all the big clubs. They quickly became a draw for fans so we had a dozen live locations with lively fans creating a really festive atmosphere. The managers bought into it, stopping in their cars in and out of training grounds to talk to our guys. And crucially we had Jim White as the key anchor – he can make a routine transfer of someone from Peterborough to Portsmouth sound like Neymar to PSG. Throw in a countdown clock, a touch screen, special graphics, yellow ties and dresses to match the famous breaking news ticker and bingo. The content was generated by the excellent contacts the Sky reporters had with players, managers and agents. It quickly became a must-watch twice-yearly event for football fans.
Did you expect it to be such a massive hit?
I did, actually. No-one else was doing anything like it and we knew that football fans were desperate to find out what was happening at their clubs. The viewing figures rocketed on that day. The BBC eventually woke up to it years later and started a cut-price version of their own – imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
Favourite Deadline Day moment?
I loved the will-he or won’t-he when Dimitar Berbatov was moving from Tottenham to Manchester United a few years ago. We followed him up the motor way, I think we even had the Sky News helicopter out that year. City tried to hijack the deal at the last minute so we didn’t know where he’d go. Then one of our shooters spotted him walking through the offices at Old Trafford with the blinds open a few minutes before midnight. He’d sneaked in somehow. Deal done. Good deal for United but a shame City missed out.
Your opinion on closing the January transfer window altogether? And thoughts on closing the summer window early?
I like the January window. It can be crucial for clubs, especially those battling to avoid relegation. It’s also exciting for the fans when new arrivals join half way through the season but big deals are rare, now. And I know lot of managers would like the window to close early in the summer but, again, the fans love the drama – too much is done now to favour the managers and the big clubs to the detriment of drama for the paying fans.
A lot of big transfers and fees rising every year. Is it harmful to the game that is now so heavily influenced by money? e.g. Neymar for 200 million
It depends what you mean by harmful. The money in football means the stadiums and facilities are better now than ever before, the appeal has never been broader and the experience of going to a game is much more pleasurable than it used to be when I started watching football in the 70s. People say the gap between the haves and have-nots is damaging but you still get teams like Huddersfield Town getting promoted to the Premier League and beating Man United in their first season there.
I do think the fact that 75 per cent of Premier League players are foreigners lured by the big money is damaging to the national team, but I’m enjoying watching today’s multi-national City team more than any I’ve watched in the past. They’re playing the best football ever seen in this country – that’s down to Pep and the players, but they wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t for the cash.