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Home Boy: Premier League TV’s John Dykes on the Barclays Asia Trophy

Jd2 (1) 615 X 400In the first of a series of interviews about this year’s Barclays Asia Trophy, SportAsia talks to Premier League TV host JOHN DYKES about why the biennial tournament continues to be a huge attraction for fans, teams, organisers and sponsors.


By SportAsia



You’re well known to football fans in Asia as the long-time host of ESPN STAR’s coverage of Premier League football. Can you talk about your current role with Premier League TV in England?

I’m now in my fourth season as lead presenter on the Premier League’s 24/7 High Definition content service, which is basically an English-language ‘channel’, in old-fashioned media speak, available to our licensees around the world.


From our studios in London we put out Matchday Live coverage of games, preview and review shows, daily chat shows, news programming and ‘Fanzone’, a global feedback forum in which viewers phone, skype, email and tweet in their thoughts to a live TV show.


I focus primarily on doing Matchday Live shows, which we wrap around our coverage of up to three games on a Saturday, two on Sunday and also Monday and midweek night matches. I also host Football Today, a chat show, twice a week.


Of course, the audience is even bigger than that to which I broadcasted during my time with ESPN STAR Sports and it’s amazing to sit in a studio in London knowing that football fans in Hong Kong, Cape Town, Calcutta and scores of other major world cities are listening to what we have to say. On a personal level, the work is really rewarding as the production team and standards are of such a high level that it inevitably makes me ‘up’ my game.


I travelled around a bit this summer during my holidays and was blown away when South African tourists in Los Angeles wanted their picture taken with me. I also caught up with fans of the channel in Jakarta, Singapore and Hong Kong. I guess that’s just another reminder of the incredible worldwide popularity of the Premier League.


With the Barclays Asia Trophy being held in Hong Hong for the second successive time this year, can you talk what it was like to return to the city where you spent so much of your youth and early career?

I was lucky enough to visit Hong Kong twice – once for the official ticket launch and then for the tournament itself. I love coming back to Hong Kong because it means I get a chance to try out my rusty Cantonese, catch up with old friends and rediscover that buzz that’s unique to Hong Kong. I’m also amazed at the way it continues to develop and I marvel at the new skyscrapers and reclamation each time I return.


On a personal level, Hong Kong was really where my TV career took off. Having worked on the South China Morning Post newspaper and done some work on TVB, I was fortunate enough to join STAR Sports and really learn the television trade. I reflected on that when I went past my old Hung Hom offices in a cab this July having just been to a publicity shoot for the tournament with David Ginola and Ledley King.


You’ve been involved in all six editions of the Barclays Asia Trophy. How has the tournament progressed and evolved over the years?

The growth from the first event back in 2003 in Kuala Lumpur to this summer’s tournament has been staggering in terms of both the scale and its popularity. The last two in Hong Kong have been virtual sell-outs, with huge interest around the world. Also, the off-pitch activities have multiplied and the Asia Trophy legacy is already there for everybody to see.


What are your overall thoughts on this year’s tournament, such as on ticket sales, quality, weather, pitch conditions and off-pitch activity?

Tickets sold out for the finals day in a matter of hours this year and despite the terrible weather for both days it was great to see the Hong Kong Stadium full of fans in a way that doesn’t happen that often for football matches these days.


One of the main selling points of this tournament has always been that because of its competitive nature and the presence of Premier League clubs playing against each other, it’s the most authentic match experience you will find anywhere in the close season. Even though the visiting clubs are still working on fitness and are mindful of injuries, once they cross the white lines and get out on the pitch, they produce the kind of fast, furious football that fans normally can only see on the TV.


There was nothing we could do about the weather and it was just unfortunate that both days this year were affected by a tropical depression that just wouldn’t leave us alone. It clearly impacted the pitch and despite some really hard work which was overseen by the Hong Kong Football Association, it meant we did not have an ideal playing surface, either for the teams or the TV pictures.


The Premier League has always been extremely aware of the need to give something back to the countries it visits with this tournament and the off-the-pitch activities around the Barclays Asia Trophy have increased with each staging. It was really impressive to see what happened out at the Po Kong Village sports ground and also to hear Mark Sutcliffe of the HKFA talk about the knowledge exchange that had taken place.


How would you describe the line-up of teams for the event, which has been described as the best so far due to the presence of two top-five teams?

In the past we have had tournaments featuring just one ‘marquee’ club, in the eyes of the majority of local fans, such as a Chelsea or Liverpool. To have Manchester City, English champions as recently as 2012, and the ever-popular Tottenham, as well as Paolo di Canio in charge of Sunderland, meant we had the best line-up ever seen at this tournament.


Can you talk about any examples of the passionate support Hong Kong fans have for Premier League teams?

There were always fans camped outside the Grand Hyatt during the week in Hong Kong, waiting hours just for a glimpse of their heroes as they went to or came back from training. The players admitted to being blown away by the attention they got from fans whenever they stepped outside.


The Spurs fans in particular made a week-long festival at their ‘clubhouse’ in Wanchai and made the loudest noise at the Stadium, although I was also impressed by South China’s small band of ‘English-style’ supporters.


Most people only see you when you’re working on live television. How did you spend the rest of your time during the tournament?

For television, I did sit-down interviews with Andre Villas-Boas, Manuel Pellegrini, Paolo di Canio, Vincent Kompany, Michael Dawson, Moussa Dembele, Stevan Jovetic, John O’Shea and Adam Johnson for use on various programmes on our Premier League content service.


There were a lot of community and coaching events around the tournament. I was lucky enough to get out to spend some time hosting events at Po Kong Village and at the Chelsea Soccer School ‘Blue Pitch’ near Wong Tai Sin. I also emceed a gala reception at the Four Seasons for the Hong Kong diplomatic and business communities.


Some of the most enjoyable stuff I did was with Barclays Ambassador David Ginola, a fun guy to spend time with. We ate dim sum, learned calligraphy and went to a few tourist spots.


Your commentary booth at Hong Kong Stadium was exposed to the conditions. Can you talk about some of the challenges of your job this year, in such wet and windy weather?

It was a studio set-up we had used two years earlier and I remember wondering at the time what would happen if it really pelted down with rain. Well, we found out. As the rain got heavier, we and the cameramen retreated further into the foreground of the studio and away from the open back end. That still wasn’t enough to stop us getting wet as we sat on our stools.


During the heaviest downpour on the first day, Niall Quinn and I managed to keep a live on-air chat going despite the Barclays Asia Trophy itself on the desk in front of us slowly filling up with rainwater. Now that was a first for me. Still, you have to say it gave the viewers around the world a first-hand view of what was going on at the stadium.


Which TV commentators and former players did you work closely with this year?

Niall was a wonderful guest, able to call on his memories of Manchester City as a player and Sunderland as both player and chairman. He is also a wonderful talker and recounted some brilliant anecdotes on and off air.


Alan Curbishley was our other principal on-air guest. He is a big part of what we do at Premier League Productions and brings so much experience and warmth to everything he does.


We were again lucky to work with the best match commentator in the business, Martin Tyler of Sky Sports. His knowledge is encyclopaedic and he is generous with that knowledge and anything else that might help make our broadcasts work. He has also been to every Barclays Asia trophy and I especially enjoy introducing him to aspects of Asia he might otherwise not have known about.


The management and on-air talent at Now TV were really generous when it came to helping us out at both our promotional and on-air events. A special mention for Yancy [Chu] and Calvin [Pui], the two show hosts who made us feel very much at home and whom we thanked with a slap-up Peking Garden feast.

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