From STV to the Sky Sports limelight: the reinvention of Jim White

jwhite1Acorn to oak tree, caterpillar to butterfly, goat herder’s son to US President. The capacity for transformation in all creatures great and small is an often wondrous thing.

In the curious case of Jim White, it may have found the strangest example since Mark Wahlberg stopped modelling pants for Calvin Klein and became one of the most successful executive producers in Hollywood.

White first emerged, wide-eyed and legless behind STV’s Scotland Today desk with a cheery, mid-Atlantic drawl of “Gerry, thanks” as the programme’s so-called heavy hitter Gerry McNee regaled us with tales of Roma signing Brian McClair from Celtic, his interview with Silvio Berlusconi or updates on St Mirren’s move for Oleg Blokhin.

Scotland’s ingenuity for inventing things saw us superserve the nation once again. There is not a great international need for a chirpy sports reporting mascot who can’t hide their allegiance to Glasgow Rangers FC. With White and Chick Young, we had two where other countries had none.

His stint in light entertainment with STV’s Late Edition (co-hosted with Kirsty Young) can’t have helped.

It is remarkable that anyone involved in this programme was allowed to work again, let alone work again in broadcasting. To think that 50 per cent of the presenting team is now at the helm of one of Radio 4’s most loved institutions, Desert Island Discs, is even more remarkable.

Young is also the (non-photofit) face of Crimewatch. If they ever identify a convincing representation of the person behind Late Edition, they are likely to serve time at Her Majesty’s Pleasure for quite some time.

White’s reversal in fortune is more surprising than Young’s. Scotland being Scotland, being tarred with favouritism to one side of the Old Firm means The Other Lot will tediously heap abuse on you until they have proven their point (whatever that is)m or ridden you out of town (perhaps that is their point).

One friend spotted White at Glasgow airport’s departure lounge, where his girlfriend was asked “Does he wear Rangers pyjamas in bed?” This is the lot of anyone who is seen to have nailed any kind of colours to the mast working in Scottish football media.

And so it was perhaps inevitable he would wish to try his luck elsewhere.

Since his move to the unglamorous suburb of Sky’s HQ at Isleworth, a speck on the road to Heathrow, White’s reputation has been reinvigorated.

From reading bulletins about cartilages, call-offs and cup draws next to an autocutie, it was a peculiar facet of the modern game which changed White’s life: Transfer Deadline Day.

Sky Sports News was already a bizarre fashion parade of yellow tickers, clock countdowns and satellite links to men in company-branded anoraks outside cold training grounds.

Deadline Day gave the channel its own national holiday, with White its figurehead. With 31 January and 31 August, all Sky Sports’ Christmasses had come at once, and White was Santa Claus without the beard, but complete with little helpers.

From being lightly joshed in Scotland, White is now the focal point for the biggest day of deals in the richest league in world football. Unlike Sky Sports regular Charlie Nicholas, he definitely made it the first time he came down to England.

The ink is not dry on a transfer unless he decrees it so. He is accompanied by an array of glamorous assistants – but, like Terry Wogan on Children in Need, they may change but he doesn’t.

He was the man whom Mark Hughes called just after midnight when Manchester City signed Robinho. The man to whom we turn to decipher footage of Sir Alex Ferguson behind a pane of glass with Dimitar Berbatov. The man who made sense of Robbie Keane’s four months of paid employment with Celtic. Actually, not even Jim White made sense of that. He’d have a better shot at Algerian logarithms.

Sky even broadcast footage of White leaving his home on a 2011 transfer deadline day in rather the same fashion the BBC screens footage of a newly elected prime minister leaving Buckingham Palace to head for Number 10 for the first time. Jim White meeting Transfer Deadline Day was like Andrew Ridgley meeting George Michael.

The drip-drip-drip of Harry Redknapp leaning out his car window to tell us that “I like Younes Kaboul”, a reporter with an oversized iPad explaining why Arsene Wenger has taken Yossi Benayoun on loan and another man in snug winter clothes with the Sky Sports logo outside the wrought-iron gates of Ibrox at 10:50pm with the breaking news that, no, Rangers will not be signing anyone – these are not the kinds of missives which suggest CNN should be looking over its shoulder.

The numbers are down, too. Last time’s Deadline Day yielded in excess of £259m. This time, it was closer to £40m.

And somehow the oracle was as breathless as ever, with none of the volume or brightness on his remote control turned down. The fever pitch was at the same warp level as ever, Big Ben struck at 11pm (yes, Sky show that happening), and White told us, as if a nuclear explosion was imminent, that we should “stay tuned because after the break, we’ll have news on Sebastian Bassong.” The Spurs defender had joined Wolves on loan. White made it sound as if they’d found the Queen Mum alive and well and breakdancing with Eminem in Trafalgar Square.

If you want to see the triumph of a man reborn, watch Jim White on Transfer Deadline Day. The transfer deals may be getting smaller. But, miracle of miracles, the man from Scotland Today definitely got big.

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