There's a wooden box in front of me with buttons so big it looks like it's been designed for my 2-year-old son.
I press the giant gray square with the green triangle.
"LOCAL BBC RADIO! THIS IS QUAY HOUSE AT MEDIACITYUK SALFORD! SQUAD GOALS FOLLOWS NEXT ON THIS CIRCUIT!"
My heart is racing, and this is booming out across the studio and in my headphones seeping into my brain. And it's accompanied by the dizzying techno-beat of the BBC News theme tune. I have two minutes to compose myself.
It's Good Friday, 4th April 2021. A blue-muffed microphone dangles in front of me, arching out of a desk that looks like something out of Star Trek from my wheelie chair vantage-point. Beyond that sits my socially-distanced co-presenter - ex-footballer Joe Thompson. We've had Zooms, two pilots and now here we are.
I look at my notes. There's a LOT of paper. The stat packs and facts are strewn across the desk. Joe describes it like a scene out of 'A Beautiful Mind'. I've listened to five EFL podcasts on 1.4 speed, binge-watched last week's highlights, read virtually everything EFL-related on the BBC Sport website, The Athletic and The Football League Paper. And in front of me is the most jam-packed Google Doc you could ever imagine.
Silence. "LOCAL BBC RADIO! THIS IS QUAY HOUSE..." The loop re-starts. One minute to go.
To my right is a laptop with Lucy Oliva on screen in what looks like a box room with white-washed walls and little to place a location. She's in 'London', somewhere, and across the socials, ready to feed in online reaction to the day's events.
Behind the glass is Liam Bradford, the architect of the whole operation. At some point during that interminable period of Zoom quizzes, daily briefings, and empty stadiums, he had the idea of a radio show that could be summed up as 'Soccer Saturday but on the radio'. Why had nobody thought of it sooner? That show on Sky for the last 30 years is essentially a radio show! And here we are, Squad Goals. It replaces a looped message about not having commentary rights online that has been otherwise been going out across local radio for years.
Deep breathing. I'm aware that I'm not yet calm. And I need to be. Or at least, calm enough to press all the buttons in a moment. It's not just talking. On the B of the bang there's one button to press, mic fade up, say something coherent, fire another button, pull the first fader down, press the button to stop that track playing, let the bed kick in from the second track I've started, pull my fader back up. 'Shit, have I pulled the other faders up? Yes, well, I have now. Is my script at the right place? Yes it is. Breathe!'
"Ten, nine, eight..."
I get a voice in my right ear, "Howay lads, have a good'un." Our producer Andy Bell with a Tyneside twang helps me snap out of my moment. He has been our guiding light and will continue to be so for the next two years - with reminders on the technicals like going for a trail or pushing local radio but also helping us not get bogged down and if it's not going well, giving us the direct and actionable feedback.
"Six, five..." SILENCE.
Let's fast forward 766 days. And at that exact same moment, it's time to start our final show.
We've said goodbye to Lucy and hello to Welsh wonder Gabriella Jukes this season. It's a triple-header for the EFL final day. Friday's League One carnage had Gabriella with us in the flesh but subbing in for League Two and The Championship is Josh Shreeve, on Zoom from somewhere in London, just like that first show.
And coming in for the brilliant ex-pro Calvin Andrew, who was with us for League Two, is Dan Ogunshakin. He's up from an early shift on the ground floor, helping produce the sport for BBC Breakfast. If I thought we were tired... he's been up since 4am.
These days, there is no intro script. I've been trying to do it in my head. It's all in there by now.
I fire the bed. "Good afternoon..." 'Oh ffs, come on Sanny. You've not faded yourself up! You're supposed to be putting in one final, faultless show and you've failed already. Wait no, this has happened before and it's fine, laugh it off.'
Dan is chuckling to himself. He knows that would have annoyed me. But only we know this, no-one listening does, and we've done enough shows now. Before I would have let those thoughts cascade but instead I pull up the fader. 1.5 seconds later than I should have done and we begin.
"Good afternoon, it's five to three, it's EFL time."
"I'm Joe and he's Sanny and this is Squad Goals!"
We've hit those timings well. If Joe doesn't come straight off me saying, 'EFL time', it sounds clunky. Andy once said you could park a Mondeo in the space we'd left. That blue Ford flashes up in my mind.
And we're away. I wrap around our team with intros, fade out the High Flying Birds track that sounds like we're going to war and remind everyone that commentaries are on DAB, FM, Freeview and for some, Medium Wave. Oh, and don't forget we're on the BBC Sport website and App too! I always name-drop the journalists covering the EFL live page. On a day like today Ian Woodcock, Matt Newsum, Luke de Costa, and Adam Lanigan deserve a mention. The goals go in, it's brilliant, beautiful, beguiling chaos. Millwall are in the play-offs, then it's West Brom and finally Sunderland steal the show.
We get listeners getting in touch from all over the world. Andrew hiking in the Alps sharing the show with his son listening in Newcastle. Stephen shouting out loud as Gustavo Hamer gives Coventry the lead. He's on plane from Austin to Orlando! Tracey, on her honeymoon in Turkey messages throughout - she ended up dancing around a restaurant as Sunderland secure sixth spot. They've all made Josh's job look easy. Brilliant.
We go out on a high.
Our third voice has also been vital. The show wouldn't work without them. Lucy Oliva was just superb when she started. It took 45 minutes of the first pilot to change her role from off-air to on-air and the show never looked back. She was a hard act to follow but both Gabriella and Josh made it their own and in their own ways. It keeps the show moving really well.
In amongst all this is a Tuesday team too. It's been great tuning in to Henry Liston together with Natalie Pike, Calvin Andrew and Lucy Inman. It has a different vibe and fewer games. It helped me learn that there are different ways to do the same show and there are lots of bits I stole. The biggest one being remembering to have fun.
I've found out a lot about myself too. How I work, why I do things the way I do. When you're constantly assessing your performance and on such a public platform, it really does hone in on your failings and strengths. How can you box smart to not expose those failings and what can you do to fix them? Does that even help you outside the studio too?
For me, Squad Goals is the absolute vindication of giving new voices a chance. There's no denying that radio and broadcasting has a diversity issue. Visual and socio-economic. The programme hasn't been a panacea, but it has shown that you can take underrepresented voices and with the right platform and guidance, they can produce something that speaks loudly and proudly to a diverging audience who have a pick n mix of choice for entertainment.
We've had so many new voices as our guests too. Diehards with passion, just needing a platform. And we've of course, taken a moment to highlight issues they may face in football. Like Aaron Diskin the Oldham fan who told us about going home and away as a powerchair user, or Hannah Kumari the Coventry supporter who's created a one-woman show on life as a female British Asian football fan in the 1990s. Like me, Charles Commins our Northampton Town fan thought his chance broadcasting had passed him by but he's one of our best voices. First and foremost however, all our contributors are there to share their love of football and shout out as soon as the ball hits the back of the net in their designated division.
And that's the thing isn't it? It's not about diversity for the sake of it. How many British Asian presenters are there presenting Saturday sport? How many ex-footballers from Joe's background have been given the mic outright, rather than sitting solely in the pundit's chair? How many football fans out there are just needing the smallest of pushes to share their story? Are they good enough? Well, there's only one way to find out.
And that's where our journey ends and a new one, for new voices can begin. Squad Goals has been the perfect place for me to learn how to be a better broadcaster and beyond. That radio desk no longer feels like the Starship Enterprise. It's time to let someone else boldly begin in that big chair.
Reviewing The Championship and League Two's final day. This time I did need a bit of help getting everything together in time for BBC Sportday - with Chetan Pathak!
Copyright © 2023 Sanny Rudravajhala.