Almost there, Alan

INSTEAD of carrying first-half commentary on England’s World Cup qualifier against Kazakhstan on Saturday, Radio Five Live might have been better off phoning Alan Green and asking him to describe his fraught attempts to get to Wembley.

Green, if you haven’t heard, only got to the stadium at half-time on Saturday, after his flight from Manchester was delayed due to mechanical problems. (What does that mean, mechanical problems? Is it simply a case of someone forgetting to put any fuel in? Or is it something more serious, such as the wing falling off?)

The commentator, who lives in Macclesfield, is probably now wishing he had booked an earlier flight. (According to the Daily Mail, he was booked on the 1pm shuttle, which would have been taking a chance on a 5.15pm kick off.)

Still, I would have loved to have heard him at Manchester Airport while waiting for his flight. I like to think I’m relatively mild-mannered, and even I would have flown into a rage at something like that. From Green, I would have expected at least one “nonsense”, an “utterly ridiculous” and a couple of “absolute disgraces”.

The irony of all this, of course, is that even though Green only caught the second half on Saturday, he still saw everything worth seeing, thanks to Ferdinand, Rooney, Defoe and – on the downside – Ashley Cole and all that booing.

One of the great perils of covering football matches a long way from where you live is that, sooner or later, traffic or public transport will get the better of you. For that reason, it’s hard not have a little sympathy for Green.

In nine years, I’ve only failed to make it once – so far. I was covering a Carling Cup tie between Hartlepool and Macclesfield for local radio in 2004, and set off from south Manchester at around 3.30pm, for a 7.45pm kick off. It’s around two hours to Hartlepool, so I thought I had left myself plenty of time.

Unfortunately, this was the day that the east side of the M60 flooded – and the police were forced to close it off, while I was stuck on it. Had I set off 10 minutes earlier, I would have (just about) got through. Had I set off 10 minutes later, I would have been able to take a different route.

As it was, by 6.30pm, I had travelled a grand total of seven miles from my front door, and was doing a passable impression of Alan Green commentating on a particularly drab goalless draw on a cold, wet December Saturday. I was forced to ring the station and tell them I wasn’t going to make it. They were, in the circumstances, remarkably understanding.

Of course, if you work for a media company with a big enough expenses budget (or, indeed, any expenses budget at all), there is a way round this.

The late, great Hugh Johns commentated throughout the 1970s for ATV in the Midlands, yet chose to live in Cardiff and commute up every weekend. He always made a point of travelling up on the Friday and stopping in a hotel close to whichever ground he was due at that weekend.

He learned the hard way, after almost missing a match at Highbury early on in his television career when deciding to travel in on a Saturday morning.

“The match was Arsenal v Sheffield Wednesday in London,” he said in an interview years later.

“I was travelling by train, but heavy snow caused long delays. Eventually, I arrived at Paddington desperately late and on reaching Arsenal Station, I ran from there to the ground and got to my seat just as the referee was starting the game.

“After all that, would you believe, the game was abandoned because of snow at half-time!”

For England’s next home game, a friendly against Slovakia at Wembley in March, perhaps Green will be allowed an overnight stay. If so, I’d love to hear his thoughts on his hotel room.


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