A commentator’s nightmare

AN ESTEEMED local radio commentator in Manchester brought out a book last year called The Best Job In The World. And football commentating is a great job, most of the time. But Reading 107’s Peter Hood might feel a bit differently after his experiences at Doncaster this afternoon.

(By the way, 107 is the station’s FM frequency. There aren’t 107 local radio stations in Reading. That would be overkill.)

Hood and his summariser David Armstrong (the same one who used to play in midfield for Middlesbrough and Southampton) had to do their entire first-half commentary at the Keepmoat Stadium down a mobile phone. Hood would describe the events on the pitch, then periodically pass the phone to Armstrong for his thoughts.

At half-time, things improved slightly. A Doncaster press officer managed to find Hood and Armstrong a landline to pass between each other instead.

A few years ago, I did regular full-match radio commentaries for a local commercial station. Aside from the nervous last few moments while waiting to go on air, the most agonising part of the afternoon/evening was always plugging in the radio kit, dialling up the studio and praying for a signal. Most weeks, there was no problem. But when there was, it could play havoc.

Hood’s troubles were nothing to do with his radio equipment, and were no fault of Doncaster Rovers or Reading 107. Apparently, there was just a fault on the ISDN line. In the circumstances, I thought Hood and Armstrong did an excellent job. Sitting behind them in the press box, I enjoyed listening to their efforts.

And at least they managed to get a commentary out. At half-time, as Hood and Armstrong took a breather, I decided against telling them the story of the West Yorkshire station who sent a two-man commentary team to cover a Huddersfield match at Torquay seven years ago and ended up failing to get on the air at all because none of the commercial radio points at Plainmoor were working. The best of a bad job is better than no job at all, perhaps.

It wasn’t just Hood and Armstrong who had a trying afternoon at the Keepmoat. About an hour before kick off, I managed to split my trousers, perhaps the consequence of indulging in one too many pre-match chicken nuggets in the press room. (The diet plan is not working. I’m currently relying on holding my stomach in and wearing dark clothes.)

With an entire afternoon’s football to get through, I was grateful to be wearing a long coat, which at least spared me the indignity of bearing my arse to the entire stadium. (Well, not literally bearing my arse. Only an idiot would go commando on a trip to Doncaster.)

And it was a very trying afternoon for Doncaster who, just lately, have started to make small noises about pushing for a place in the Premier League. Those ambitions were demonstrated by the signing of defender Matt Kilgallon on loan from Sunderland this week, when he had the choice to go to Leeds or Leicester. (I can see the headlines now: “Matt Kilgallon – the man who turned down Sven.”)

Ryan and his two fellow major shareholders dipped into their own pockets to fund the loan move because they felt a play-off challenge could happen. Blackpool’s promotion has got a lot of clubs in the Championship thinking: “Why not us?” It makes for a division intriguing and unpredictable even by its own standards.

Doncaster’s third season in the Championship could yet go either way. They’re eight points off the play-off places and nine points above the relegation zone. In truth, they are most likely to stay in mid-table. They’ve too much class to get sucked into a relegation fight, but their squad isn’t deep enough to sustain a promotion push, even with Kilgallon’s addition.

Reading, on the other hand, might just have half-a-chance. Battling against relegation when Brian McDermott stepped up from the reserve team manager’s post to replace Brendan Rodgers just over a year ago, the club have repositioned themselves among that clutch of teams who might just grab fifth or sixth place given a good run at the right time.

Shane Long has grabbed much of the glory in recent weeks, and he got his eighth goal in seven games just under half-an-hour in this afternoon, latching on to a Jimmy Kebe ball over the top and striding through to score while Doncaster’s defenders gawped as if they’d just seen Lady Gaga materialise in the penalty area.

But if Long is getting much of the attention, Reading’s path to a 3-0 win was laid on solid foundations. The never-easy-to-spell central midfield pairing of Mikele Leigertwood and Jem Karacan worked very hard to stifle Doncaster’s attractive passing game. While they grafted, Reading’s craft did the rest.

Kebe was another impressive performer, and deserved the goal he scored midway through the second half, created by a Leigertwood through ball and some erratic Neil Sullivan goalkeeping. Sullivan’s decision to charge off his line left Kebe with an easy decision – just lift the ball over him. The execution was spot on, and Reading were safe.

Jobi McAnuff’s third goal 15 minutes from the end, slotted in after Long had forced a defensive error, merely confirmed the inevitable. Doncaster’s manager Sean O’Driscoll looked as hacked off as a local radio commentator forced to use a mobile phone.

“We try to put the emphasis on performances,” he said. “And the performance was something that will ruin my weekend.”

McDermott, who always comes across as a beacon of common sense, has had a rather better weekend. He won’t talk about the play-offs yet. Not in January.

“You have to close down other teams before you can play your own game,” he said. “That’s probably the theory in most games. Man United, Real Madrid and Barcelona have to do that to teams.

“I’m not saying we’re Man United, Barcelona or Real Madrid, but the principle is the same. You have to do the right things first before you can play your game, and that’s what you saw today.”

If Reading continue to put in that kind of performance, perhaps their local radio commentators can look forward to some very enjoyable afternoons between now and the end of the season – technology permitting.

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