I AM fully expecting someone, somewhere, to get me Alan Partridge’s autobiography for Christmas. If they do, it won’t be because they think I’ll appreciate the witty deconstruction of the celebrity autobiography’s tendency towards self-satisfaction and petty score settling, wrapped in a sweaty blanket of false modesty. Oh no. It’ll be because they think I’m a bit like him.
There are some connections between Partridge and me. I like some of Kate Bush’s music. I have worked in local radio. I used to drive a Rover. I was born when ABBA had Knowing Me, Knowing You at No.1 in the singles charts. I once had a BBC chat show cancelled after accidentally shooting dead a guest live on air.
And… Oh God, oh God, oh God.
No, it’s OK. I can tell this story.
You know that clip from The Day Today, where Partridge presents his guide to the 1994 World Cup? It’s the one with all the spoof bits of commentary in: He must have a foot like a traction engine, eat my goal, the keeper’s got football pie all over his shirt, etc.
No one would ever use any of those in a football commentary for real, right? Wrong.
On the opening day of the 2004/05 season, a full 10 years after The Day Today appeared on TV, I commentated on a Macclesfield Town game at Leyton Orient for a local radio station. With about 10 minutes to go, Jon Parkin ran clear to put Macc 3-0 up. It was game over. “Thank you and goodnight,” I bellowed into the microphone.
Generally, I was OK as a local radio football commentator. I did my research, I spoke in fully-formed sentences and I didn’t swear. Admittedly, I didn’t please everyone. One Tuesday night that season, I was at the Moss Rose, preparing to cover a game between Macclesfield and Cambridge. About half-an-hour before kick-off, an elderly chap expended a fair degree of effort hobbling up to the press box at the top of the stand.
“Are you the commentator from local radio?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said.
“I just wanted to say I think your commentaries are terrible. You spend ages talking about this and that. I just want to know where the ball is. Terrible, it is. Absolutely terrible.”
The man continued in this vein for about 30 seconds, although it seemed like 10 minutes to me. Then, having made his point, he hobbled off all the way back down the steps, again expanding a great deal of effort.
“I made him do that,” I thought.
In total, I spent around 18 months doing full-match commentaries for that radio station. With hindsight, I was lucky to make it beyond my first.
It was a Macc away game at Mansfield in September 2003. My chance had come after I’d done a little dabbling in local radio sports reporting, and I was determined to make the most of it. But it didn’t go well.
For one thing, I sounded utterly hysterical. A little bias in local radio is fine, but when John Miles scored to give Macclesfield the lead, I sounded as if I’d either just placed my hand in a furnace or been put through to The X Factor finals. (Both require a similar pain threshold, I’d suggest.)
The broadcast wasn’t helped by the fact that a group of young Mansfield fans had spotted the effects microphone I had taped to the desk in front me to pick up crowd noise, and kept running over from the end of the stand to shout things into it. Luckily, they couldn’t think of anything ruder than: “Come on, Mansfield.” I should have been grateful, I suppose, that Mansfield’s children are relatively polite in their mischief making.
But that wasn’t the worst of it. Macc lost the game 3-2, and I managed to credit their other goal to the wrong player – not just at the time, but all the way through the game. I didn’t even realise I’d made a mistake until I got home – and even then, it was only because my co-commentator texted me.
As I read that text, and reflected on my first full 90-minute effort, I thought: “This football commentary business is harder than it sounds.”
Last on MOTD: Liverpool 1 QPR 0
Commentator: Steve Wilson
The BBC’s Steve Wilson told an amusing story on his blog this week about his very first attempt at football commentary which, coincidentally, was on a match between Liverpool and QPR.
It was April 1991, and Wilson was doing updates on the game for Capital Radio. With about 10 minutes to go, and Rangers on course for an improbable victory, senior producer Pete Simmons asked Wilson if he fancied commentating live on the finale.
“Looking back, I wonder whether if I had said no, my career would have taken a different course,” Wilson wrote this week. “I didn’t have to think twice before I said yes.”
By his own account, Wilson’s commentary was very excitable. So excitable, that it attracted the wrath of a Liverpool fan sitting near him. The fan yelled into the Capital effects microphone – and thus to the listening audience in London – to tell the commentator to stop being such a Cockney so-and-so. This was something of a shock to Wilson, because he comes from Birkenhead.
Two decades on, Wilson – who is not to be confused with the Steve Wilson who presented Live & Kicking between Jamie Theakston and Ortis Deley – had the relative isolation of the TV gantry from which to commentate on a rather more routine Liverpool-QPR clash.
“Decent ball in – one-nil, Luis Suarez,” Wilson exclaimed as Patrice Evra’s least favourite Uruguayan headed in the winner from Charlie Adam’s superb cross. You might say it was liquid football.
Despite that moment of quality, it was a match that was rightly on last, despite the jokey grumblings of Alan Hansen on the Match of the Day punditry swivel chair. “Great victory,” Hansen said. “It should have been on first.”
Yes, Alan. And I’m Batman. (I’m not.)
1. Fulham: 4 (2L: 1, 3L: 1)
2. QPR: 4 (2L: 0, 3L: 1)
3. West Brom: 3 (2L: 4, 3L: 2)
4. Aston Villa: 3 (2L: 3, 3L: 2)
5. Sunderland: 3 (2L: 1, 3L: 0)
6. Wigan: 2 (2L: 5, 3L: 3)
7. Swansea: 2 (2L: 3, 3L: 2)
8: Wolves: 2 (2L: 1, 3L: 3)
9: Liverpool: 2 (2L: 1, 3L: 2)
10. Bolton: 1 (2L: 2, 3L: 3)
11. Blackburn: 1 (2L: 1, 3L: 3)
12. Norwich: 1 (2L: 1, 3L: 1)
13. Tottenham: 1 (2L: 1, 3L: 0)
14. Newcastle: 1 (2L: 0, 3L: 0)
15. Everton: 0 (2L: 2, 3L: 3)
16. Arsenal: 0 (2L: 2, 3L: 1)
17. Stoke: 0 (2L: 1, 3L: 1)
18. Manchester United: 0 (2L: 1, 3L: 0)
19. Chelsea: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 2)
20. Manchester City: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 0)
2L = On second last (West Brom 1 Wigan 2)
3L = On third last (Swansea 2 Fulham 0)
(Teams receive one point every time they are last on MOTD. Teams level are separated by the number of times they are on second last, then by the number of times they are on third last. MOTD2 not included.)