Tuesday, 20 May 2008


We hear and read a lot about courage in sport. Courage, determination, sheer bloody-minded cussedness, going the extra mile - they are all qualities which make for dramatic stories and eye-catching headlines. And occasionally, the courage, the determination, the cussedness come from such a rare stock that no headline seems adequate.

In Northern Ireland on Saturday a young man called Michael Dunlop won a motorcycle race in such exceptional circumstances that it deserved headlines far beyond the shores of his native island.

Michael, 20, is the son of a motorcycle legend Robert Dunlop who was killed in practice for the North West 200, an annual series of road races held on an 8.9 mile course linking the towns of Portrush, Portstewart and Coleraine. Robert was the most successful rider in the history of the races as well as being a multiple winner at the Isle of Man TT where his late brother Joey holds the record of 26 victories. Robert's death on Thursday evening was a huge shock, even for a sporting community well versed in the unforgiving nature of motorbike road racing. It made the odd down-page paragraph in Britain, but in Northern Ireland there was no other story on the next day's front pages while south of the border RTE's afternoon radio phone-in discussed no other topic.

Robert and his two sons, William and Michael, were all due to race in the 250cc event on Saturday. Michael was uncertain whether to take part but William was determined to ride, convinced that his dad would have wanted nothing else. So Michael decided to go ahead too "out of support for my brother." Just before the start, William's bike failed and Michael was on his own.

What followed was one of the most astonishing pieces of sporting theatre I have witnessed. For five laps of this thrilling circuit Michael was dicing for the lead. Five times he sped past the spot where his father had died. He took the lead, lost it, and then on the very last lap surged to the front again. This was no lap of honour; it was full-on tyre-squelching stuff against gritty, experienced racers. The chequered flag waved on victory for Michael Dunlop, and if you want to know what a sporting victory can mean to one man and his family, this one nudged the bar a little further upwards.

The media in Britain missed an incredible story. In Northern Ireland, it was wall to wall, with brilliant TV coverage by BBC NI leading the way. Check it out at http://www.bbc.co.uk/northernireland/nw200/watch/highlights.shtml?year=2008

Friday, 9 May 2008


How much research should a commentator do? How critical should he/she be? What sort of microphone is best? These were questions which came up at an excellent session given by the Radio Academy in London last night. And the answers? Ah well, that's not so simple!

Top radio sports commentators Jim Proudfoot (Talksport) and Simon Brotherton and Alan Green (both BBC) made up the panel to discuss their trade, chaired by Moz Dee.
With questions raining in from an audience mostly made up of people working in the industry, the one thing that was clear was a total lack of clarity!

Research? "Do plenty," said Jim and Simon. Alan: "I hardly do any."
Do you ever write down any lines which you plan to use? Jim: "I used to." Alan: "Never!"
Is it your role to promote the sport? "Yes, I do see that as part of my job," said Jim. "Definitely not" - Alan.
And that microphone question? Simon: "Lipmic." Jim: "Headset." Alan: "Don't like lipmics but we have to use them."

Where there was complete unanimity was the love of the job and a commitment to share exciting experiences with listeners. And, a time when the pressure to entertain and to reflect the agenda of those who bestow broadcasting rights is increasing, all three asserted that they still see themselves primarily as journalists, doing a job of journalism.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008


The moment when an original piece of imagination becomes a cliche is hard to spot. Like an old milk carton turning rancid, you can't pinpoint the exact second - but, sure as hell, you know when it's happened. And it's happened to "squeaky bum time."

Yes, we know it's a tense time in the football world, but that is no excuse for commentators and radio presenters to trot out the now-unoriginal line time and time again. Usually, it comes with the accompanying credit to Sir Alex Ferguson as the supposed originator of the expression. I don't know who invented it, but the first person I heard use it was Steve Bruce, and that was several years ago.

It was funny then. It isn't now.

Sunday, 4 May 2008


It just takes one phone call and everything changes. So it was last night, when the news reached me that Martin Finnegan had been killed. Martin who? If you're into motorcycle road racing, the name needs no introduction. Martin was one of the most talented riders on the road racing scene as well as one of the most genuine people. He died yesterday after crashing while racing at Tandragee in Northern Ireland. Martin will be remembered for his spectacular riding style which endeared him to every spectator at the Isle of Man TT where he was due to compete in less than a month's time.

Martin was born in Dublin and looked destined to be a TT winner sometime soon. He made his first appearance on the Isle of Man's famous Mountain Course in 2000, winning the newcomers' race at the Manx Grand Prix. The step up to the TT was immediate and in 2005 I commentated on his first podium succeess, third place in the Superbike TT. He was consistently in the top six or seven and would have made it to the top spot if fate had not decreed otherwise.
Road racing is a glorious antidote to the safety-first, hype-over-substance nature of much of today's sport. The risks are real and unforgiving. The notion of "putting one's body on the line" is no tabloid exaggeration. The rewards are a fraction of those on offer to an under-performing squad member of many an English football club. But men and women still live for the thrill of riding high-powered two-wheeled rockets through country roads with incredible skill and courage.

Sometimes, tragically, they die for it.

Martin Finnegan, R.I.P.

Thursday, 1 May 2008


So is now the time to proclaim Avram Grant as a great manager, on the strength of leading Chelsea to the Champions League final? Not just yet, I think. BBC 5 Live has been buzzing with debate over Grant's status compared to that of Jose Mourinho, but while Grant has certainly done a good job it has to be placed in the context of his inheritance. The majority of Grant's players went to Stamford Bridge for two reasons: Roman's money and Jose's personality. Only Anelka has been added to the squad bequeathed by Mourinho.

Avram may well go on to earn universal acclaim, but for now he is in the same bracket as Tony Barton, who won the European Cup for Aston Villa with Ron Saunders' team, and Joe Fagan, who did the same for Liverpool with Bob Paisley's. The acid test is whether he can emulate Bob Paisley himself. Bob inherited a fine squad from Bill Shankly and made it not only better, but continued to renew it and handed it on in better shape again.

Meanwhile it was surprising to hear Liverpool radio station CityTalk running a clip with Manchester United chief executive David Gill in the top story of their news bulletins, the morning after Liverpool's Champions League exit. Gill's musings on the importance of United fans obtaining visas for the final in Moscow must have gone down a treat with CityTalk's target audience!