Wednesday, 25 June 2008


As if nearly seven hours of live sport were not enough, BBC1 tonight follows its Wimbledon/Euro 2008 marathon with a programme devoted to those who describe the action. Adrian Chiles introduces "The Story of Sports Commentary, part 2" at 1045pm this evening. This follows on from part 1 which went out last Saturday featuring, among other highights (highlights?) a tongue-tied Clare Balding failing to fight back the tears when interviewing her trainer-father and jockey-brother after they had won a horse race. Part 1 also featured the best-known line of football commentary, Kenneth Wolstenholme's "they think it's all is now!"

The funny thing about that line from the 1966 World Cup Final is that no-one really picked up on it at the time. Speaking as one who is old enough to have watched the game live on TV and still has scrapbooks of cuttings from the great day, it was only when the 20th anniversary came around that Ken's magic moment received due attention. By then we were into the VHS era and, unlike 1966, sporting highlights could be replayed time and again.

For the commentator this usually means mistakes are celebrated more than neat phrases. But hey, that's showbiz.

Friday, 13 June 2008


Today I received some really good news.

It was a phone call from one of my former students who graduated from our Sports Journalism course last summer. He rang to tell me he has got his dream job - football statistician for Sky Sports.

At university Andy Dalton was such a legend for his knowledge of sporting trivia that he quickly acquired the nickname "Statto." Well, it's not so trivial now. It's his passport to a successful career, one which will see him travelling to Sky's outside broadcasts as well as working at their HQ, digging out juicy facts for the commentators.

What also pleased me is that Andy has kept up his cheerful dispositon and his confidence despite the inevitable knock-backs in his search for the right opening. His reward arrived this week.

This is a tricky time for students as they move from university into the wider world. A number of our graduates this summer are fixed up with jobs already, heading for national and local papers, Granada TV and Talkback Thames and elsewhere. Those who don't find the door opening right away can be encouraged by Andy's story. Just because the chance doesn't come at once doesn't mean it won't come at all. And that's a fact.


Many people believe that radio is the most personal form of mass communication, whether it be delivered over the air, via the internet or even by loudspeaker. In the case of Manx Radio's coverage of the famous Isle of Man motorbike TT races, it's all three. I've just returned from a lively fortnight anchoring Manx Radio TT's commentary team, for whom the challenge is probably unique in the field of sports commentary. It is hardly the norm for commentators to be expected to keep talking when there is absolutely nothing taking place in their field of vision - or to have a proportion of their listening audience in clear line of sight while they do their stuff.

At the TT, a time trial in which competitors set off at 10-second intervals, the usual rules of broadcasting go out of the window. The commentators - in this case Maurice Mawdsley, Roy Moore, Chris Kinley and myself - have to fill the gaps, which can become quite lengthy as the field spreads out over 200 miles of racing. And the knowledge that eager aficionados are monitoring your every word while listening just outside the commentary box does wonders for your concentration. The time when I got the name of the Isle of Man's Lieutenant Governor horribly wrong at the very moment that I decribed his appearance in front of 2000 people in the Grandstand is not an episode I want to re-live!

But if you can rise to the challenge, the TT is the most rewarding broadcasting gig imaginable. The reason is that the radio service is an integral part of the event. No-one following the TT, even if they are there in person, can do so without listening to the radio commentary. When the course stretches 37.75 miles it is impossible for fans to keep up with the action any other way.

The other big bonus is that the TT has a worldwide army of intensely loyal, knowledgeable supporters who, thanks to the internet, follow the races from all over the globe. This year we were intrigued to receive an enthusiastic email from a NASA engineer who had our commentary feeding into his earpiece at the Kennedy Space Centre! It was also a great moment for me personally when Australian rider Cameron Donald, who won his first two TT races this year, thanked me for the commentary which his family had been following at home in Melbourne.

For those who are not of the two-wheeled faith, TT 2008 was a wonderful, dramatic, vibrant success producing wins for Bruce Anstey of New Zealand and Steve Plater and John McGuinness of England, in addition to Donald's double. Nicky Crowe of the Isle of Man and his pasenger Mark Cox won both the sidecar races.

McGuinness is a fabulous rider who took his total of TT wins to 14, the same as the legendary Mike Hailwood, leaving him behind only Joey Dunlop as the most successful racer over the Mountain Course. McGuinness is also a great guy who always has time for the media and even popped up alongside me in the commentary box after his bike packed up in one race. I gave him the mic to have a go at commentary and he was worryingly good at that as well.

The TT is a great buzz from start to finish and not just for the riders - in the commentary box too.