Thursday, 18 June 2009


The problem with being a freelance in a volatile world like sports broadcasting is that your employment often depends on circumstances completely beyond your control.
At the moment two of my main clients are under pressure. Setanta has been through a well-publicised financial crisis and is not safe yet. If a proposed takeover by a Russian billionaire named Lev Blavatnik fails, then Setanta could well fold. This would leave me needing to find a new organistion to work for in the next football season, and the money Setanta still owe me for work in season 2008-09 will never find its way into my bank account.
Meanwhile Manx Radio's contract to cover the motorbike TT races ends this year. A rival radio station, Energy FM, has announced it will put in a bid for the new contract, to be decided by the Isle of Man Government. I've been Manx Radio's main commentator for six years, but there is no guarantee that I'd be retained by a different broadcaster.
I'm watching developments with keen interest!

Tuesday, 16 June 2009


I'm back in what passes for the real world after two weeks on that other planet known as the TT.

It's hard to know where to start summing it up having commentated on one race in which one competitor lost his life and another in which we all thought at least one, and probably two, had also died. When footballers talk about "laying their bodies on the line" they really have no idea what they are talking about.

John Crellin was a man who loved a challenge - the tougher the better. Several years ago I produced a package about him for BBC TV. No-one else has climbed the toughest mountains in the world and raced the toughest motorbike race in the world. This year, John made his third attempt to conquer Everest, only to be beaten back by illness which required hospital treatment. Undaunted, several weeks later, he rode in the TT.

On Friday, I called him home as he finished third in a unique event, the first TT for zero-emissions motorbikes ( . It was his first podium finish. Later that day, in the Senior TT, John apparently lost control of his bike on the mountain section of the course and was killed.

Two days earlier, in the second of the Sidecar TTs, I was describing an exciting race in which local driver Nicky Crowe and his passenger Mark Cox were duelling with an all-Manx duo, Dave Molyneux and Dan Sayle. I described their progress as they left the start line and then, for the remainder of the 37.75 mile course I had to rely on fellow commentators and computer screens to update me on the action.

Maurice Mawdsley, Radio TT's commentator at the Glen Helen section, saw them go past and the computer screens ticked up their progress as they continued. Then, the screen for the Ramsey section remained ominously blank when the producer's stopwatch suggested that it was time the leaders were there. That is not an unfamiliar phenomenon. In the commentary box, we know exactly when a rider is due to reach any given point so when their data doesn't appear we know something is wrong. It's a question of how badly wrong.

This time there was a silence which seemed to go on for ever. There was no information from Race Control. Then Molyneux and Sayle reached Ramsey, but later than expected. They had clearly had to slow down. Then one of our screens, which charts retirements, updated with the information that Nicky and Mark had retired at Ballacob, on the approach to the famous bridge at Ballaugh. No further information. Then we saw a marshal in front of us at the Grandstand pick up the red flag, which is used as an emergency stop to the race. He kept the flag by him - there was no point in unfurling it; there were no riders active in our part of the track. Then Roy Moore, our commentator at Ramsey, live on air, spotted a marshal showing the red flag as the outfits went by. The race was stopped.

Back in the Grandstand, I had to hold the fort while confusion reigned. Clearly, there had been a very serious incident. Probably, it involved Nicky and Mark - but we didn't know for sure. I was aware that every listener was desperate for news but there was none to give them. And the worst thing to do was to speculate. That would only make things worse. All I could do was repeat what we knew, which was not a great deal.

Then the unofficial reports began to come in. The first, which appeared to be reputable, told us that paramedics were treating Mark but Nicky had been left in the road. That sounded as if Nicky had been given up for lost. It was a horrible moment. The commentary box - which usually contains seven or eight people - went totally quiet. Only a couple of hours earlier I had been chatting to Mark in the team's paddock HQ. Steve Plater, one of the top solo riders, had popped in to give him and Nicky some swank sunglasses. The news from Ballacob was no more than rumour and I could not repeat any of it. I had to carry on playing the straight bat.

Next Maurice buzzed through from Glen Helen to say that he had been told that the lads had hit a rabbit which caused Nicky to lose control. Then someone else came in to say the two boys were sitting up and thanking the marshals for looking after them. It was totally confusing and utterly depressing, and all the time I had to carry on telling the audience that there was no definite news. Which was the truth. We knew they were being helicoptered to hospital. From my vantage point high in the tower, using binoculars, I could see the helicopter landing pad and I saw the chopper descend and two ambulances make the short journey from the pad to the main building.

We wrapped the OB (Outside Broadcast) early and I handed back to the studio without ceremony. Later we learned that the two lads were both alive but in a serious condition. Since then, Nicky has been transferred to England with multiple fractures to arms and legs. Mark is due to be transferred to Liverpool later this week.

I can only wish them and their families God speed in their recoveries. They are both great lads and brilliant sportsmen. When it comes to taking sporting commitment to the very edge they, and John Crellin, leave most other so-called tough guys a long, long way behind.

Monday, 8 June 2009


Well! That was a commentary with a difference!
I've done 6 and a half hours at the microphone, anchoring Radio TT's coverage of the delayed first day of racing. I'm accustomed to describing unexpected events in the sporting area - it's the nature of the beast - but today we had all manner of weird goings-on.
It started with the arrival of the Governor, who processed down the track in front of the Grandstand, escorted by two police motorcycle outriders. Unfortunately the police stopped in the wrong place. The official welcoming party was left fidgeting some 200 yards further down the road while no-one moved. It was left to the chauffeur of the Governor's car to jump out and tell the bobbies that they'd got it wrong before the little convoy set off again. It's part of my job to describe this ceremonial arrival and it was impossible to avoid telling the world that a sizeable cock-up was taking place. The reception committee, as I couldn't help remarking, was left looking like a jilted bride at the altar.
Then there was an unscheduled lap of the course by Philip McCallen, the former TT winner from Northern Ireland. None of us on the radio team had any idea that this was happening until McCallen appeared 45 minutes before the first race, leathered up and ready to go. I was furious about this because the one thing a host broadcaster requires is advance knowledge of anything which is likely to require live coverage. Amazingly, it turned out that not even the Clerk of the Course, the vastly-experienced Eddie Nelson, had been informed of this jape by Honda, the people who had arranged it. Honda are big players around here but in this instance they were pushing their luck.
The day was notable for the personal appearance of Valentino Rossi who was to garland the first three finishers in the Superbike TT. Again, it is my job to describe the ceremony. Total farce. I called on the crowd to acknowledge the third-placed man, Guy Martin, and nothing happened. It took minutes for someone to get the word to Valentino that he was supposed to pick up the garland and place it around Guy's neck. Eventually I was broadcasting instructions over the radio, piped through the course speakers, pleading with Guy to show Valentino what to do! I guess Rossi is more accustomed to receiving garlands than handing them out.
That would have been bad enough, but come the second race, the Sidecar TT, the same pantomime occurred again. This time it was a representative of the sponsors who seemed totally clueless when it came to performing the relatively simple task of placing garlands round the shoulders of successful sportsmen. It beggared belief and was totally embarrassing, as well as an insult to the riders. I can only hope the organisers will sort out their stage management before tomorrow. Otherwise it'll feel more like commentating on the Eurovision Song Contest.
The serious business of the day was professionally conducted. John McGuinness won the Superbike TT with a new outright course record, his 15th TT win, and Dave Molyneux and Dan Sayle won the Sidecar race, Dave's 14th victory. They are both great sportsmen, superb performers on the big stage, and they at least let no-one down.

Sunday, 7 June 2009


Radio TT's plans have had more reshuffles than the Cabinet. After a weekend of postponements we will now go on air from the Grandstand at10am, building up to the first race which starts at 11 - the Superbike TT. Lots of things for me to talk about - it's Ian Lougher's 100th TT; the outcome is hard to predict with John McGuinness (Honda), Bruce Anstey (Suzuki), and Guy Martin (Honda) all having a genuine chance; William Dunlop is back at the TT

Friday, 5 June 2009


Update: Cameron suffered a dislocated shoulder. Could have been a lot worse.


It feels like suspended animation at the moment. All through the practice sessions this week the weather has been glorious. But tomorrow, when racing is due to start and I am scheduled to open the live broadcast at 11am, the forecast is for wet, cold and windy weather. If it works out like that, they will postpone the races till Sunday. They have promised a decision at 7.30am, rather like a course inspection in horse racing. So, I have spent several hours in my room overlooking Douglas Bay working on a commentary that probably won't happen tomorrow.
Already we know that the big highlight of tomorrow's schedule, a parade lap of the TT course by Valentino Rossi, won't take place. Because of the forecast, Rossi has been postponed till Monday.
We are all on tenterhooks waiting for news about Cameron Donald. Cameron sensationally won two races last year and this time he has clocked an unofficial lap record in excess of 131 mph in practice. This evening he crashed at Keppel Gate which is on the descent from the mountain. He was taken to hospital by helicopter. No further details have been announced, so we all wait and hope.

Thursday, 4 June 2009


John McGuinness is one of the world's top motor sportsmen. As the lap record holder on the most challenging motorbike racing circuit, the Isle of Man TT, he has proved an uncanny ability to match character and determination with the best Honda equipment. Two years ago he became the first man to lap at an average speed in excess of 130mph - to be precise, 130.354mph. Tonight, in practice for this year's TT, he again beat 130 with a lap of 130.171mph. He is in outstanding form and is the firm favourite for more success.

This is the 50th anniversary of Honda's debut at the TT. The firm is putting a lot of resources into making it a memorable celebration and so far it is paying off.

I watched tonight's session at Creg ny Baa, one of the most famous landmarks on the course where I took this photo of McGuinness on his brilliant lap. Tomorrow (or rather, tonight) I'll be in the commentary box, wondering what drama lies in store.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009


One of the many distressing consequences of Chester's relegation and descent into administration is that supporters are falling out with one another. A fans' meeting in the city last Thursday was an ill-tempered affair by all accounts, with members of different factions abusing one another and unacceptable language being directed at the chair, Peter Mitchell, whose only motivation was to give supporters their chance to discuss the situation. I wouldn't blame him for regretting that decision now.
Happily, I hear that a meeting of the Exiles in London on Tuesday was a more constructive occasion and the outcome could be a thoughtful article to be submitted to the local press before the weekend.
The schisms between fans are regrettable but hardly surprising. Everyone is upset but the short-term problem is that no-one can do anything about it. This is not one of those situations when the public rallies behind the club because few supporters have any faith that club, as presently constituted, is worth rallying behind. People want real and lasting change, but despite rumours of "interested parties" no credible individual or group has stepped up to state their ambition to take over.
That in turn prolongs the possibility of Stephen Vaughan finding himself in an imposible situation. He doesn't want to be the man who placed the club into liquidation - and with £7 million of debt that could yet happen. But he has also made it clear he wants to sell up and move on. It leaves the fans in limbo, wanting some good news to appear but helpless to influence things.
There's a creditors meeting on June 11th and the AGM of the Conference takes place two days later when Chester's place in next season's competition would have to be confirmed, or otherwise. By then we'll have a better idea of what the future holds. By then, hopefully, the fans will know where the real fight lies. One thing's for sure, it isn't with each other.