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 (http://www.ttxgp.com/) . 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.

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