I sometimes wonder what the world would be like without football. I sometimes wonder what my life would be like without football. The game has enriched the world immensely and it has enriched my life as well.
I have been into football for as long as I can remember. When I was about five years old the Spurs double winning side of 1960/61 which featured Danny Blanchflower, Dave Mackay, John White, Bobby Smith and Cliff Jones and others made an impression on me. The first FA Cup Final I can remember watching on TV is the one played in 1964, when West Ham United beat Preston North End 3-2, in which Preston's Howard Kendall became the youngest player to play in a Wembley FA Cup Final.
For me sport is best watched live, it’s a communal activity, a shared experience. The first game I attended, a 6-0 Fulham victory over a Singapore XI in 1966 whilst I was living out there, is a lasting memory. I became a life-long Watford supporter when, two years later, I went to Vicarage Road with a friend and saw them lose 1-0 to Stockport County.
Another dimension was added to my football experience when in 1989 I answered an advert for football reporters to work for Charing Cross Hospital Radio and was taken on. I felt that until that point football had held me at arm’s length, that it was an impenetrable mystery. Becoming a football reporter opened a door for me, it was as though I was admitted to a gold mine and was told that I could help myself to whatever I liked.
The way I watched football changed. As a supporter it didn’t matter if I went home from a match not knowing who had got the final touch when a goal had been scored. The first duty of a reporter is accuracy and detail is important so I learnt to watch matches closely and to absorb everything that happened during a game. This was interesting because one of the great attractions of the game in England is that it is so competitive and matches are won and lost on such fine margins. There can be a split-second pivotal moment in a tight game which decides the outcome and as a reporter I had to be able to recognise that event and describe it to the listeners.
After a couple of years working for Hospital Radio, and for a commercial agency called Sportsvox which was run by the guys at Charing Cross, I made a seismic leap. After becoming a football reporter, I looked around at the coverage of the game available in London and I made a discovery which opened my eyes and ears. Capital Gold Sport had launched in 1988 to provide committed and extensive coverage of London football with Jonathan Pearce as the main commentator, driving force and inspiration.
‘Capital Gold Sport was just what London football needed, and exactly what I needed. It was fresh and new and was ready to blow away the cobwebs of the old order. In some ways it was to football reporting what punk had been to music in the previous decade. The coverage had energy although at the same time it was respectful. It was different to any radio coverage of football I had previously heard. It was edgy, alive and enthusiastic. Jonathan Pearce reminded me of the young Brian Moore in the 1960s, when Brian had been at his most uninhibited in the early days of The Big Match.
The Capital Gold Sport approach to football was similarly unrestrained, free flowing and raw. It didn’t hold back, it went straight for the target, which was the heart, mind and soul of the football fan on the terrace. It was the sort of noise you might expect to hear in a favela in Rio de Janiero if you tuned in a transistor radio to listen to coverage of a game between Santos and Fluminense at the Maracanã. It was passionate, as loud and proud as the sovereign ring on a market trader’s finger. Hearing it woke me up and started me dreaming at the same time.’
In the summer of 1991, I sent a tape recording to Capital Gold Sport of a report I had done for BBC Essex on a 1-0 West Ham win at Watford. JP heard my report and offered me a job which I accepted gladly without hesitation. For me it was the perfect gig. Working for Capital Gold Sport was incredible fun but it was also serious. Many commentators and reporters who worked there have gone on to reach the top of their profession with outlets such as the iconic Match of the Day, Sky Sports, ITV and Talksport. This was commercial radio where listening figures counted, Capital Gold Sport won awards. Quality was paramount and the station couldn’t afford to carry any passengers. I had to make sure that I was on top of my game.
I gave it everything and became part of a talented team covering football matches played by clubs including my own, Watford. In the mid-1990s I was made Capital Gold Sport’s Watford reporter by JP and was rewarded when I worked with him at the old Wembley Stadium and watched Graham Taylor’s Watford beat Bolton Wanderers 2-0 in the Division One play-off final to reach the Premier League for the first time in their history. I had many ecstatic moments as a football reporter, witnessing this game was the most intense.
It was an honour and a privilege to work for Capital Gold Sport for 13 years until it stopped broadcasting in 2004. I have since returned to becoming a Watford supporter, sitting as a season ticket holder with friends in my spiritual home the Rookery End at Vicarage Road.
Simon is the author of JMD's new title 'The Man Who Shouts', published in Oct 2023. Detailing his career as a football reporter, it provides behind the scenes stories of his life in the stands.
#football #efl #watford #footballreporter