Jonathan Pearce: “They were great days at Capital ... I used to enjoy the interaction with my team of freelance reporters ... It was one of the highlights ... We laughed a lot.”
There are those who play football; those who coach and manage footballers; and those who talk to and about the people in those first two categories.
The Man Who Shouts is about people who do the talking, who enthuse, inform and entertain the football public.
There is no substitute for attending football matches, football is best consumed first-hand. At some point however every supporter will turn on a television or tune into a radio and rely on someone to describe and interpret the action on the pitch. When this function is delivered at its best the listening experience is stimulating and rewarding.
I never set out to become a football reporter, it was never an ambition I held. I kind of wandered into it through a set of circumstances which are described in the book. Once I’d started, at Charing Cross Hospital Radio in 1989, I was captivated and entranced by the experience. My time as a reporter gathered momentum and went through a number of stages. It would have been enough to continue working on a voluntary basis for Hospital Radio but the guys who ran the Sports Show at Charing Cross had an agency called Sportsvox which covered football matches for local radio stations and newspapers all over the country who were unable to send a reporter to London. This meant that I was paid to report on matches. I was assigned to cover home, and some away, matches played by Sutton United in the GM Vauxhall Conference. It was a good time to cover Sutton. It was not long after they had beaten Division One Coventry City 2-1 in 1989 in the third round of the FA Cup in one of the most celebrated giant killings in the history of the competition. It was also during the season Efan Ekoku made his breakthrough before going on to play in the Premier League and for Nigeria. For a while I also had a gig covering home West Ham home matches for BBC Essex, which was a pleasure.
My time as a football reporter really took off in 1991 when I joined as a freelance the fledgling Capital Gold Sport, London’s legendary award-winning soccer station, which had been up and running for a few years with the inimitable Jonathan Pearce as the main commentator, driving force and inspiration. There are many excellent football commentators around who more than adequately describe the action but there are only two in my lifetime who have made a deep impression on me. When I started my journey as a football supporter in the late 1960s The Big Match was the programme to watch and Brian Moore stimulated my interest in the game in a similar way to JP years later. For me the main quality Moore and JP had in common was that they both ‘got’ how important football is in the lives of football supporters and they communicated that brilliantly. The enthusiasm both had for the game was infectious.
I saw Moore once in real life but I never met him. JP on the other hand became a work colleague and I was in the privileged position of sitting alongside and watching him commentate on matches. This gave me the opportunity to fully take in and appreciate his ability and a number of these occasions are described in the book.
By far and away the highlight of my time as a football reporter came on 31 May 1999, a gloriously sunny day, when Graham Taylor’s Watford beat an expensively assembled Bolton Wanderers side at the old Wembley Stadium in the Division One play-off final. To work alongside JP, Billy Bonds and others that day was an unforgettable experience.
By that time, I had become Capital Gold Sport’s Watford reporter. My allegiance to Watford began in 1968, my first game being a 1-0 home defeat to Stockport County which despite the result got me hooked on following the club.
After the play-off final win, I was treated to a season covering Watford in the Premier League which did not end well for Watford and by extension for me but it did allow me to report on matches involving some superb footballers.
I went on a journey of discovery, at the outset my direct contact with footballers had been negligible. One of the great joys of being a reporter was that it brought me into contact with some stellar names in the football world. I hadn’t been working long for Charing Cross Hospital Radio when I interviewed Malcolm Allison, someone for whom I’d long had a great fondness who had been a coach at Manchester City during a golden period in the club’s history in the late 1960s, early 1970s. As well as being a great coach Malcolm was a fascinating character with a huge personality.
I also interviewed Matt Le Tissier, a player who enthralled me when I watched him, who did so much to keep Southampton in the Premier League for all those years and who is idolised by Saints fans.
I had lunch in an Italian restaurant with Rodney Marsh, one of football’s iconic figures, and I found him as entertaining to converse with as I had watching him play.
The most famous person I interviewed was Sir Elton John, when he became involved at Watford again in the late 1990s, and he was a delight, lucid and passionate when talking about his club.
Graham Taylor, perhaps not fully appreciated by some football supporters but adored by the Vicarage Road faithful, was generous in the amount of time he gave me when I interviewed him and was always interesting.
Capital Gold Sport was fortunate to count Bobby Moore as one of its pundits and I had a brief meeting with him, for me English football’s ultimate 20th century icon.
Kevin Keegan, at the time manager of a Newcastle side that was on a long winning run, knocked me out with his charm and charisma.
As well as these encounters, which are all included in the book, there are others with people such as Vinnie Jones, Stuart Slater, numerous Watford players including Rob Page who later went on to successfully manage the Wales national team and Steve Parsons who in the 1970s was one of the original founders of the Wimbledon Crazy Gang.
I never interviewed Sir Alex Ferguson. I saw him in action at a couple of press conferences, although I wasn’t brave enough to actually ask him a question! Even more scary than Fergie was Barnet chairman Stan Flashman when I spoke to him at Underhill just after he’d sacked Barry Fry following a 1-0 win over Blackpool in the Division Three play-off semi-final first leg at the end of the Bees’ first ever season in the Football League.
The Man Who Shouts will particularly appeal to Watford supporters but because of the diverse array of characters from other clubs across the vast and colourful football spectrum, it will also be of interest to supporters of other clubs and to football supporters in general.
The book gives an insight into what it was like to work for a radio station which revolutionised the way in which football was covered on the radio, which appealed and was relevant to the supporter on the terrace. It is a story of passion and dedication and summons up the spirit of the golden age of commercial radio football coverage before it was swamped by the internet and other media outlets.
Ultimately, although it had an exceptionally talented individual at its core, Capital Gold Sport was successful because commentators and reporters bonded and worked as a team, each member committed to delivering the objective which was to provide for supporters the best possible coverage of football matches. I was lucky enough to be part of that team and I think that readers will find my memories of covering the greatest game the world has ever invented to be entertaining and uplifting.
There was something magical about the way Capital Gold Sport covered football, which I believe I have captured in The Man Who Shouts.
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