how to be a football commentator

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The Independent Culture
"Football comentators, Brian - born or made?" "Well, Trev, it all depends on which way you look at it. I mean, there's yer naturals like Mooro and Bazza Davies, who were given mikes rather than rattles at birth. Then there's yer 24-carat, solid-gold grafters like Motty and Gubba, who've worked hard at their craft over the years, always giving 110 per cent. So I suppose the jury's still out on that one, Trevor."

This age-old nature or nurture question is being earnestly debated by 12 local radio reporters at a Soccer Commentary Masterclass in Grafton House, London. "Welcome to BBC Radio Training" is chalked up on the board, alongside a childlike drawing of a football. Underneath, a team-sheet lists the participants' names.

The "goalie", BBC Norfolk's Roy Waller, is an unrepenting traditionalist. Call him old- fashioned, but you just can't be shown how to do it. You've either got it or you haven't. John Smith, a senior training instructor, jokes that the Radio Times was still publishing grids when Big Roy started out. (In the 1930s, radio listeners could work out exactly where the ball was by looking at pitch grids in the Radio Times.)

Of course, if the Norwich keeper is right, there's not a lot of point in the BBC holding Soccer Commentary Masterclasses. But the boys at the Beeb are determined to get the best out of the lads. Which means tough training sessions on match-day preparation, setting the scene, catchphrases, identification of players and handing back to the smoothie studio presenters.

The shadow of John Motson's sheepskin coat (see right) looms large over proceedings. "He's got a lot of stick for being Statto Man," notes Greater Manchester Radio's Mike Sadler. The suspicion that an over-fondness for irrelevant statistics and furiously over-rehearsed ad-libs is no longer in favour at Broadcasting House, is confirmed when Graeme Reid-Davies, Network Radio Sport assistant editor, delivers his keynote address: "Picking The Squad".

Reid-Davies can't see the point of informing people that a particular Cup Final goal was the third time a number eight with ginger hair had scored before half-time at Wembley since the war. "Sure, you've got to do your preparation," he says. "But the information you give out must be, er, interesting."

BBC Essex's "centre-half", Neil Kelly, furiously nods his head. Although most of these reporters grew up with Motty, they are now, with the probable exception of Big Roy, Loaded-reading New Lads, no longer aspiring to his boyish enthusiasm. The problem is, who'll be their role-model now that their role-model has gone?

Alan Green, Radio 5 Live's main man, is the name constantly dropped in polite soccer circles these days. "According to research he is extremely popular," says Reid-Davies. "He is controversial, but he gets a lot of listeners writing in because of his banter with the summariser and his ability to maintain interest during a dull match."

And what about the policy of bringing in big name non- broadcasters like Gary Lineker to present shows instead of journalists? And how come Radio 5 takes a summariser, engineer, producer and two commentators to games whereas local radio stations have to make do with one-man bands?

Reid-Davies looks up, keeps his composure and cleverly plays his way out of defence. Local radio might lack resources but, he insists, it is a breeding ground for the big time. Anyone who is anyone started out there. The basic skills - "being informative, accurate, interesting and enthusiastic, using good language, having descriptive powers and possessing pace" - are all transferrable.

Big Roy, still sceptical, asks Reid-Davies where he stands on the vital born-or-made question. "Most of our top people say they've wanted to do it ever since they were kids. They used to do commentaries on tape recorders and things."

"Yep," says Big Roy smiling, "I had a tape machine when I was 10. It's a natural thing. It comes from within."

For course details contact: the National Council for the Training of Broadcast Journalists (NCTBJ), 188 Litchfield Ct, Sheen Rd, Richmond, Surrey TW9 1BB (0181-940 0694)

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