Almanack: United win in the air

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The Independent Online
'IT'S 4.30,' said Matt Proctor, 'welcome to Manchester United Radio on 1413AM.' To be strictly accurate, it was the voice of Matt Proctor; Matt Proctor himself was smoking his pipe in the ante-room to the studio and telling a rather amusing anecdote about the referee Neil Midgley. His voice was on tape. Ah, the joys of live radio.

Manchester United Radio was launched at the end of February, and is at the forefront of a growing trend among top clubs. There are similar ventures at Blackburn (the first), Leeds, Norwich and Oldham. Newcastle United's Radio Magpie launches next month. The club radio station is becoming de rigueur.

'Don't touch that dial,' the disembodied Matt commanded, with classic over-the-top DJ urgency, 'the Reds are bound for Cup glory and we're with them every step of the way]' Pretty soon the real Matt had tamped down his pipe and installed himself behind the bank of faders and woofers and tweeters and so on in the tiny studio and was broadcasting live: he records the opening to the show to allow more preparation time for the live stuff, and also because 'if you make a mistake at the beginning of the show you're gone for the day.'

MUR is on the air from 4.30pm to 11pm every home match day. It can be received over 50 square miles of the Greater Manchester area and last Wednesday it was broadcasting the Coca-Cola Cup tie against Port Vale.

Matt is the archetypal radio man: salt and pepper hair, honey and sandpaper voice, slightly tinted spectacles, persistent grin. Mike Smash and Alan Partridge would call him brother. He's a whiz with the discs that store all the jingles, shuffling stacks of them like a conjuror. He can't hear you when he's got his headphones on. He can't hear his producer, Jayne Mansell, either: she communicates by holding up large handwritten messages to the double-glazed window that separates the studio from the ante- room. 'Traffic two minutes' they say, or 'Fergie soon'. Matt keeps the music coming.

The next track is some beeping techno-funk. 'This record's awful,' Jayne says. Is there anything they won't play? 'There was one track called 'We Are The Pigs',' she recalls. 'We thought perhaps we wouldn't play that while the police were walking around the ground.'

PC Tyrrell arrives to do his traffic spot, leather jacket over his uniform shirt. 'There are temporary traffic lights in Swinton for cable work,' he intones. Don't touch that dial. Jayne pops off to interview Keith Kent, the groundsman. They are both persistent banterers, and a great deal of sniggering goes on off-mike. On air, Keith talks about the 23 miles of piping under the pitch that work 'just like your central heating at home'.

As kick-off time approaches, the little ante-room to the studio is crammed. The transmissions of MUR are piped over the PA into the stadium as the fans arrive. The match commentator, David Hooton, pops in, as does Rachel Jervis, his ebullient statistician. A wisecracking Wilf McGuinness pokes his head round the door: later on he'll chip in to the commentary. Matt runs through the team-sheets and discusses the match prospects with David Meek of the Manchester Evening News.

United's youngsters win the match at a canter, while Matt smokes his pipe and conserves his energy for the hectic post-game interviews. As soon as the final whistle goes, he's talking to ex-players, soap opera stars and David Meek again while Steve, the station's runner, grabs home and opposition players to interview and even - though he does not seem to relish the pursuit - Alex Ferguson himself. Paddy Crerand pops his head around the studio door - are they OK for interviews? Sure. He'll be in the bar. There's Wilf McGuinness again, bubbling about the game: 'That was great, wasn't it? The kids did very well. Brings back memories.' The stadium is empty, the floodlights are out. But Manchester United Radio, the voice of a very happy family, burbles on into the night.

(Photograph omitted)