A Day in the Life of a Football Commentator

Being a football commentator is one of those cool jobs you dream about as a kid but never actually think you’ll one day do it for real.

I remember playing FIFA 98 on my SNES back in the day. It was a time when football commentary wasn’t standard on games and thus I did it myself.

Fast forward 15 years and it’s surreally become a reality for me. And it is without doubt one of the best jobs in the world.

It’s immensely stressful, highly entertaining and wholly rewarding and I thought I’d let you into a little insight behind the inner workings of a BBC Local Radio Football commentator.

The match in question was Gillingham’s 2-2 away to Swindon in League One on Saturday 24 August 2013…

Thursday 22 August 2013

18:00 – Preparation for the game starts a couple of days before hand, compiling notes on both teams.

My Matchday NotesI try to have some basic stats on all players (ages, appearances, goals etc…) as well as more quirky stuff like relationships with past managers, players, previous clubs, records to throw into the commentary every now and then.

I add in general team stats, fixtures, result, top scorers and the other local fixtures from the weekend.

This whole process generally takes 2-3 hours.

I generally gauge the teams from previous fixtures and rough knowledge from the local press on new signings and injuries.

I use a variety of websites to source the statistics. Fansites are often very handy, if sometimes out of date. Statto.com is an excellent source as well as a few books knocking about the place. The programme on the day can supplement any areas I’ve missed.

Friday 23 August 2013

13:00 – As I didn’t go to the manager’s press conference during the week, I’ll try to swat up on what he said so my inserts into the show prior to kick off are fully up to date.

16:00 – As it’s an away game, it’s a toss up between traveling on the day or day before. As the girlfriend lives in Swindon, I’m risking the Friday bank holiday rush hour traffic.

Saturday 24 August 2013

09:00 – Always important to get a good night’s sleep to prepare you for the day ahead. I get up mid morning and go over my notes once more, adding anything new I find on the internet, doubly checking likely starting lineups and transfers. Going through the notes once moreOn this occasion, Swindon’s star striker Andy Williams moved on loan to Yeovil on Friday. The eraser came out – that’s why it’s always important to do notes in pencil!

11:00 – After a morning of Sky Sports News and reading my notes, I try to switch off for a little bit, read the paper or just do something else to take my mind off the game.

12:00 – Time to head to the ground. I try and arrive about 2-3 hours before kick off in order to do a live insert into Matthew Davies’ show at 12:45.Setup and ready to go

12:20 – Arrive at the ground and find ample parking. I’m the first member of the press there (so early the press liaison had only just started his shift) and promptly climb up to the top tier of the stand to setup. A snug little arrangement but when your bread and butter is non league grounds, it’s more than enough.

12:30 – Head down pitch-side to tweet a couple of pictures. At the ground, social media is a unique tool we have to show we’re physically following Kent’s clubs around the place and it generates some interest from others.

12:45 – Matt Davison is held up in traffic so luckily I’m able to do a quick little 2-Way (industry speak for chat) with Matthew Davies previewing the game.

12:50 – I script and record 2 trails to be played before and at the start of the show previewing the game. A little scene setter to try and entice the casual listener to tune in for the game.

Kedwell and Allen in conversation13:10 – Head back outside to vox (interview) a few fans on their thoughts on the game. The gizmo on my work phone sends it straight back into the system so the producers can get it ready for the start of the show. Whilst there I bump into a few of the Gills squad signing autographs for the assembled hunters.

13:30 – Pick up the programme and have a nosey through the various Swindon comments to use during the preview and commentary. A handy little guide to the Gills squad too and some quotes from the manager and captain on the challenge they expect Gillingham to pose. I take down some notes just in case and have a chat with my opposite number from BBC Wiltshire.

13:40 – At this point I’ll script two teasers. 1 containing the currently unknown team news and 1 just before my commentary. About 10-20 seconds previewing the game with the odd bit of canny alliteration and pun-age. I’ll insert the team news when I have it.

13:55 – Headset on. Ready for the start of the show. My first live insert will be around 14:07 and I try to prepare a few bullet points to discuss. Expected team, history of the rivalry with Swindon, fans thoughts etc… I try not to heavily script it as I generally don’t know what questions I’ll be asked by the studio and it comes across a bit more natural.

Gills players sign autographs after getting off the coach14:00 – Saturday Sport BEGINS!

14:07 – My first live insert lasts a couple of minutes. I offer my thoughts on the rivalry with Swindon and how in the modern age it’s not too bad. Also, as it’s tipping it down in Kent, I try to paint a picture of Swindon, the weather and a bit of colour to set the game up.

14:20 – After 15 minutes or so listening to previews of the other games and studio chat we receive the official team news. First job is shout down to the studio that we have it and that I’m ready to go on air to announce it. The one advantage of the medium we have is generally being the first place to hear the news. Second job is to tweet it. I’ll always tweet a picture of the teamsheet first and then manually write it out highlighting changes etc…

14:23 – I go on air and announce the team news, expected formations and a bit of information on the opposition that I’ve gathered from the BBC Wiltshire folk. Generally, most listeners don’t know either team in depth, but will know the opposition even less so I always try to provide more background and stats on them. The studio probe a little further on other aspects of the fixture, manager’s comments etc…

14:30 – Co-Commentator Peter Lloyd arrives from the supporters coach. We catch up on a few things and I update him on the team news and we set out our plan of attack for the commentary, other games to note and a few insider pearls of wisdom from a devoted Gillingham fan.

14:39 – BBC Radio Kent do a fun prediction league every week. Just a few games from the Premier League that us ‘experts’ inevitably trip over on a weekly basis. It’s a nice time to banter with the reporters at other grounds too.

14:45 – With the team news teaser script amended, I deliver a punchy teaser 15 minutes prior to kick off. When this is done, it’s a final 10 minutes to chill out, tweet a picture of the ground filling up and just take the mind off the commentary a bit.

On this occasion, I enjoyed meeting the infamous Swindon defender Chalky White who introduced himself to me with some playful thrusting in the tight commentary box.

14:57 – I deliver my second teaser prior to the kick off with the players exchanging handshakes. I then wait until the rest of the games are previewed and music to end.

14:58 – To start the commentary, I prefer to have a couple of paragraphs to set the game up. Maybe a little over dramatic, adding some colour and statistics and I’ll bring in Peter to add his thoughts ahead of the match.

15:00 – Kick Off – There’s no hard and fast rule to describe the commentary and the game, save a couple of radio-esque techniques to drop in throughout the commentary. As the game is live on FM & DAB, it’s important I ident the station every 10 minutes or so, mention the score every 5 minutes or so and remind listeners about the other games.

During the commentary, I have my notes on my lap, a pencil in my hand to note down stats and major events and the Sky Sports Football vidiprinter open and constantly refreshing on my phone with other scores.

The local scores get fed down the headphones by Matt from the studio in Tunbridge Wells and I try to give those out if it fits into the commentary. 20% of the time I don’t actually hear the scores in which case, you just keep the flow of the game. Matt tries to talk to me when Peter is talking, although he too can hear what Matt says.

So although on air, it sounds like not a lot is going on, there’s quite a lot of information being fed to me and a lot to keep in check.

Every 15 minutes, I’ll get a shout in my headphones from Matt saying  “round the grounds when you’re ready.” This is my cue to throw our other fixtures for a short 30 second update from those games. It’s the commentators call on when to cross. Generally, you go as quick as possible but wait for a lull in play so we don’t miss a goal live on air.

Commentary continues during this period in case of any chances, as Danny Kedwell had during the Swindon game – arguably Gills best chance fell off air.

Luckily I get a couple of goals. As a rule, as well as describing what happened, all goal commentary generally finishes with the score. It’s so that when the montage of all the matches occurs in the final hour of the programme – it all makes sense.

When I pick up, I try to give the a timecheck and the latest score and then just carry on where I left off.

15:45 – Half Time – A quick 30 second summary is important at half time as often the games online and on 774AM finish before the Gills so for the benefit of those listening here – I round up the major action and hand back to the studio.

The halftime entertainmentSome commentators head off to the press room to grab a coffee or a comfort break. I tend to do a bit of tweeting and listen to a round up of the other matches for reference in the second half.

15:55 – I’ll write a short teaser again, summing up the first half action and previewing what’s to come in the second.

16:00 – Cue the music, the loud introduction and I’ll rattle off my teaser once more, waiting for the rest before beginning the second half commentary once more.

During the second half, I try and ident and give the score a little more often for people getting in cars from shopping trips or Saturday afternoon football.

Fortunately I get a couple of goals again – a Gillingham equaliser close to full time setting up an exciting finale and making for some tense radio.

16:45 – From this time, other matches on other frequencies are finishing so I welcome them back when told by Matt in the studio and sum up the action thereafter.

16:55 – The full time whistle blows and I sum up the action from the whole game briefly before handing back to the studio with Matt.

16:57 – Another punchy 15 seconds needs to be scripted for 1700 so I quickly scribble something down.

17:00 – A quick snapshot of the games starts the final hour of the programme (also the hour on iplayer too). I say my bit and then head down with the iPhone to record the post match interview with the manager pitch-side.

17:15 – Martin Allen is nice and on time, courteous and upbeat. “Not seen you in a while” is his greeting to me with the club’s press officers, Luke Cawdell from the KM Group and assorted press outlets gathered.

I throw a mix of post match reaction and generally club/squad questions at him, which he deals with fine. On heading back to the dressing room, he asks which player we’d like. Unanimous calls for Cody McDonald on his first goals is the reply.

We don’t always get a choice of player but often the club accommodate us as best they can.

Whilst McDonald is coming out – I send the Martin Allen interview back to the studio.

17:25 – Cody McDonald arrives nice and chipper and we spend 5 minutes chatting about his goals, the match and the season ahead.

With most post match interviews, we try to ensure the first few questions relate to the game so they can be clipped and put online post match. We then vary the questions to more timeless matters thereafter so we can use them in bulletin clips throughout the week.

17:35 – I head back up to the commentary box and hear the interview with Martin Allen being played out on air. Off the back of it, Tony Hudd and Matt spend a couple of minutes probing deeper into some aspects of the game and what Martin said in his interview. I offer my views and that’s me done for the day.

So yes – maybe a little overly detailed and long winded but that’s the structure of a local radio football commentator. Structure and style varies from station to station but the general premise is very similar.

Covering the Gills and providing live FM commentary is a real rush and something I hope to get the opportunity to repeat in the future.

Ben