FOOTBALL ON THE RADIO

25/09/18

Nick Hayhoe on the words today, telling you why listening to sport on the radio is the purest way, the best way to stay in touch with the match. When you've got Chris Goreham's dulcet tones to describe what's going on, it's even better...

It's the most freezing winter's day. You stride back to the car from the misty, floodlit ground wrapped in your scarf, big coat and bobble hat; holding the hand of the family member who takes you every other week to the football. That magic place, where everyone jumps and sings and shouts as much as they want without getting into trouble. The chill burns your cheeks as the cold air roughens your throat as though you've eaten broken glass. It seems like an eternity, in this numbing wasteland, but, finally the car looms into view, and you hop into the passenger seat (a rare treat, with your sibling not being here). The familiar engine sounds roar, the hot air gradually fills the car and, as though announcing something very, very important, the person on the radio says: "...and this. Is. Sports Report."

The majestic horns kick in, like a final exclamation mark on this exciting sporting Saturday. You relax in your seat, feeling the soreness in your legs receding, while reporters excitedly recall last minute winners, red cards, amazing goals and penalty misses from Anfield, Celtic Park, The Hawthorns and St Andrews. After the football, it's briefly the latest in rugby union, national hunt horse racing, a quick preview of tonight's fight in Vegas and then results from a cricket tour in Barbados, Cape Town or Colombo. All places that seem a full night's dream away from this cold evening.

Before long, the classified check arrives with a moment of silence that such dramatic events require. And, as the scores are read out in that matter-of-fact-way, from matches up and down the land where people like you have been and watched Preston North End, Hamilton Academical, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Queen of the South; the poetic rhythm causes you to fall into a weary doze and the bitterness of the world outside seems to drift away.

Memories such as this of following sport on the radio are common sources of nostalgic warmth, and will always be so. Lingering recollections of sports report in the car, nervously moving around the house with the portable to pick up more clearly the last few moments of the game, or joining your teacher to sneakily listen to Test Match Special during lunch break are memories that television, Twitter or minute-by-minute websites cannot seem to provide in a more modern world.

But even now, for me, as those memories seem to get ever more hazier, following sport on the radio, in a similar vein to watching football standing up, may well be the archaic way (especially as I am not old enough to have been forced to do either of those things); but there is an increasing feeling that it is becoming the most pure and, well, correct way.

As I tune into BBC Radio Norfolk to listen to my team, Norwich City, play Reading in an away midweek fixture, there are no hyped up Sky Sports bumpers or betting adverts. There is no fancy studio or any red button highlights services. In fact, as I live just outside of the county, it is only recently I have actually been able to listen to the games crackle free on DAB, having been cursed for many years by a frustratingly weak FM signal.

Because of all of the modern technology oozing into life, listening to a BBC Local Radio station to follow a football match in 2018 seems bizarre; and yet through a combination of legislation and legal wranglings, your hand is forced if you cannot go to watch your 2nd tier or lower team play live. Essentially there is no other option; even if you are an entitled millennial, such as myself.

It is wonderful.

I have been listening to BBC Norfolk's commentator, Chris Goreham's, voice for such a long time now I have become familiar with every change of pitch and tone, and I know exactly what is happening on the pitch with every single one, without actually needing to listen and understand what words he has actually said. Goreham has become a music instrument to me and, much like a musical instrument, the sounds he makes will cause my emotions to lift and fall. My hairs to stand on end or my face to drop. I am always singing along. As Norwich grab the ball in midfield with free space in front, I hold my breath as his natural key jumps up several notches with this attack and a roar from the crowd behind; but I only sigh as his voice steadily falls back to normal once the pass is inevitably misplaced, or the long range shot is skied. While I may be going ballistic, a Norwich goal is greeted from Goreham with just enough enthusiasm to sound like the fan like you and I, but not too much so as to lose impartiality (with, perhaps, the slight understandable exception of a famous last minute winner against Derby County in our promotion winning 2010-11 season; where, quite frankly, it seemed as though the county of Norfolk was going to launch itself into space). An opposition goal is met with a tone of inevitability from him as he knows, just as I do as I swear at the radio, that that was always going to happen and we are all wondering why we are bothering.

But it is not just local football coverage that casts the spell: Five Live Sport has, thanks to a combination of often intelligent discussion, excellent balance of tradition and modernity, and one of the best presenting pools in the business (including the frankly peerless Mark Chapman and Kelly Cates); quietly become something of a British institution. The midweek evening's sport coverage; lasting for a glorious epic novel-length 3-4 hours, with a game commentary in the middle of pre and post match coverage (ruined only by, on the half hour, the latest news that you are trying to escape), provides a dramatic background soundtrack throughout that fuzzy post-work haze after dinner and before bedtime, that an audiobook or podcast could only dream of.

Like hearing a favourite song, listening, rather than watching, defining events in a life - such as Norwich's last minute winner against Derby, blowing a lead to lose at home to Liverpool with a minute on the clock or England winning the Ashes down under for the first time in 24 years - through a medium where it is up to you, and you alone, to imagine is a wonderful human experience. Your mind fires and lights up, conjuring the images, painting the scene and triggering the emotions all by itself - probably all while you do the ironing or clean out the garage. On radio, there's a raw connection between the listener and the person who is describing the action as they become one of your five senses to guide you through this event, if it is live, or as to what has happened that afternoon, if it is a report - long before you have a chance to watch highlights later. This is radio's greatest joy, because, as the modern world throws us around corners at 200mph and we are pummeled with increasingly terrifying news, in laughably short reactionary snippets; radio allows us to sit and stop and reflect as we are calmly told that it was Accrington Stanley 2 Colchester United 0 and, although we are being handed the finest of tools from the match reporter, it is up to us to create the courtroom sketch of what actually happened.

Many people believe that sport on the radio will die out eventually. It has to with the way the world is changing, they say. And they might be right. But I hope, like me, there are others who recognise that sport on the radio is more than about reporting the action. Like a vinyl record in comparison to an MP3 file, there's a certain amount of indescribable soul. Something that keeps the real connection between the fan and artists on the pitch or field, and I hope that further generations will be able to tune out the world around them and continue to hear the words:

"And. This. Is. Sports Report."

Da dum da dum da dum da dum da da da da da dadaaa....


While you're here. If you'd like to support Along Come Norwich and what we do, we'd really appreciate you considering buying one of our new t-shirts, the Pukki Party tee. In fact, we'll even throw in some free stickers if you do, links below...

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3 wins in a week for the Canaries, all while in the midst of a perceived injury crisis. Ffion Thomas was at Loftus Road, specifically to have herself a Pukki Party.

You've never had it so good, three consecutive reviews from the excellent Ffion Thomas. She certainly enjoyed her night at Adams Park, where Jordan Rhodes came away with a matchball scribed with the fact he (allegedly) isn't fond of our southern neighbours.