Former radio and television commentator Peter Brackley, a life-long Albion fan, continues his light-hearted look back on his career in broadcasting and as a professional after-dinner entertainer, focusing this week on his entry into football commentating.
Like so many young lads in their teens, I dreamed of a glittering football career, playing to packed houses and adoring fans.
Or of being an Olympic runner perhaps, a racing driver maybe, or an England cricketer bashing the Aussies all around Lord's in a five-day Ashes test (or an extended one-day international as we'll probably have to call them soon after this summer's shenanigans).
It wasn't to be, of course, and certainly not the football vision, with any lingering hopes of even a remotely successful amateur career finally shattered once and for all in my early days as a radio presenter by no less a judge than former England manager Ron Greenwood.
Strolling in Brighton's Preston Park near his home one afternoon, unbeknown to me, he chanced upon my latest outing in the Sussex Wednesday League for Worthing Wednesday (can't remember the year or month, but I'm pretty sure it was a Wednesday).
A short while later, Ron and I met up in the Goldstone Ground guest lounge at an Albion home match, and he revealed he'd seen my performance.
"And were you impressed?" I ventured.
"Put it this way, Peter" said the wise old football sage from the fabled West Ham academy of football, the home of Brooking, Peters, Moore and Hurst," don't you ever, EVER let me catch you criticising footballers again!"
So, with plan A out of the window, and plan C not yet surfacing (more of that in a later blog), it was time for plan B. If you can't play football for a living, why not talk about it?
I'd always fancied a go at football commentating, and it seemed at the time, as it did for the next three decades or so, the next best thing to playing.
I've seen it suggested on one of the social media forums (hark at me! Someone who wouldn't know an Instagram from a WhatsApp) that I used to commentate to myself while running down the wing.
This, I can assure you, is total nonsense. It was more of a leisurely saunter. (My pace actually was deceptive; I was even slower than I looked, although I was never late for a tackle, just early for the next one).
It is true, though, that I did gabble on occasionally to myself as I played, and, as it transpired, it was the perfect preparation for all the years of spouting out horrible, unpronounceable names at machine gun pace, while trying at the same time to separate one player in a striped shirt with an unreadable number from another. ("How do you DO that?" commentators are often asked - I'll go into that another time!)
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When I finally got my chance to commentate for real on a live match, it was for BBC national radio's flagship programme Sport on Two, presented in those days by the likes of Jim Rosenthal, Peter Jones, Bryon Butler, Mike Ingham and a bloke called Des Lynam, who's apparently done a few things in broadcasting!
My commentating debut was at Portman Road, Ipswich against Aston Villa, two teams who at the time were among the best in the land, and the day before the game Ipswich manager Bobby Robson was kind enough to not only to speak to me on the phone, but even offer me some team news! Fat chance you'd have of a private pre-match chat with some of the managers nowadays!
It was all very different back in the days when I started commentating, with managers and club dignitaries rather more approachable and easier to locate.
Certainly that was the case with Ipswich, who in my early commentating days were run by a couple of brothers called Patrick and John Cobbold, a pair of eccentric Old Etonian toffs with lots of money and a flair, shall we say, for the social side of the game!
They were content for Bobby Robson to run the club pretty much as he saw fit while concentrating on enjoying themselves, and I have to admit there were a few occasions when I left the boardroom somewhat worse for wear after enjoying their hospitality! Obviously the team's fortunes were important to the Cobbolds, but they could never be accused of panicking!
One season, things weren't going so well, with the team actually in danger of relegation, and legend has it that John Cobbold (‘Mr John’, as he was affectionately known) was summoned to a packed press conference to face searching questions on the team's current plight.
"Is this is the biggest crisis you've known in your time at Ipswich?" he was asked.
"What? Oh, good heavens NO!!" said Mr John.
"No, the other week we damn nearly ran out of scotch in the boardroom!!! I mean CRISIS? That was a near DISASTER, man!!!"
The Tractor Boys enjoyed plenty of success, of course, in the Cobbolds' era, but one little true story perhaps emphasises that for the brothers the football itself wasn't necessarily the be-all and end-all.
Ipswich were playing at Birmingham, and a little while into the game, Mr John, sitting in the stand a few seats away from Bobby Robson, leaned across and observed in buoyant fashion:
"Much better showing from the lads today, Bobby. Two-nil UP already! Flipping marvellous! "
"No, no, no, Mr John," said Bobby." We're in WHITE today, not BLUE. We're two-nil DOWN already!"
See you next time.
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