3 November ~ The BBC announced that it will cut the second commentator's role from its radio football coverage last week. No longer will Alan Green assault the listeners' ears around the 22-minute mark with tales of the game's awfulness and the stadium's lack of heat, just in case Pat Murphy's description had left you in any doubt. In the same week as this development, I listened to Radio 5 Live's coverage of the Carling Cup tie between Stoke City and Liverpool. The fact that this may be my last radio game for the foreseeable future has little to do with any protest over the BBC's cost-cutting measure that brings their radio coverage in line with their television output.
It may or may not surprise you to know that I didn't enjoy listening to David Oates, the aforementioned Green and Craig Burley bringing me the news that my favourite team had won a tricky cup tie 2-1 at a ground where they had failed to win in their last four visits. To me though, it marked a significant shift in my attitude. You see, I grew up with the radio and in particular Radio 5 Live. I spent most Saturdays with my dad, watching our local Irish League team in the flesh, while also keeping up to date with events from across the water through the wonders of not very modern technology.
The decision on whether or not to watch Match of the Day could usually be made around 4.50pm depending on whether Stuart Hall was describing Liverpool as the lions or the Christians in the coliseum, which he would normally squeeze into his description of a corner-kick routine. At the same time, my dad would know whether he had won enough of a fortune so he did not have to go to work on Monday morning, once he had heard the results on the way back into town. Occasionally, I would hand him the radio and watch the looks of amazement on shoppers' faces as he shouted the scores, oblivious to his decibel level due to the earphones.
I had no such pleasure that Wednesday night, however, hearing of Luis Suárez's sublime double and Kenny Dalglish's broad grin at the final whistle. Whereas before the radio had seemed more personal and more descriptive, now it just seemed like a last resort. I had only tuned in (I say tuned in, actually I put my TV on channel 705, which didn't seem right in itself) because my internet connection was down and I wasn't sure if the bars in Belfast would be showing a League Cup tie not broadcast by Sky. There's no call for it in Kuala Lumpur, as Ian Ayre might say.
Listening to games on the radio used to be a bit like reading a book. You had to imagine what it looked like when Ron Jones said that Arsenal were wearing yellow stockings. And he meant socks, he didn't mean that Thierry Henry had decided they'd all get the suspenders out for the tough trip to Sunderland, like he did with their gloves. You had to picture how close your team had come to scoring or conceding from the level of noise from the stands. Depending on how raucous the crowd or how excitable the commentator, it could sound like the whole game was being played in the penalty box, when in fact Lee Dixon had just crossed the halfway line.
After years of being spoiled with attending live games, watching television coverage and later internet streams, the radio now feels more like being outside a gig, not able to see in, being told by someone in the front row that I'm not missing much anyway. Every time I heard the Stoke or Liverpool fans urging on their side in possession, the commentators were debating something else. Why does Andy Carroll not jump? How come the ballboys only give Rory Delap a towel and not opposing players? By the time they had described how a move ended, I’d already guessed from the reaction of the fans.
There was a time when I actually preferred the radio. In 1996, when Liverpool beat Newcastle 4-3 in that famous game, I was listening to Radio 5 Live. We didn't have Sky in the house at the time and I didn't mind at all. It sounded great and not being able to see made everything seem more possible. Comparing that night to a grinding win at Stoke 15 years later may seem unfair, but next time I’m stuck with the radio, I don't know if I’ll make it through the whole game, never mind the poor single commentator. Stephen Adams