I’ve done my match analysis, but I also wanted to blog about the trip away itself. As many of you know it was a special day for me yesterday as I got to finally commentate on an Imps game, something that has been a lifelong dream of mine.
I wrote about our trip away to Ipswich last weekend and of course 4,999 of you (approx.) had similar stories to the ones I told. Yesterday a significantly smaller amount travelled, and yet it was still a day to remember.
I was due to commentate alongside Chris Bell, a Lincoln born lad who now pays his mortgage by commentating on Guiseley games. He also does some work for a website called livesportsfm which offers commentary on a range of games from the FA Trophy, FA Vase, and U16-20 games for England and Premiership teams. I hadn’t met Chris before but out of the blue he messaged and asked if I’d be interested, possibly on the back of my blogs. As I mentioned before it didn’t take much deciding.
As usual my old man decided if I was driving to Gateshead then he’d get in on the action and get a lift. We were joined by a friend of mine, James ‘Jimbo’ Atkin. Many years ago Jimbo came to work for me at Jackson Building Centres, and ever since then we’ve kept in touch, bumping into each other at games. He doesn’t miss a single game, home or away and I think he wanted a change from the supporters coach. When he heard I was driving he made up the trio.
We left early, even before the pitch inspection. I wanted to make a good impression with my summarising so I spent Friday night researching facts and figures, and I decided I wanted to hit the North East by one o’clock to sample everything I possibly could. Neither Dad nor Jimbo complained, so by ten to ten we were heading over the Dunham Toll Bridge and up the A1.
Despite taking in a short comfort break for some trashy food we made it in really good time. I sent Jimbo and Dad off to find themselves a nice little boozer, and I turned my attentions to the task in hand. I met Chris and we were ushered in through the main entrance and into the opulent surroundings of the Gateshead International Stadium.
For those who haven’t been, it isn’t as much opulent as satisfactory, not so much a football stadium as an athletics track. The stands are nice enough, but they sit so far back from the pitch it is hard to see what is going on across the other side. The corners are wide open as well so not only are acoustics bad, but the wind whips in from the North Sea causing fans to partially freeze as they attempt to support their team. There is car parking on site though, which aved me faffing around trying to find somewhere safe to park my car.
We were the very first media team to get into the ground, and as Chris had been there before he led us to a table directly above the players tunnel where he informed me we’d be sat. He set his kit up and I mooched about looking like I knew what I was doing. Before long we were joined by Michael Hortin of BBC Radio Lincolnshire. Michael is one person connected with the club I haven’t spoke to much, and he didn’t seem too happy to see us. It turned out him and Steve Thompson wanted to sit in the same place, and the alternative for us was to sit behind glass where the minimal atmosphere would be diluted even more. The compromise was all four of us shared enough table space for two people all afternoon. By half time it was probably a good plan as the only thing stopping me getting frostbite was the combined body heat of Michael from my left and Chris from my right.
I was pretty excited about the whole affair, but for the other guys it was just a routine afternoon. I told Michael I was excited but how it must just be a normal day for him, and he almost scowled when he said ‘yeah, just another day at the office’. I’m sure it was a combination of the cold and the fact he has to try and control Thommo that had him seeming to be a little stressed.
Thommo on the other hand just does not give a s**t at all. He was mingling with everyone he could find, talking about Lincoln and football in general. I’ve always liked Thommo and I defended him back in May when he was linked with the City job. He’s a genuine character, a witty raconteur and he’s someone I could listen to for hours. He seemed genuinely interested in other peoples opinions too, and when he was finally called away to do a skit with Michael he shook my hand and said he’d talk to me later.
As well as co-commentating I was the link between Chris and his producer Jonathon back at livesportsfm HQ. Jonathon would message me with tweets, latest scores and the like for Chris, and he would occasionally remind us we were commentating from a neutral point of view, not as two hard core Lincoln fans! Believe me it isn’t easy trying to be objective when watching City, and as a consequence I was probably a bit harsh on them in the first half by trying to be neutral!
It was really nice that some of the players recognised me above the tunnel as they came in from the warm up too. I might do a bit of writing and that now, but atheart I’m still a twelve year old boy watching his heroes in red and white battle away. It rarely strikes me that these lads are ten or twenty years younger than me, they’re Lincoln City players and in that respect still my heroes! Bradley Wood said hello as did Alex Woodyard, and both Nicky and Danny had a minute for me as well. We all know what strong people skills the manager and Nicky both have, and it was no surprise that Danny found thirty seconds to have a chat before he cracked on with his match day preparation. I was the mascot at Sincil Bank for sixteen years, I was in the tunnel every single week and yet this season is the closest I’ve ever felt to a management team.
The actual match passed by as a bit of a blur. The first time Chris passed me the mic to interject I was terrified of saying the wrong thing, or even worse sounding like a complete moron. It’s one thing to offer valuable insight into the career of your Master League team on Pro Evo for the PlayStation, but it is very different doing it when you know other people are listening, and even worse when you’re thigh to thigh with someone like Michael Hortin who does it as second nature.
I relaxed a bit as the game went on and once a few messages of support came through I even started to try and use a few amusing phrases. I rolled out my ‘Neil Aspin signed Jamie Vardy for Halifax’ fact, and my ‘last won here in 1951’ fact, and I began to settle. By the time I recounted Wes York scoring for Wrexham against us last season I almost forgot I was being listened too! I realised I only ever really watch a match from one perspective, that of a Lincoln fan. It isn’t easy to watch for both teams, especially not when you’re trying to remember eleven players that you’re unfamiliar with. I probably know more about Gateshead than any other team in our division now, because I forced myself to learn. I know Gus Mafuta is crap, that’s for sure.
I later found out that regular listeners of BBC Radio Lincolnshire could occasionally hear me in the background as I was essentially sat on Michael Hortin’s knee, and regular livesportsfm listeners could hear Mr Hortin just as clearly. I wasn’t aware of that, but even my missus (who was out and about and didn’t have my commentary on) said she heard me mutter ‘penalty’ as Adam Marriott was haled down in the build up to my goal. I’m going to take that as me ‘technically’ commentating on the BBC. It’s probably the closest I’ll get.
All too soon the game was over and it was time to wrap up. Before that I had to choose a man of the match, it never really occurred to me that I’d have to. Trying not to hesitate I picked Adam Marriott, and until I opened the NLP this morning I thought I was the only one! Again it opened my eyes as to how easy it seems when you’re at home, and how difficult it was when you’re on the radio / internet.
I found myself wanting to check things like latest scores, but if I did I missed a tiny part of the action that Chris then asked me about. At times I wanted to write something down or refer to my notes, but it was so cramped and I didn’t want to hack off Michael Hortin further by jabbing his ribs whilst he was on air. Commentating isn’t about turning up and being insightful for listeners, there’s so much more to it and I bloody loved every chaotic, freezing cold minute of it.
We got out of Gateshead and home by 9pm which I didn’t think was bad. The first thing any self respecting egotistical individual like me should do on getting home is listen again, so I did just that! I’m not sure my other half was happy that after twelve hours out of the house the first thing I did was listen to myself commentate on a match I’d already seen, but I’m sure she has learned to understand me by now. I’m not sure if she’s happy I’ve spent the only day we get together all week sat in front of my computer writing about it either. It’s a good job she likes my radio face.
Today I was asked by producer JP if there was any other games I could get to that I’d like to cover for them. Obviously I would love to do our next FA Trophy game if they decide to cover it, but only if Chris is the lead commentator. Chris was superb all day long, leading me easily through the first half an hour or so, and I actually felt like we built up a bit of ‘on air’ rapport too. We disagreed on a couple of occasions and I could picture us in the future, the next ‘Hortin and Thommo’ bickering a bit but bouncing off each other to entertain our listeners. Maybe I’m getting carried away.
Live Sports FM cover not only FA trophy, but also FA Vase, FA Youth cup, England u16-u20 and Premier League u18’s too. If my punishing schedule of working in a proper job (hiss, boo), blogging, writing a book and doing my journalism course allows, I might see if I can get down to a Hull Under 18 game, or an FA Youth cup game in the area.
I loved every minute of my time behind the microphone, it was an exhilarating and bracing experience that pushed me beyond my comfort levels. It’s very easy to be insightful with a keyboard and a delete key, but much tougher when you have a microphone pushed under your nose and you’re trying to know your Manny Smith from your Jamal Fyfield.