Commentating at the Ricoh Arena
As some of you may know, this (academic) year I’ve been increasingly involved with the University of Warwick student radio station RaW, specifically the sports department. We usually just have a natter every Saturday and Wednesday about football, rugby, cricket and tennis, but last Wednesday we got our one big outing of the year as a department by covering the Warwick vs Coventry Varsity football matches at the Ricoh Arena, the finale of the annual sporting competition between the two Coventry-based institutions.
I’m not particularly interested in campus sport but obviously this was quite an exciting occasion as it was our chance to have a go at what the big boys do – proper serious live sports broadcasting from a proper big football stadium. It was particularly exciting for yours truly as I was given the role of summariser/colour commentator for the men’s football. I’ve been commentating on computer games since I was about 8 so this was the achievement of a lifetime’s ambition, although I was too spineless to offer myself as a lead commentator on this occasion.
It was an interesting afternoon, to say the least (sorry, that’s about as good an analytical comment as I can manage this time). After arriving at the stadium by bus, myself and lead commentator Joe Shennan headed for the main reception, where we were instructed to head down to the stadium’s basement, which is where the media centre is. We found the floor deserted. I decided to have a quick look around, finding myself in the press conference room and outside the manager’s room at various points. It was a rather surreal experience. Clearly we weren’t supposed to be down there. And yet the temptation to have a look around behind-the-scenes at the modern stadium of a rather large football club was too great. Maybe one day…
We did eventually make our way back upstairs and were directed to where the rest of the team were assembled – there were 12 of us in total, which convincingly trumped the Coventry media contingent. It wasn’t so much a commentary box as it was just normal seats out in the open, and I was unprepared for the freezing conditions that soon took hold. What didn’t help was that the women’s match came before the men’s, and I was pretty much redundant for that (and the game was so slow my fellow commentators didn’t need a huge amount of assistance in keeping pace with what was going on), so I had little to distract me from the cold. By half time in the men’s match, I couldn’t let go of the microphone. No wonder Motson is always wearing a sheepskin coat.
The stadium itself is very good. Given its reputation, I was quite surprised that the crowd for the match, which couldn’t have numbered any more than 750, was still able to generate enough noise to echo around the stadium and give the impression of a semblance of atmosphere. Architecturally it’s an impressive sight too, as were the facilities I saw inside during my secret exploration.
But you have to wonder what was in the minds of the owners of Coventry City when they decided that a capacity of over 32,000 was right for the club. Yes, it’s easy to say that with the benefit of hindsight, but the club didn’t achieve a capacity crowd there for its first 4 years (until an FA Cup tie with Chelsea in 2009). And to think, that capacity was after the scaling-down after England failed to obtain the 2006 World Cup – it was originally going to be 45,000, roughly the same size as Anfield. As it is, it’s still the 18th biggest club stadium in the English league system, and bigger than half the stadia in the Premier League.
The matches themselves? As I said, the women’s match was very slow, with the players presumably not used to the large pitch. As expected, Coventry won, though after beating Warwick 6-0 and 5-0 in the league, their 2-0 success was a bit more difficult than they might have expected. Warwick played well and were unfortunate not to hang on, the goals both coming in the second half – one after the goalkeeper dropped the ball to the feet of a Coventry attacker, and the other coming direct from a corner. It was a shame for the ‘keeper as she had actually played very well for the duration.
The men’s game was more interesting in comparison, albeit still a bit scrappy. Warwick were the favourites, being a division above Coventry in the BUCS system, but also found it difficult, as Coventry were largely the better side. However, a well-taken goal by Warwick’s right winger (I won’t bore you with the details) just before half time gave them a 1-0 win, though not until a nervy 7 minutes of stoppage time at the very end of the match could be negotiated.
Ultimately, though, it didn’t really matter enormously as Varsity had already been settled in Warwick’s favour before both matches had even begun – Warwick remains unbeaten in Varsity overall, with 22 wins from 22, although I’m sure Coventry will win sooner rather than later as they have made enormous progress in recent years.
Our coverage was very successful. We peaked at 56 listeners – that might not sound much but it’s the most the station has had this academic year. Everyone did an excellent job and those of us that will be around to do it again are looking forward to next year’s event.
What did I learn about commentary? Well, I’m sure you’re expecting me to say it’s more difficult than it looks, and that you should appreciate the job the professionals do. But I’m not. Actually it’s quite easy – you just say what’s going on in front of, which, providing you have a good understanding of the sport and can speak coherently, is relatively straight-forward in the case of football.
However, one thing I would say is it is difficult to avoid lapsing into clichés every so often – sometimes it’s just the quickest, easiest way of explaining something. I won’t forgive myself for doing this. But that’s no excuse for the likes of Lawrenson, Beglin, Townsend and co – they are professionals, doing this to earn money, so they should be able to put the effort in to be better than some university student who was just doing it as a one-off for a laugh. That’s why they aren’t very good – they’re lazy. They just go for the obvious observations and phrases instead of genuinely analysing what they see in front of them. It’s not difficult – if I can do it well despite not taking it particularly seriously, they the ex-professional footballers can surely do better.
Next year I plan on giving lead commentary a go. Should be fun. I’ll have to practice a bit more on FIFA over the next year.