Gun-toting Albanian army officers, bleak nights in East Fife and the nightmare of needing a toilet break mid-game. All part and parcel of the life of a football commentator.
Each and every fan is well accustomed with the dulcet tones of those charged with providing analysis, quips and insight into the so-called beautiful game.
Their comments can cause debate, point out the bleeding obvious or can even go down in history alongside the world’s best sporting feats.
Commentators are the people fans envy and those that you can imagine sharing or bevvy or two with down the local, discussing the world and its wonders until closing time.
After making it as a professional footballer, getting paid to travel the length and breadth of the world to commentate on football is every fan’s fantasy.
Jim Proudfoot is one of those lucky enough to get the second-best job in football.
Having broken his commentary duck in Torquay’s goalless draw with Walsall back in January 1991, Proudfoot has gone onto work on national radio and television, commentating on more than 1,700 matches in the process.
Furthermore, he has commentated on two World Cup finals.
After spending the past 11 years as talkSPORT’s lead commentator, Proudfoot is now heading up Absolute Radio‘s tilt at Barclays English Premier League coverage for which they have accrued rights to non-televised Saturday 3pm kick-offs for the next three seasons.
To find out more about what the life of a commentator entails, I shadowed Proudfoot for the day at the Premier League clash between Manchester United and Wigan in late November.
You can find out about Tony Dorigo’s curry, the Jim Proudfoot Challenge and more after the jump…
0730am – An early wake-up call for Jim ahead of his 200-mile trip north from Andover, Hampshire. Stocked up with enough coffee to quench the thirst of a small country, he heads north via Birmingham where he pops in to visit his father, like he does on all treks north. “With my birthday and Christmas coming up, I need to try and keep him sweet,” he said.
1200 – Jim arrives at Old Trafford and puts his feet up in the luxurious Manchester United press room while technician, Phil, sorts out the equipment. “I turn up with my notes and that’s it,” he said. “That’s great because that is one more thing I don’t have to worry about.” Ever the professional, though, Jim turns down the delicious-looking curry as the time edges closer to going live. However, co-commentator Tony Dorigo – he of England fame – does not fear his stomach’s potential backlash, chomping away on his lunch inbetween rants about Qatar’s ludicrous World Cup bid.
1300 – Having spent the best part of four hours preparing match notes on Friday, Jim whacks them out and runs his eye over the key facts. “Genuinely speaking I have two sheets in front of me; one has the team details and another with tit-bits on all the players,” he said, with half an eye on the Arsenal v Tottenham clash that has just kicked off. “While 85 to 90% of the stuff on here will not see the light of day, you don’t know what is relevant and what isn’t so you’ve got to do it all. It can be a bit laborious, but it is like revising for an exam and putting yourself in a position to do the best job possible.”
1330 – Tony continues to tuck into his lunch next to former Lyon and Rangers boss Paul Le Guen, who nods in appreciation as fellow countryman Samir Nasri breaks the deadlock in the north London derby. Jim, meanwhile, trudges out into the cold for the start of the programme, where he takes part in a three-way on air conversation with former Arsenal winger Perry Groves and presenter Russ Williams. From the implications of the injury Steven Gerrard picked up with England in midweek to Wayne Rooney’s inclusion in the featured game at Old Trafford, the trio discuss all football’s main talking points.
1400 – Just before Tony takes his place in the gantry, Jim is reminded of the odder challenge ahead of him that afternoon. The ‘Jim Proudfoot Challenge’ sees weekday Absolute Radio breakfast presenter Christian O’Connell hand him an odd statement that he has to fit seamlessly into his commentary. This week, though, Jim has been given the unenviable task of fitting in two of them. “It’s alright unless they move the goalposts,” he said. “I did it word for word perfect last week but they said ‘no, you got it wrong and you didn’t say something so you need to do two this week’. Some of them you have no idea where they are going, but today I’ve got a fair idea about where I’m going to work them in.”
1500 – The match starts on a bitterly-cold afternoon at Old Trafford, with Jim donning several layers, different pairs of socks and a cup of piping-hot coffee in hand.
1520 – Wigan show from the start that they were not going to lie down and be rolled over, unlike Arsenal earlier in the day. Having led Tottenham by two goals, their arch-rivals came back to snatch a 3-2 victory at the Emirates Stadium. “The shows over kids, the monkey is dead,” says Jim in summation of the result. In case you were wondering what on earth he was talking about, that was the first half of the ‘Jim Proudfoot Challenge’ successfully completed.
1545 – Patrice Evra nets his first goal for three-and-a-half years to send the home faithful into raptures and give Jim and Tony something to talk about heading into the half-time break after a slightly disappointing first period.
1614 – After a drab start to the half, Rooney comes on for his first United appearance since the contract saga that ended with the striker signing a new five-year deal. “I thought it would be 60% cheers, 40% boos,” says Jim. “However it was more 80%, 20% and the boos seemed to be quite isolated. I think they have made their point.”
1619 – Almost immediately the match swings as Wigan duo Antolin Alcaraz and Hugo Rodallega are sent off within minutes of each other to the delight of the vast majority of the 74,000-plus crowd.
1635 – Javier Hernandez heads the second goal and provides the opportunity for Jim to complete his challenge. “There is a fella down there in the crowd who keeps catching my eye; he just has a really sweet face. Anyway, back to the action…” Tony looks understandably taken aback and slightly concerned.
1654 – The full-time whistle blows at Old Trafford but the work is not over for Jim or Tony, who join in the post match show discussion with Arsenal legend Ian Wright on the afternoon’s main talking points.
1730 – Jim and Tony return to the Old Trafford press room and slump into the leather sofas looking visibly exhausted from the afternoon’s exertions. “It went well, I think,” said Jim. “The programme went well and there was a good story to tell all the way through the afternoon, so from the point of view it was quite successful.” It seems the challenge went well too. “It all went alright and I got my phrases in,” he added, looking relieved. “At one point I think Tony almost got up and walked out because he thought I was trying to make a pass at him. But I did my best to try and qualify it doing the gruff voice and mentioned the fact I’ve got three kids. My old man always listens and tries to pick out what is the challenge is but, unfortunately, over the course of the afternoon he makes a list. ‘It could have been that’, no that was just me doing my normal work, dad.”
1800 – With the traffic around the stadium slowly dissipating, Jim makes a swift exit and begins his mammoth journey home. “This week is very busy indeed,” he said, with another commentary lined-up less than 24 hours away. “It’s just going to be a question of treading water and getting through it as I’m doing games on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, two on Sunday and one next Monday. When you factor in travelling and all the prep that goes with it as well, weeks like this do become a bit of an isolated existence.”
2200 – Jim arrives back in Hampshire after a long, arduous day. “It’s 14 hours on the road plus four hours of prep for one game, but it’s better than having a proper job,” he concludes. He is right, it is not a bad way to make a living.
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