Gary Smith brings an interesting insight in his matchday role as commentator for BBC Sussex and iFollow.
During my time behind the microphone I have often been asked what makes a good commentator.
While hoping not to sound too egotistical you could say ‘well, just listen to me.’ But it’s a difficult question to answer. When I was younger and the two main Match of the Day commentators were John Motson and Barry Davies it always seemed that you fell in to one camp or the other, but I’m not sure that was because you thought that one was good and one was poor or not. Nowadays games are broadcast on so many different platforms that the choice of commentators is endless so the debate as to who is good, bad or indifferent is even greater.
I recently posed the question to people on social media and also asked what they felt was the difference between a good commentator and a bad one. I was pleasantly surprised by the replies and the various factors people mentioned. These ranged from forward planning, having a good summariser, the ability to keep the listener engaged in the game rather than just commentating to being honest, informative and entertaining. All of these are valid points.
For me, one of the most important factors is player recognition and keeping up with the play. Commentating on the radio is different to TV as there’s no room for ‘dead’ air. When I watch a match on TV I quite often mute the sound, not because I think I’m better than the commentator but because I can see the score, time and any red cards issued. On the radio or a web commentary you have to keep finding a different way of communicating this information to the listener regularly.
I was once told by my boss at BBC Sussex that the score and the time played should be mentioned at least every ten minutes. If I’m listening to a game on BBC Five Live I’m always interested how their commentators convey that information. I was also advised that to ensure that there is no ‘dead’ air you should revert to one of these key pointers and pick up the commentary from there: Where is the ball? Who’s got the ball? What’s the score? How long has gone?
Going back to the points raised on social media, good forward planning is key. I usually spend about four hours prepping for the next match, which will include preparing notes on the opposition players, head to head of previous encounters as well as other statistics. To my mind, the fewer stats you use the better the game has been. If almost all of my stats have been ticked off then there hasn’t been much action.
A good summariser is also key to delivering a sound commentary. I have been fortunate enough to work with various summarisers this season, all of whom bring a unique insight and style. Tony Vessey and Filipe Morais were able to bring current and former player knowledge, Ken Blackmore offers his passion for the club and Craig, Tom and Bruce, from the media teams, provide behind the scenes at the club as well as professionalism. Even the external summarisers I have used from BBC London or Live Sports have made my job a lot easier.
Supporter interaction also makes commentary easier. Knowing that people have taken the time to listen and get in touch is always a bonus, particularly if people are listening in from far afield so keep those tweets coming in Reds fans - it’s always a pleasure read your messages.
Commentary is an art form where you are constantly learning and improving. It’s not as easy as many people think but, for a football nut like me, it’s the ideal job. And, just like a player who knows if he’s played well or not, I know whether I have delivered a good commentary. Most weeks I think I do okay but there’s always room for improvement!
Don’t forget that you can always find me at the back of the West Stand on match days so feel free to say hello as it’s always nice to put faces to names of people who get in touch. You can find me on Twitter @GTSSport or email firstname.lastname@example.org – I look forward to hearing from you.
Oh, and in case you were wondering, I was a Motson fan back in the day!
Caption: Gary chatting with Joe McNerney before the game at Port Vale earlier in the season.