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West Bromwich Albion Duncan Jones

The Prime Minister's Challenge on Dementia

 

With so much football on television and radio these days, it’s hard to remember the sport’s broadcasting landscape in the 1970s when my romance with the people’s game began. In those days, live football on television meant the FA Cup Final, the end-of-season Home International Championship and the occasional international qualifier. Every four years, we were spoilt by coverage of the World Cup – the European Championships wasn’t a tournament in those days – but it was a spartan diet. Radio wasn’t much better. Second-half commentary on a Saturday afternoon as part of Sport on 2 was the centrepiece of the week’s coverage – but my love of football, and of broadcasting for that matter, was born under the bedclothes on a Wednesday night.

I’d been given a transistor radio for my fifth birthday in 1969 and my listening diet consisted of Ed “Stewpot” Stewart’s Junior Choice, Tony Blackburn’s Radio 1 Breakfast Show and best of all, Soccer Special on Radio 2. Wednesday evenings meant early to bed for me in the early 70s… by choice. Wednesday after Wednesday I’d tell my mother I was quite tired and would retire to bed at about half past seven. Sleep, though, wasn’t on my mind. My radio would go under my pillow and I’d listen with mounting excitement to Don Davies’ Beat the Record which always preceded the football. In those innocent days, before BBC competitions made newspaper front pages, listeners would ring in to guess the name of an instrumental piece of music. If successful, they would win £10 in premium bonds and a chance to guess the accumulator, a piece of music which could win a lucky listener £100 in premium bonds.

But I digress. Beat the Record was merely an hors d-oeuvre to the main course banquet of Peter Jones and Bryon Butler commentating on the evening’s top match. We’d be teased with recorded commentary on the goals scored so far – all games seemed to kick off at 7.30pm in those days – and then a trip round the grounds staging the evening’s other games. At some point during the second-half commentary, Mum would put her head round the door and, if I heard her coming, I’d quickly turn down the volume, closing my eyes to mimic a deep and peaceful sleep. How I hoped a goal wouldn’t be scored in those few seconds. Sometimes, cup-ties would go to extra-time which could take my listening close to 10pm. Nothing would ever persuade me to switch off before the final whistle though. I was listening the April night in 1973 when my beloved West Bromwich Albion were relegated by a home defeat to Manchester City. Larry Canning, the voice of Midlands football in those far-off days, broke the news to me and me alone. I had the feeling he might even have offered to wipe away my tears.

Many games stand out. I recall the night Malcolm MacDonald scored five goals for England against Cyprus at Wembley in 1975. Two years earlier, I’d marvelled as Brian Clough’s Derby County, trailing 3-1 at Tottenham in an FA Cup fourth round replay, rallied to win 5-3 after extra time. Roger Davies scored three times and Kevin Hector twice, if you’re interested. As much of my football experience was restricted to Don Howe’s pedestrian West Brom team at the time, I didn’t know a game could be so exciting.

Years later, I interviewed Bryon Butler who was about to retire as BBC Radio’s Football Correspondent. By that time, I was reporting and commentating for BBC local radio, and after one league cup tie between Arsenal and Aston Villa at Highbury, I shared a tube carriage back to central London with my broadcasting hero Peter Jones. I didn’t tell either gentleman that they’d shared my pillow, in a manner of speaking, all those years before. Neither did I tell them that my ambition to be a football commentator had been born while listening to them. I wish I had (the latter not the former)..

For me, no football viewing or listening experience has ever quite matched those early days between the sheets. And nothing ever will.

Duncan Jones


 

 

1 Comment (Add your voice)

Fantastic memory Duncan. This took me straight back to the night of the 4th May 1976, staying awake as a youngster to listen to Wolves v Liverpool on the hi-tech portable radiogram my parents had bought me for Christmas. With my beloved QPR top of the league, I tuned in to that night's live BBC radio commentary on crackly medium wave.

– Tony Jameson-Allen, September 2 2013 at 19:57

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