BBC Five Live's 'Voice of Football' creates big match atmosphere at packed talk

It was the fear of being overheard by players which helped make a piece of Ryder Cup golf commentary the best bit of radio John Murray ever recorded.

The BBC's Football Correspondent gave a warm and witty insight into his career at the very top level of sports journalism during a talk for this year's Cultural Exchanges festival at De Montfort University Leicester (DMU).

He spoke about the many hours he spent in preparation before commentaries, but said it was the off-the-cuff moments in reaction to the action which most often connected with listeners.


He said: "You never finish a commentary and think, 'that's it. That was perfect, I got all that across.' There were things you missed or messed up and if you could do again you'd do differently.

"But for me that's the satisfaction: that constant challenge."

There was, though, one moment which John - who is only the fourth BBC Football Correspondent since the role was created in the 1960s - felt he got exactly right.

He said: "It was the 2010 Ryder Cup, the first time it had finished on a Monday and we were on the green for a putt by Graham McDowell. Europe had been losing terribly and were coming back and I can remember such a lot of pressure because Europe would win if he holed it.

"But I was standing so close to him on the green that he could hear me commentating so I hushed right up, trying to let him concentrate and sometimes silence is such an effective thing on the radio. He holed that putt and it went wild but when I listened to it back, I thought, 'yes'. I'd captured that."

During a lively hour-long talk, hosted by Professor Martin Polley, Director of DMU's International Centre for Sports History and Culture, John told the audience how he had started out in news journalism for radio stations in Teeside, before specialising in sport.

He gave an insight into how he prepared to cover some of the biggest sporting events in the world, including the World Cup and the Olympics, along with occasions outside sport, like the Royal Wedding.

He revealed - to a hissed intake of breath from the audience - that he had never really enjoyed Rugby League or American Football and that he rarely listened to Talksport because the adverts put him off.

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He also talked about the hectic quality of life as a sports commentator - a point neatly illustrated by his late appearance to the talk, caused by having to race to Leicester following a spell in goal on Robbie Savage's team in the BBC Five Live Battle of the Five-A-Sides for Sport Relief.

Via a projector, John shared his neatly hand-written notes made ahead of and during the recent Leicester City match against Manchester City, which the Foxes won 3-1. He said he was 'probably alone' in using pen and paper but talked people through his facts and figures, goal tallies and other stats, saying that while the prep took him a full day to put together, he rarely referred to it much during the game.

He said: "It's a way of getting mentally ready, getting the player numbers in my mind. I find that those set-pieces you rehearse in your head in the car on the way to the game - say if a player is going to hit a scoring milestone or something - they are so frustrating if you get wrong when the moment comes.

"So you try and stick to your job, which is simply a describer."

This, John said, was especially true when given the task of commentating on sports he was less sure of, such as the Judo he had to commentate on at the Olympics in London.

"I just revert to the default - describing the action, summoning up the atmosphere, putting the listener there. That's why we have experts alongside us - if they can explain the action, put it in context, I can do the rest."

A few audience members put it to John that table-topping Leicester City were perhaps not getting the credit they deserved in the media, with a scepticism about the club's ultimate staying power prevalent in broadcasts and analysis.

He said: "It's interesting that you feel like this. I feel Leicester have been given a lot of credit for the way they've played. Having Leicester, along with Watford, West Ham and Spurs all in contention is great. You get tired of hearing the same excuses and things being said about clubs like Arsenal."

Posted on Friday 4th March 2016

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