BY CHRIS CLARK
Ian Crocker is known as the voice of Scottish football on Sky Sports, but how did he get started in the business? I interviewed him to find out. I also discovered what team he supported and what phrase he hates, but can’t stop himself saying.
How did you get started in football commentary?
From a young age I wanted to be a newspaper journalist, but through my teens I started getting interested in radio. I subsequently moved to down London and did a bit of hospital radio. This led to getting an office job at the BBC, but I wasn’t getting any work on radio on air, I was just behind the scenes working on Radio 2. However, I did end up getting a job as a tannoy announcer at West Ham, which was the team I supported.
So as a fan, that must have been a dream job?
Yes most definitely. I supported them from the age of 9 and I started the season after they finished 3rd (1985-86). Never to scale those heights again! Haha. Through that I meant Jonathan Pearce and managed to get a job on Capital Radio and it all started from there really.
What advice would you give aspiring football commentators?
It’s a strange choice of career, as not many people do it. Any experience you can get is beneficial, like hospital radio was perfect for me, as I could iron out any mistakes I made on there. Ultimately, just get in there somewhere and make the teas. I know it sounds corny, but you would be surprised how many people started this way.
What is the art of good football commentary to you?
People often tell me that less is more! However, I’m guilty of doing more!!
You’ve got to do the research, you have to get out there and analyse the lesser teams, so nothing, and I mean nothing, surprises you on the day. I did an Azerbaijan match the other week and watched several DVD’s of their recent games in the week building up to the game.
Is that part of the job enjoyable?
Yeah, it is. Well you’re watching football aren’t you, and who doesn’t love that? It’s part of my job watching football, it’s not so bad is it! I wouldn’t have liked to have gone into Norway vs. Azerbaijan without any research.
Yes, going into that blind would have been a bit of risk!
Well, in this day and age with all the technology available it would be hard not to know something about teams, so we’ve got no excuse really.
You’re now known for your Scottish football commentary, as an Englishman did you face any resistance when you first started commentating?
I have to say I got a few write-up’s in the papers when I first started and I was being slaughtered for being English, which I thought was a bit harsh. I can accept criticism for being a crap commentator, but I can’t do anything about where I come from. But saying that I’ve been covering Scottish football for 17 years and apart from that initial shock of an Englishman doing it, everything has gone well.
How would you describe the current state of Scottish football?
Well obviously, it needs Rangers in the top flight as soon as possible
Do you think it’s dependent that Rangers are in the top league?
I wouldn’t say dependent, but it would certainly be beneficial for the game, if them and Hibs were back in the top division. It’s amazing to think that Rangers were demoted to the bottom division, it was extraordinary. Yes they should have been punished, but that much? I’m not so sure. Scottish football needs a strong Rangers – that’s a fact. Celtic needs them as well. You need strong competition.
Something must go horribly wrong for Celtic not to win the league without a strong Rangers in the same division?
As long as Rangers aren’t in the same league and a major force, Celtic will keep on racking up the titles. Fair play to Aberdeen, they pushed them all the way, having said that Kris Commons said “it never felt like a proper title race” as Celtic beat Aberdeen four times, and that was ultimately significant. So the state of the Scottish game, we need Rangers back and challenging. We need those Old Firm games back, not just for Scotland, but for promotion around the world.
What are your views on summer football?
Summer football is something that the clubs are looking at a possibility. If you look how much football is on in the regular season, then maybe the profile of the Scottish game would be higher in the summer.
Wouldn’t it impact on the Euros and World Cups though?
Yes it would but other countries do it and I’m sure Scottish football could find a way around it. I’m not saying it is the answer, but something needs to be done to shake up the game.
Is the atmosphere at Scotland national games the best atmosphere you’ve experienced when commentating?
The Tartan Army are brilliant. It doesn’t matter if the team is winning or losing, the Scottish national team has terrific support and they’re beginning to believe in the team under Gordon Strachan. They’re a better watch than England. The Scotland boys are playing from the heart and it would be great to see them at a major tournament again. The atmosphere at Old Firm games are unrivalled, but the Scotland home games certainly run it close. It’s always good when Flower of Scotland is played before the game.
Even as an Englishman?
Yeah, I’ve been covering them for 17 years; I’ve turned into a Scotland fan. If there was a choice to watch Scotland or England on the television, I’d pick Scotland. I’ve got a soft spot for the country and the team after all this time covering them.
Talking about atmospheres at games, the Celtic vs. Barcelona game must be up there?
That was an extraordinary night. I thought they would give Barcelona a game, but there was something about that night right from the very start. However, I didn’t think they would win. The atmosphere was electric.
Would you like to put a figure on how games of football you’ve commentated on?
You know what? I’ve just written this book and I’ve tried to work it out, and it’s impossible! It must be thousands, it’s really hard to put a figure on it.
Do you still find ways to improve your performance?
You never stop learning. I never really like listening back to yourself, but sometimes you have to. It’s surprising that you find yourself saying the same bloody things though!
Have you got a phrase, where you think Oh I’ve said that again…?
Sometimes on goals, you do a line…and I’ll say “seizes the moment”. I did it on the Scotland vs. Ireland game when Shaun Maloney scored, and I thought to myself, I must lay off that!
Who has been the most enjoyable co-commentator to work with?
I’ve worked with a lot of co-commentators over the years, going right back to Bobby Moore on Capital Gold – an exceptional fella. Then Chris Kamara for a long time on the Football League coverage, he’s enthusiastic about most things in life and was often jumping around the gantry during games. Probably the one I’ve worked with most closely is Davie Provan; we have been here, there and everywhere together covering Celtic and Scotland.
Do you find that you build up a rapport with the co-commentator?
The biggest thing between a commentator and co-commentator is that you’re on the same wavelength, so you’re not talking across each other, and with Davie I feel we’ve worked up a great partnership.
It’s just not Scottish football that you cover though?
No, I do a lot of English Premier League games at 3pm on a Saturday for the world feeds, and the match choice for the Saturday evening on Sky. Then, where possible, I will nip up to Scotland to do a game on the Sunday.
So on a normal week, how many commentaries are you doing?
Well, last season I did over 100 live commentaries in the season. It varies from week to week, as European weeks you will obviously get more games.
You mentioned supporting West Ham, how hard is it to remain neutral when covering their games?
It’s surprisingly easy to be honest, as you put your professional hat on. I did them at Old Trafford once, when they lost 7-1. Manchester United were sensational that day. I think it was in 2000, and I just sat back and admired the way they played. It’s only when the game was over and I thought ‘oh bloody hell that was my team which just got beat 7-1’.
I was covering the 2004 Play-off final at the Millennium stadium when they lost to Crystal Palace, and it was only after the game that the Director came up to me and said sorry that your team lost. It was only then that the result dawned on me. You get wrapped up in the occasion as a professional.
So you haven’t done a secret fist pump when they’ve scored a goal?!
No, no. It’s just like that. You do the job and then after the game you think about the consequences…and as a West Ham fan you know…
Well, I’m not saying anything as I’m a Spurs fan
Yeah, you get used to West Ham letting you down.
Let’s end up the interview, you’ve commentated on thousands of games, could you nail it down to the best player you’ve commentated on?
Phew…I would have to say Lionel Messi I suppose. In Scotland, we had Henrik Larsson, who stuck around for 7 years and gave me plenty of good lines.
I suppose with some of the stuff Messi does, you must think how am I going to describe that?!
When they scored a terrific goal against Celtic, I said its Fantasy football for real. I was quite proud of that line. When Barcelona are at their best it’s a joy to commentate on, and that’s why I enjoy my job.
Ian’s autobiography “Have Mic Will Travel” is available here
You can also follow Ian on Twitter – @IanCrocker1
FOLLOW CHRIS ON TWITTER @ChrisClark1975 AND CHECK OUT HIS BLOG http://christopherclarksports.blogspot.co.uk/
©Chris Clark 2015