“Commentating is about rhythm. It’s about silence. It’s about the choice of words to punctuate the silence and illuminate them.”
On The Football Pink we usually mourn the loss of footballers and managers. But the news this week of the passing of former commentator, Gerald Sinstadt, has been poignant, particularly for those of my generation.
We grew up listening to him.
One of the most instantly recognisable voices, Sinstadt was a regular at the microphone for many of Liverpool’s games during the late seventies and early eighties.
For me I was utterly captivated by the atmosphere at Anfield, the noise and the colour. Sinstadt’s commentary played a crucial part in wrapping that whole package up in an enticing way to come alluringly through our television set.
From 1969 to 1981 he was the main commentator and presenter for Granada Television in North West England. On a Friday night he presented a football magazine show, ‘Kick Off’. Then on a Saturday he would be at places like Anfield, Goodison Park, Old Trafford and Maine Road.
I grew up in the South East and so we had ITV’s ‘The Big Match’ on a Sunday lunchtime, presented by Brian Moore. The format was about half an hour highlights of a main match involving a London team. Then there would be short highlights of a couple of other matches from around the ITV regions. Sinstadt was often heard at one of those matches.
In addition to the big clubs, he would also be found at Blackpool, Preston North End and Bolton Wanderers.
These were the days when you wouldn’t always get to see your club on television, not even the goals. Check out Youtube for clips of matches in the seventies and there will be games missing, as the cameras just weren’t there.
Sinstadt was at some pretty big moments for my childhood love affair with Liverpool. The 7-0 demolition of Spurs at Anfield in 1978 was narrated by him.
Two moments still stick with me all these years later. After Phil Neal scores the sixth from the penalty spot, Sinstadt informs his audience;
“..and that’s now six-nil. And this is becoming a rout”.
But his crowning glory was his complete enjoyment of the stunning seventh goal from Terry McDermott.
“Johnson….and Johnson with a ball into acres of empty space for Heighway. And Heighway, a brilliant cross there………”
As McDermott headed in one of the greatest goals seen at Anfield, Sinstadt lets the moment belong to the fans in the ground as the noise is deafening. He eventually told us who scored;
“…McDermott it was who finished it, and what a classic goal”.
No shouting, no histrionics, no desire to become bigger than the game he was watching. He simply allowed the viewer to soak it all up, whilst being able to communicate how excited he was for watching such skill.
A year earlier he was the voice behind the iconic European night at Anfield when Liverpool overturned a 1-2 aggregate deficit to beat St.Etienne. He provided the words for David Fairclough’s famous winner;
“…and Fairclough is onside. This now could be interesting. Fairclough!…….Super sub, strikes again”
Once again Sinstadt handed the moment of the goal over to the fans in the ground. The viewers at home could then feel they were there too. No shouting over the supporters.
It wasn’t just Liverpool matches I remember his words for. He commentated on a glorious game at Old Trafford when Ron Atkinson’s exciting West Brom side took Manchester United apart in an historic 5-3 win. It was real end-to-end stuff and The Baggies fifth goal is one Sinstadt particularly loved.
United were attacking down the left by West Brom’s byline. The ball comes out to Laurie Cunningham deep in his own half, and he surged forward, his pace leaving Stewart Houston for dead. Cunningham found Ally Brown and he saw the run of Cyrille Regis. He laid the ball perfectly into the West Brom’s striker’s path and Regis met it first time to fire it into the roof of the net.
“oh what a goal!!!!……..oh what a magnificent goal”.
That game was also significant for another matter. Sinstadt was disgusted at the racial abuse handed out from the terraces to the three black players in the West Brom team, Regis, Cunningham and Brendan Batson. He made sure the listening public were in no doubt what he thought of it.
He was possibly the first commentator to call this out.
The thing about commentators like Sinstadt was you really felt they enjoyed the football they were watching. Just as with Hugh Johns, Gerry Harrison and Brian Moore they weren’t afraid to speak their mind if the football was turgid, but more often than not they sounded like kids in a sweet shop having the time of their lives.
He was the man behind the microphone for the iconic moment when Dennis Law backheeled the goal for Manchester City which sent his former club, Manchester United down to Division Two in 1974.
Sinstadt was at four World Cup tournaments, Mexico 1970, West Germany 1974, Argentina 1978 and Spain 1982. He covered the Third Place Play-off between Brazil and Italy in 1978 when Brazil, who’d been largely disappointing thus far, scored two of the goals of the tournament.
In 1982 he could’ve been considered a tad unlucky, as many of the games he commentated on were only shown as highlights, with BBC getting the live option. One example was the Semi-Final in Seville when France and West Germany played out a classic. BBC’s Barry Davies had the ear of the nation for the live feed, Sinstadt was just heard on ITV’s highlights package as Toni Schumacher cruelly took out Patrick Battiston. But he was there, commentating on the first World Cup match to go to penalties.
He was ITV’s number three commentator, behind Moore and Johns, so only got minor cup finals to cover. The UEFA Cup Finals, 1974 and 1976. The League Cup Final replay between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest in 1978 was also his.
Being a talented and adaptable commentator, he was also chosen to cover other sports including snooker, cricket, golf and the 1972 Munich Olympics.
Sinstadt was born on 19th February 1930 in Folkestone, Kent. He began broadcasting on the British Forces Broadcasting Service in 1949. He moved onto BBC Radio in the 1950’s and 1960’s.
His move to Granada TV saw him replace Barry Davies, who moved to BBC. Sinstadt had been instrumental in helping Davies get a foot on the ladder at the BBC.
He left Granada after the 1980-81 season, when Martin Tyler took his place. He was pitch side at the 1989 FA Cup Semi-Final at Hillsborough when 95 people lost their lives (a further two losing their lives later). For a short period in the 1990’s he covered The Boat Race, replacing Harry Carpenter. Only to find he was replaced by Davies.
During that decade he appeared on Match of the Day providing a summary of the matches played that day. He and Des Lynam were a wonderful double act. Sinstadt referring to Lynam as ‘Desmond’ and receiving ‘Gerry’ in return.
In the 2000’s he continued to report from football grounds for BBC’s Final Score programme.
BBC Sport Executive Producer Andrew Clement said;
“He was a craftsman, a very good commentator and just a lovely man”.
Fellow commentator, Nigel Adderly also added his tribute;
“Gerald Sinstadt was the football voice of my childhood growing up in the North West. A great commentator and journalist. ‘Kick Off’ was a brilliant programme. Friday’s at 6.30pm meant only one thing”.
Former Match of the Day editor, Paul Armstrong tweeted;
“Very sad news. A superb commentator and journalist, and the best wordsmith with edited features and round ups I ever encountered. And a lovely man, too”.
He lived in Stoke-on-Trent in his later years, regularly writing a column in a local paper.
He leaves behind an impressive legacy, caught forever in recordings which will last the test of time. Today’s commentators all point to men such as Sinstadt as the gold standard to which they aspire.