How I became the West Ham announcer.
I moved to East London from Cambridge when I was six. I think my parents may have done the driving, but I imagine I did most of the packing and dealing with estate agents.
Growing up in Clayhall it was a no-brainer that I should be a Hammer. There was a Spurs fan and a Chelsea fan on our street, but nobody really spoke to them. When I was twelve we moved again, to sleepy Suffolk. By then I had claret and blue flowing in my veins, but took me a while to find my way back to London.
I studied in the beautiful university cities of Bradford and then Portsmouth, before my first job as a radio reporter in the fragrant coastal resort of Hull. Bradford, Portsmouth and Hull? How I escaped without a tattoo is anybody’s guess. West Ham were having their best ever season in the top flight and I was miles away listening on the radio and occasionally watching on Ceefax.
I spent three years with the BBC in Nottingham, winning a New York Radio Academy Award for commentating at the Hillsborough disaster. It was the worst day of my life and we didn’t go and collect the award. It felt wrong when 96 people had died.
In 1990 I returned to London, to work on GLR, which is now called BBC London 94.9. I presented the breakfast show alongside the late, great Kevin Greening. I used to bang on about West Ham a lot. Little did I know someone at the club was listening and one day I would get the call.
I went freelance in 1994, and moved into television. It was inevitable. All good looking radio presenters eventually move into TV. I fronted shows for Talk TV and then the fledgling Channel 5. I anchored most of their sports shows for the first couple of years. In fact a colleague described me as the complete anchor, but I may have misheard.
In the early days the Channel 5 signal was a bit fuzzy. Once they sorted the transmission problems, someone noticed my hair was thinning at the back. Baldies didn’t score well in the focus groups. The schedulers were aiming for a young audience. I was replaced by Steve Scott who is slightly older than me, but much hairier.
I would return to TV in the noughties, but in the meantime I scuttled back to the GLR breakfast show, this time co-presenting with Claire McDonnell. I talked about West Ham a lot again. This time something happened.
In the summer of 1998 I received a phone call from Paul Aldridge, managing director at West Ham, asking if I wanted to be the new stadium announcer. Curiously I said no. I enjoyed letting off steam from my seat in the West Stand Upper. I wasn’t sure shouting at the players would be in the job description. Paul asked me to come in for a chat. So I did, just to poke about behind the scenes if I’m honest.
After three days he asked again, and this time I said yes. I’d had a recurring dream the previous nights that Rio Ferdinand would head the winning goal in the World Cup Final at France 98. I dreamt I would announce him as a hero at the start of the new season, like Bobby Moore, Martin Peters and Geoff Hurst were greeted in 1966.
The trouble with dreams is their habit of fading and dying. Rio was an unused substitute at the World Cup. England were knocked out by Argentina in the second round. David Beckham was sent off for petulantly kicking out at Diego Simeone and quickly became public enemy number one.
When the fixtures came out for the new season, West Ham’s opener was away at Sheffield Wednesday, followed by David Beckham’s Manchester United at home. I went to Hillsborough on the opening day, the first time I’d been back since the disaster. It was strange and I felt very emotional. I got through it because I was sitting next to curly haired pop star David Essex. His twin boys had the largest bag of pick and mix sweets you ever did see. Reluctantly at their father’s suggestion they even shared some with me.
Veteran striker Ian Wright scored on his league debut for us, and I found myself singing, ‘Ian Wright, Wright, Wright. Ian Wright, Wright, Wright’. With Wrighty a long time Gooner, it wasn’t a song I ever thought I would sing. Fortunately I discovered I knew all the words.
Driving back from Hillsborough I couldn’t wait for my debut at the Boleyn Ground the following week, announcing my team against Manchester United, David Beckham and all.
But we’ll save that for the next column.
Up the Irons