End of Season Gala Dinner

I thought presenting at the end of season gala dinner, the day after we were relegated would be a tough gig. Actually it was a great night out and I met lots of lovely people. I’ve been feeling so down since West Ham lost at Wigan, that the last thing I wanted was a night out to be honest. But I’d promised I’d do the auctioneering in aid of the Academy.

You’ll have read in the papers that there was a bit of trouble. But let me tell you it was nowhere near as bad as it’s being made out. One chap confronted a player. He was swiftly ejected by West Ham’s security team.

Ben Shephard was an excellent host of the awards. He made everyone laugh when he tried to get the event back on track after the interruption by saying please sit back in your chairs, don’t throw them. Scott Parker got the loudest cheer of the night as he was named Hammer of the Year. David Gold gave a rousing speech on how we’ll soon be back in the top flight.The Boys of 86 entertained as always with stories of better days.

My wife had her picture taken with Thomas Hitzlsperger and Karren Brady and she won a signed photo of Billy Bonds in the raffle.
As she’s only been in the UK since 2002 she didn’t really know who Billy was, but there was never any doubt that I was having the picture hanging in my office anyway.

When I looked around that room at the 780 guests I thought not many clubs could put on an event as big as this. It was a special night and we must not let one incident spoil it.

Next week I’m working at the Champions League Festival in Hyde Park, doing the announcing for the Bobby Moore Fund.

But nothing will match a night with seven hundred odd fellow sufferers of West Ham United. We went down together and we’ll come back up together.





Jeremy Nicholas, London, UK

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My book

Google can be a scary thing. I just googled my book title and found it on Amazon already. I’m still writing it!

The book ‘Mr Moon Has Left the Stadium’ is a funny account of my life as the West Ham United FC announcer. It comes out on August 1st.

It has to be handed in to the publishers at the end of June. There’s nothing that quite galvanises the writer into action more than seeing that people actually expect to be able to buy it on a set date.

You can see it on Amazon here. I promise you the cover won’t look like that. It’s a quickly mocked up version by the publishers.
It’s also already on the WH Smith site and Waterstonesm. Even more scary it’s on Amazon Japan.

Jeremy Nicholas, London, UK

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Victory eclipsed by Mr Moon

I’m never one to moan about a fellow West Ham fan, but there’s one chap who is getting on my nerves. This Mr Moon fellow has been arriving and leaving the stadium during games for as long as I can remember.

There’s nothing more annoying than people arriving midway through games is there? You’re in your seat in plenty of time to enjoy the action but have to keep getting up to let others reach their seats. Inevitably this happens just as a goal is scored. The new arrival turns to watch it, but as they are standing up, your view is completely obscured.

At yesterday’s game with Nottingham Forest the master of the late arrival, Mr Moon turned up well into the second half as I was announcing a substitution. To many in the crowd it sounded like Mr Moon came on for the last few minutes of the game.

He’s not the sort of person you’d want to throw on to help protect a one goal lead in a cup tie, because he’s unreliable. In all the years I’ve been coming to West Ham, I’ve never known him stay for a whole game. He’ll often not turn up for five or six games in a row. Mr Moon has been to a few games recently but we’ve had so many home games in January.

True to form on Sunday he sloped off just a few seconds after the final whistle. He didn’t hang about to clap the players after a hard fought FA Cup win. Fair enough he might have worried about getting home with the tube messed up again but he could have stayed a few seconds longer to applaud Obinna the winner and the rest of the victors.

I think Mr Moon is getting too big for his boots. He’s on FIFA 11 now you know. Just like in real life at Upton Park, his arrival and departure are announced over the PA. It’s a recording that is triggered when he arrives. I don’t know exactly how it works. Maybe he wears some kind of electronic tag which is read by a sensor at the turnstile. It’s my voice that announces his comings and goings, so rather embarrassingly, I appeared to be interrupting myself during the substitution.

At the end of the game, when he legged it out of the ground with indecent haste, it interrupted the traditional singing of Bubbles which heralds a home win. If I knew what he looked like, or where he sits, I’d have a word with him. That’s the trouble with Mr Moon, no-one has ever met the guy. He’s a mysterious figure who’s been haunting the Boleyn Ground for years, rather like Inspector Sands on the Underground.

I suspect Mr Moon is not even a proper West Ham fan, he’s just a glory hunter.

So if you are reading this Mr Moon by all means come along to the game on Sunday against Birmingham. Why not bring Mrs Moon, we’ve got a special Valentine’s package on offer, see the club website for details. And young Master Moon can get in for a pound as it’s Kids for a Quid. Make a day of it why don’t you? But please, for the love of God, stay for the whole match and stop getting in the way.

Jeremy Nicholas, London 31.1.11

The pub full of Rooneys

All this week I’m putting a different favourite TV report on my site each day. It’s a sort of advent calendar without the chocolate.

This year, being a World Cup year, I did a lot of quirky football reports for the BBC.

I had a drink in a pub where all the bar staff were called Wayne Rooney.

The only one not called Rooney was the manager, who despite being a woman had changed her name by deed poll to Fabio Capello.

I love the shot of all the Rooneys sat in a line all claiming to be Rooney in a scene reminiscent of Spartacus.

My stadium gig

I

So we’re up and running again. It was great to be at the Boleyn for the pre-season friendly against Deportivo La Coruna for the SBOBet Cup.  Even better to win it on penalties.Avram Grant has won silverware in his first home game.

It was a hot day. I could have done without wearing the tie to be honest.

Outside the ground beforehand, everyone was smiling. I think there’s a sense of optimism about the new season, the new manager, the new kit and a new beginning.  I nearly said ‘a new hope’ but that’s a Star Wars film..

I thought I better take a few pics to spice up the blog. I snapped a few of the ground, which I’ll be dropping in over the next few weeks. Andrew the ‘Over Land And Sea’ fanzine seller took the top picture of me outside the ground, so it only seemed right that I returned the favour and took one of him. Nice ‘Only Fools’ tee shirt mate.

Football chairmen often need security for their own protection when they arrive at grounds.

Our David Gold is a bit different, he’s worn the claret and blue and he’s popular with fans. He needs the security escort otherwise he’d never get through the crowd of autograph hunters. He did sign plenty though.

In the tunnel pre-match club photographer Steve Bacon was snapping the mascots.

Meanwhile the other mascots, the furry ones, seem to have spent the summer hiding in the shower. I share a changing room with Bubbles and Herbie. It always makes me laugh when I arrive to see their heads sitting patiently waiting for the human inhabitants to arrive.And always smiling.

I did my best to pronounce the Spanish names as I read out the team sheets. I didn’t want to ‘go native’ as there’s a danger of sounding like an Italian with a lisp. I wrote them out phonetically after consulatation with a member of the Deportivo coaching staff and then did my best, using the English abroad approach of loud and confident.

As it wasn’t a premier league game there was no TV coverage to worry about, so the ref wasn’t waiting for a floor manager to give him the nod to ‘walk’ the players. That makes it so much easier to coordinate the playing of ‘bubbles’ so it reaches a crescendo as the teams emerge from the tunnel.

Avram Grant was given a great ovation for his first home game. The new players were all warmly applauded before the game and as they came on as subs. When the Sir Trevor Lower fans sang ‘Avram, Avram, give us a wave’, he did and was cheered. That’s was an important moment for me and a promising sign for the season. Gianfranco Zola would never respond to chants for waves. It was because he was ‘in the zone’, but it’s important to acknowledge your own supporters.

The match itself certainly wasn’t a cracker, but the penalty shoot out was. All of our penalties were scored with certainty and Robert Green made a great save. If you are looking for further comment on the match itself, you’ll need to look elsewhere on the web. That’s not the aim of my blog and it would clearly be a conflict of interest with my role as MC Hammer.

From the announcer’s point of view, the match was notable because there wasn’t any time added on in either half.  After announcing five Deportivo subs and three for us, I thought there might be a few added minutes in the second half, but no. I asked the fourth official if he was sure. He smiled. I cheekily asked him if it was his first ever game in charge. He smiled again and said he couldn’t remember any subs. I smiled, in case he booked me.

My favourite sub for Deportivo, was Riki, who I announced as Bianca’s favourite.If you can’t chuck in an Eastenders gag in a pre-season friendly, when can you?

As each Spanish sub pulled on their shirts, I noticed they were all wearing heart rate monitors. It seemed strange, but it’s OK in a friendly, as long as you have the ref’s permission.

On the way home I notice someone had put an England flag on the World Cup Heroes statue.

My journey home was slow. My regular short cut through the Isle of Dogs was scuppered by road closures for  a triathlon the next day. I listened to 5 Live and cheered on Derby County as they beat Leeds at Elland Road. Nigel Clough had stopped the Derby bus short of the ground before the game and his players had walked the last few hundred yards through the Leeds supporters. It was an echo of Don Revie’s actions when he took his Leeds team to the old Baseball Ground to play a Derby team managed by Nigel’s dad Brian. It was a scene I’d watched on TV a few weeks before in the  film ‘The Damned United’. It seemed to work. Having braved the fans outside, the fans in the ground held no fear for the Derby players.

606, the football phone in followed the match. What a joy, no  Alan Green or Spoony,  it was presented by Mark Chapman, who is always entertaining. I hope he’s got the gig for the season. Better still Derby captain Robbie Savage finished the match and then joined Chappers to co-present the show.I’ve never known that before.

Robbie is carving out quite a career as a media pundit. Of course he loves the sound of his own voice, but he is a good listen. He could do very well. There’s not many footballers who come across as well. I’ve regularly interviewed him at Leicester and Derby when I’ve been working for BBC East Midlands Today. He’s as charming in real life as he is irritating on the pitch.

So Robbie and Chappers accompanied me all the way home. On arrival I found the house full of children’s clothes hanging out to dry. My wife had met a Nigerian family in Twickenham Tesco. They were on holiday and staying in the hotel at the rugby ground. They asked my wife for directions to a launderette. Instead she had brought them home and done the washing for them. Slightly strange if you ask me, but that’s why I married her. She’s a lovely woman. And she does the washing.


A free chapter from my book

I’ve co-written a book called MediaMasters with my good friend Alan Stevens.

The aim of the book is to learn how top sports stars, performers, business people, politicans and others in the public eye, use the media to best effect.

Below is a free chapter about one of my footballing heroes, Brian Clough. We didn’t always get on, but he was a brilliant manager. His teams played attractive football and he was a godsend for journalists. He played the media better than anyone before or since. He knew the game and always provided great quotes.

BRIAN CLOUGH – the statue in the Old Market Square, Nottingham.

‘That’s the man we should have as England manager’, my Dad used to say, whenever Brian Clough was on the television in the seventies, talking about football. ‘But they’ll never give him the job, he’s too outspoken’.

Dad was right. Despite winning the league title with two unfashionable teams Derby County and Nottingham Forest, and then two European Cups with Forest, they never gave him the job he really wanted, because he couldn’t keep his mouth shut. He said entertaining, witty, outrageous and controversial things that the blazer wearers at the Football Association would never condone. Brian was years ahead of his time and he understood the importance of television to football. Most of all he spoke in terrific soundbites, and that’s why he’s a media master in my book, even if he did once punch me.

Here’s a few Cloughie soundbites to kick off with:

‘Football hooligans – well, there are 92 club chairmen for a start.’

‘Don’t send me flowers when I’m dead. If you like me, send them while I’m alive.’

‘Players lose you games, not tactics. There’s so much crap talked about tactics by people who barely know how to win at dominoes.’

Known to all as Cloughie, he died in 2004. He’s the only person, I didn’t interview specifically for the book, but I have interviewed him many times and have referred back to those old interviews as well as TV and radio footage from the archives. And if that sounds a chore, well it wasn’t. He’s one of the most entertaining speakers ever in my view. In the sports world only Muhammad Ali and Yogi Berra come close. Every time he opened his mouth, out came a gem.

Most neutrals loved the way Cloughie’s teams played, attractive passing to feet, not just hoofing it up in the air and hoping.

‘If God had wanted us to play football in the clouds, he’d have put grass up there.’

Like many a fan of the beautiful game, I was disappointed when Manchester United opted out of the FA Cup one season, so they could play in the World Club Championship in Brazil. Brian didn’t hold back with his feelings:

‘Manchester United in Brazil? I hope they all get bloody diarrhoea.’

He was a very arrogant man, but with justification, and he could joke about it as well. When honoured by the Queen for his services to football, he was the first to say that his OBE stood for Old Big ‘Ead.

‘I wouldn’t say I was the best manager in the business, but I was in the top one.’

‘The river Trent is lovely, I know because I have walked on it for 18 years. ‘

‘They say Rome wasn’t built in a day, but I wasn’t on that particular job. ‘

Brian was uniquely eloquent. He’d had his playing career cut short through injury, so he came to management very young. He was fresh faced, witty and outspoken. TV producers and viewers loved him.

I don’t want to upset any footballers who might be reading this book, or having it read to them, but they aren’t always the greatest with words. So gifted with their feet, many can barely string two words together. ‘Yeah like I say, the lads done great, if you know what I mean, obviously, we’re just taking each game as it comes.’ (I always think playing one game at a time is a good idea, or the pitch would be far too crowded!)

When Sven Goran Eriksson, a Swede, was appointed the first foreign manager of England, Cloughie came up with the priceless soundbite:

‘At last England have appointed a manager who speaks English better than the players.’

Despite making a good living from being an expert analyst on television, he thought there was too much football on the box.

‘You don’t want roast beef and Yorkshire every night and twice on Sunday.’

He could be a bit rude, like this piece of advice to David Beckham, about his wife’s career with the Spice Girls.

‘He should guide Posh in the direction of a singing coach, because she’s nowhere near as good at her job as her husband.’

(He could be right. I’ve never heard David sing!)

He hit me once. Cloughie not Becks.

Brian had signed Steve Hodge for Nottingham Forest and he’d been drinking whisky with the player in his office to celebrate. I waited outside in the cold with the press pack. When he emerged after a few hours and a few glasses, Cloughie’s nose was a little redder than usual. He said a few words to the press, but refused me an interview for BBC radio. I asked again and he punched me full in the face, I fell backwards through a door and landed on his labrador, Del Boy. I picked myself up and asked again, which really wasn’t a good idea. He shoved me through a door and slammed it closed. In his mind he had thrown me out, but in fact he was now in the corridor and I was in his office.

I stood there for a few moments just looking at all the pennants from foreign football clubs on the wall alongside a picture of Frank Sinatra. How would I explain to my boss at the BBC that relations with Cloughie might be a bit strained from now on. Eventually I let myself out, interviewed Brian’s assistant Archie Gemmill about the new signing and then went back to find Old Big ‘Ead. He was drinking whisky with some newspaper reporters.

I held out my hand.

‘See you next week Brian’.

He shook it.

‘Young man, you are the first reporter I’ve punched this season, but you won’t be the last.’

That year Forest won the League Cup Final at Wembley. While other reporters were kept waiting in the tunnel, I was hauled into the dressing room by Cloughie wearing just a white towel. He gave me an exclusive radio interview while internationals Des Walker and Stuart Pearce stood naked drinking beer out of the trophy. As I left Clough said, ‘That’s cos I took your head off earlier in the season.’

I don’t feel bad about being clobbered by Cloughie, after all he hit his own fans who ran onto the pitch during a game. Once, rather bravely in my view, he dished some out to tough guy footballer Roy Keane.

‘I only ever hit Roy the once. He got up, so I couldn’t have hit him very hard.’

Drink was Brian’s downfall. He did like his whisky.

‘Walk on water? I know most people out there will be saying that I should have taken more of it with my drinks. They are absolutely right.’

He was the best in the business at motivating players. They just had to agree with his methods. If they disagreed:

‘We talk about if for twenty minutes and then decide I was right.’

Martin O’Neill, now a successful manager in his own right pays tribute to Brian’s ability with words.

‘It’s fair to say I wasn’t one of his favourites, but when he gave you praise he made you feel a thousand feet tall.’

Football is a much poorer place now Cloughie has gone. This is how the man himself wanted to be remembered:

‘I want no epitaphs of profound history and all that type of thing. I contributed. I would hope they would say that, and I would hope somebody liked me.’

I think we can safely say that a few people liked him. Not much unites the rival East Midlands cities of Nottingham and Derby, but the loss of Cloughie did.

The road that links Nottingham and Derby has been renamed Brian Clough Way.

I stood in the pouring rain with supporters of both teams at his memorial service at Derby’s Pride Park.

What a stormy night it was. We were soaked through. Nigel Clough summed it up, when he spoke on the microphone, suggesting he may have inherited his Dad’s knack of capturing the spirit of an occasion.

As the rain streamed down from the heavens, Nigel said, ‘I’m sure he’s going to have a bit of an input upstairs about who’s running the show up there. We hope he’s sat up there with friends in the sunshine, looking down and saying- look at those daft buggers sitting in the rain.’

Brian Clough was the best football manager the England national side never had. Most of the people in this book have got where they are today, by being great talkers. For Brian his mastery of the spoken word cost him the job he wanted most. As always he gets the last word. Here’s his thoughts on where he went wrong.

‘Telling the entire world and his dog how good a manager I was. I knew I was the best but I should have said nowt and kept the pressure off ‘cos they’d have worked it out for themselves. ‘

by Jeremy Nicholas London Uk (Links to Kindle and print versions of the book on Amazon below)


Hillsborough

In April 1989 I went to Hillsborough for a football match, an FA Cup semi final between Nottingham Forest and  Liverpool. I was commentating on the game for BBC Radio Nottingham.  96 Liverpool fans lost their lives in a dreadful crush on the terracing behind the goal.  20 years on here’s my  account of the day for The Times newspaper.

Witness: We went to report on a football match  and ended up reporting on a tragedy

Jeremy Nicholas worked as match commentator for BBC Radio Nottingham at Hillsborough. Now 46, he is an after-dinner speaker and author

It didn’t seem any different to any other day. I drove from Nottingham to Sheffield, it took just over an hour. To do a radio show, you get there really early, to do your preparatory work. That day, we were presenting the show from the ground, with me commentating and Mark Shardlow doing the presenting.

Just before kick-off, I noticed that it seemed very busy at the Leppings Lane End. Already, I could see people in the upper tier hauling up those below them. It wasn’t right, something was badly wrong. It all unfolded very quickly.

I remember a policeman running, then walking, on to the pitch. He sort of stuttered, as if he was worried about what he was doing. I just thought: “What a brave man.” He got to the ref [Ray Lewis] and told him to stop the game. Some fans booed; they had no idea what was happening.

We had hooliganism in those days. People were climbing up the fences, as if they were causing trouble, but they were pushed back. I still thought it was just a bit of a squash. At 3.25, we were saying that people could be seriously injured. I saw a little boy carried out. Then we were saying some people may have died.

Mark carried on talking, I went off to get the information, to find out what was going on. We crossed on air to other matches: what was happening at the other semi-final [Everton v Norwich City]? How were Notts County getting on?

I kept repeating that no Forest fans were involved because I was conscious that I was only broadcasting to the Nottingham area and I wanted to reassure people with friends at the game. It was like saying: “People have lost their lives but it’s not your people.” I felt very heartless but, in the following weeks, I had so many thank me for letting them know that.

I went on to the pitch to interview Kenny Dalglish [the Liverpool manager]. I asked him a question, which he answered. He then paused for ages. So I said: “Do you think the match should be replayed?” He replied: “I haven’t finished yet.” I felt so small. I spoke with Graham Kelly [the FA chief executive]. I can’t remember what he said.

The police took a party of journalists to the Leppings Lane End. We saw the crush barriers, so thick but all mangled. What force could have done that? Then into the tunnel, where people had died. It was silent. No one said anything. Not until we came out did people start talking again.

When it was happening, the Forest fans had been restless. They didn’t know. I saw a guy carried out and put down in front of them. He was given the kiss of life. He sat up, he was OK. The fans applauded.

I went to a press conference at the police headquarters in Sheffield. They were saying 50 had died, maybe 60. I’d thought it was about ten. Returning to the newsroom at Radio Nottingham in the evening, a colleague said to me: “Well done, that was brilliant. It sounded really good.”

I remember thinking how it had been anything but brilliant. It had been the worst day of my life. I dropped off my equipment, handed over the tapes, then went home. I felt emotionally drained.

We won a New York radio academy award for live coverage of a breaking story but we didn’t go to collect it. It’s not the sort of thing you want to win an award for. What were we going to do? Hold it above our heads and celebrate?

I’d not listened to the commentary again until last week. We went to report on a football match and ended up reporting on a tragedy.

Jeremy Nicholas was talking to Russell Kempson

Sound decision

jem-at-ecademy

I’ve just missed out on a speaking job for a bizarre reason.

It was to compere the end of season dinner for a well known English football club.
(Not West Ham, but not one of our rivals, so stop looking at me like that, it was a paid gig!)

They contacted me. I gave them a quote and they gave the job to someone else.

I never mind missing out because someone has undercut me on price. But that wasn’t the reason.

It turns out the chap who got the gig, has his own sound system. He turns up with microphone, amplifier and speakers.

It’s always disappointing not to get a job, but I’ve no plans to become a roadie just yet. I used to be the face of football on Channel 5 you know, till my hair fell out. So I won’t be buying a transit van just yet.

Now where’s that box set of Saxondale?

Picture courtesy of Dianna Bonner

The face of David Beckham on a melon

A man has been carving the heads of footballers onto melons, in support of the England team at the World Cup.

Come with me as I visit the studio of the melon artist.

Watch out for my impressions of Steven Gerrard, Rio Ferdinand and David Beckham.