Sport on the wireless – a timeless pleasure

Ok, so it’s not strictly a timeless pleasure, but listening to sport on the radio creates an historical connection to some of the great sporting events of the 20th century. Louis v Schmelling; Bradman and Miller; cricket tours on the other side of the world, Olympics and World Cups of multiple sports.

Boxing and cricket work very well on the radio because there’s only so much movement to describe. Boxing is two individuals in a small ring and cricket is essentially individual confrontation in a team context. Tennis is similar, as is golf. Tension and atmosphere can be built on radio that TV doesn’t quite manage because the commentators define what we understand. The roar of the crowd needs a commentator to provide context, as Mike Costello does so well with boxing and also athletics. I sat in the car listening to his mesmerising commentary on Mo Farrah’s 5k win in the London Olympics, smacking the steering wheel with excitement. Then there’s the silence before a put followed by a roar at the Ryder cup. It’s even better if its late at night, broadcast from America.

The rapid movement of 22 footballers can be impossible to accurately describe without pictures, although I’ve listened to great matches and often watch a game with radio commentary on. Rugby is the same; a game defined by the ref’s interpretation demands pictures, but Iain Robertson is one of my favourite sports commentators and his description of England’s World Cup win was vastly superior to ITVs.

Then there’s the monster. Test Match Special. It’s been the background to my summers for about 30 years. You realise you’re getting older when you’ve been through a number of generations of commentators. Johnners, Bearders and the Major are probably commentating on Larwood bowling to Bradman somewhere. The current crop do a great job, and for all the wider stuff about cake, its very much about cricket. It’s ball by ball commentary. Unlike a day at the test, you won’t miss anything. It also saved my sanity, trying to comfort my little son at 0400, listening to tms.

I’m looking forward to the game starting in 10 mins. I’m feeling shattered because I stayed up listening to the Froch v Kessler fight. Sport on the radio has been a constant all my life, a burble in the background that I occasionally get turn up and properly listen to. I inherited this from my dad and Kirsty from her mum. I see no reason Aidan won’t take it on as well.

As a one time history student, i find this historical progression pleasing. Not as joyful as the excitement of the Froch fight last night, more the quiet happiness of doing what I’ve just done; flicking the dial to BBC 5 Live Sports Extra and hearing a muted round of applause, with Jonathan Agnew’s Leicester inflected RP accent; “flicked away by Swann to fine leg, that’s his first run of the day”.


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