Rob Williams reports on football commentary work experience.

16th March 2011

I’ve always found work experience a daunting period of time.
When I was 15, I spent a week with the caretaker of a Squash Club, wiping courts, clearing litter and pulling pints. It was bearable until the second day when he found out my name was Robert Williams, after which the caretaker proceeded to shout ‘ANGELS’ in my face at every opportunity. His wit was wasted in that place.

A year later, I was shadowing the editor of the local free newspaper. He spent most of his day sneakily sending flirty instant messages to a mysterious woman called ‘Gwen’, whilst I sat behind him pretending to file his post. Interestingly, I met his wife on my last day there. She wasn’t called Gwen.

My experiences of work shadowing have never been boring, but I’ve always been aware that the men I shadowed were flawed human beings, and not shining examples to aspire towards. And that made my experience this week even more daunting.

On Tuesday I had the opportunity to shadow a man who is a stalwart of local radio. Colin Slater has been commentating on the fortunes of Notts County for over 50 years, taking in over 2000 matches. Coming into his 78th year, Colin shows no signs of slowing down. In 2001 he was awarded an MBE for his work within the Football Association, and combines his relentless radio schedule with his role as Deputy Chairman of the Nottingham Bench of Magistrates, and his seat within the Church of England General Synod. For Colin, the Saga holidays will have to wait.

On the drive down to the game, I nervously quizzed Colin about County’s prospects for the game ahead against Peterborough. Even sat in his car, it was clear I was playing the summariser role in the conversation, punctuating his long, beautifully crafted sentences with weak attempts at comedy. There was no getting around it: I’d become Mark Lawrenson for the evening.

As we walked into the ground, Colin was warmly greeted by besuited players such as former Chelsea left back John Harley and veteran defender Graeme Lee, as I walked behind. The staff in reception were clearly wondering who I was, a boy with an ill fitting suit and no visitor’s badge, but I reckon Colin could bring Osama Bin Laden as his guest of honour, and the staff would still trust his judgement.
What was really impressive was the way Colin addressed every staff member by name, from the waiters who served the pre match meal to the club’s directors, who jockeyed to speak to him. This is clearly a man who prioritises the correct details in his personal life as well as in his commentating.

After dinner, we sat down alongside the commentary team from Radio Cambridgeshire, who also seemed genuinely pleased to see Colin. The countdown began until Colin needed to do his first link live on the radio. In the car, Colin had told me he was supposed to script his links, but had not had time before tonight’s game. But when the time came, Colin simply put on his headphones and produced a flawless link befitting of Radio 4’s ‘Just a Minute’: no hesitation, repetition or deviation.

Before the game, Colin had told me how important it was for the commentator to paint a picture for the listener. And as I sat through a freezing night at Meadow Lane, with little quality on show from either team on the field, it was Colin’s eloquence and professionalism which shone through. After the final whistle had gone and the post-match interviews conducted, I was sure of the standard to aim for if you want to work in radio. At last, here was work experience with someone to aspire towards.

But I still didn’t tell him my full name was Robert Williams. Just in case.

Rob Williams