Kenny Wolstenholme’s iconic ‘They think it’s all over…” in 1966.
Martin Tyler’s ‘Agueroooooo!’ in the dying moments of the 2011/12 Premier League season.
Craig Foster’s emotional cry of ‘Johnny Warren’ as Australia ended a near 32 year wait for a World Cup Qualification.
Instantly recognisable, these simple words have become imbued with the power to transport us back to some of football’s most iconic moments; a demonstration of the power of great commentary.
Kick360 were joined by Simon Hill, a man so synonymous with the craft in Australia that he earned the moniker ‘The Voice of Football’, to draw back the curtain on the unseen and intense world of the football commentator.
“It’s a very misunderstood process I think.” Says Hill.
“One of the questions I get asked most often is ‘what do you do the rest of the week?’, which suggests that people think we just turn up on a Saturday or Sunday? There is a lot of prep that goes in to it.
“I know the A-League teams very well, as I’ve called the games for 15 years and it’s only a small league too, so you’re pretty much across every player… however, I still put a full working day in to an A-League game, possibly more.
“Sometimes you’ll speak to coaches, to players, to press officers to find out the latest news, injuries, transfer news… I’ll go through every team on a player by player basis to make sure I’m up to scratch with every scrap of information I can glean.”
The 90 minutes of action we get on a Saturday afternoon represents the tip of the iceberg; with commentators spending much of the week leading up to game day completing in-depth research.
“I keep my own stats, I subscribed up until this season, for many, many years to soccercommentator.com, which is run by a guy called Steve Banyard in the UK, it’s a great site where essentially you can put your own information and update it on a weekly basis. Over the months and years you can build up quite a detailed statistical database, that was always the basis for my prep for a domestic game.
“Normally I would do two games a weekend, so that’s two x two days prep, that’s four days of your week gone… and then you may be travelling interstate or at least, up the motorway here to Newcastle or Central Coast. Then I’d be doing other stuff like podcasts and written articles, so it’s pretty full on during the football season. You very rarely get a day off.”
While A-League games represented Hill’s bread and butter, other clashes posed a different challenge.
“For an international game, or an Asian Champions League game, or an FFA Cup tie, games with teams that you might not be as familiar with, it might take a bit more time, because you have to familiarise yourself with players and positions and backgrounds, particularly in things like the FFA Cup what they do for a living as they’re not full time footballers, speaking to coaches to find out what system they play… it’s a pretty intensive process, but one that I enjoy.
“If you’re calling in the Asian Cup, a team like North Korea… that’s a real challenge because there ain’t a lot of stuff online about North Korea, and nor are you going to get to talk to the coach or the players, so that can be challenging.”
From speaking to journalists in far flung lands to making the most of Australia’s multicultural makeup, sometimes a commentator will have to resort to unorthodox methods to prepare for games like this.
“Pronunciations are a big thing too, we’re lucky here in Sydney that we’ve got quite a multicultural community. I called Vietnam once at an Asian Cup, and before I went overseas, I made sure I got a list of all the names and went down to my local Vietnamese supermarket and literally asked them to tell me how to say it out loud.
“90% of your audience probably don’t know the difference, and maybe 60% of them don’t care, but I think it’s respectful to that nation and those players to try and get it right. You’re not always going to get it right, and you’re always going to make a mistake… but you can try your best to pay your respects [in that way] and learn a word or two of the language.
“I think that’s part of our job, to be mindful of not just the home nation, and in Australia we can be a little one eyed when it comes to that.”
Hill has enjoyed an incredible career, commentating on the sports’ biggest stages for almost three decades. During that time, he has witnessed immense change in the role.
“Social media, and the digital revolution as a whole, has changed the job immensely. When I started back in 1991, my office at Red Dragon in Cardiff had the old finger typewriter and a landline telephone, and the breaking stories came through a telex machine from London, chugging away in the corner making a terrible noise.
“Things have changed, particularly in terms of preparing for games. Back when I started calling games in the early 90s, if I wanted information I would ring the club on the landline and ask them to fax over pen pictures of the players and our stats references were the Rothman’s Year Books! It sounds archaic now, but I did that for years… these days the plus side is you have so much information available at your fingertips that you should never go in to a game unprepared, there’s no excuse.”
But while technological innovation has in many ways made things easier for commentators, it has its dark sides too.
“The flip side of that is everybody has that information too, so If you make a mistake, they let you know about it.
“Social media can be a challenge. I stayed away from social media for many, many years. I only went on Twitter in late 2019, because I felt I had a voice at the time at FOX Sports. If I wanted to say something about football, I could write an article.
“For the most part I’ve enjoyed it, but there are times when you’re calling games, you can get a lot of abuse which is not pleasant. Football commentary is a bit like refereeing, you can never win. You’re always biased to one team or the other, which is not true, but you can’t convince people… you can understand why some people really struggle with that.”
While being paid to travel the globe and watch football almost sounds like a dream come true, the reality is not quite as simple.
“It’s different here in many respects. If you’re doing a game for example, in Adelaide, you’re getting on a plane. You’re not popping down the motorway, parking your car then going home for dinner at night. That makes it here a very long day.
“If I was to do a game in Adelaide which was an evening kick off, I’d be on a midday flight, land half one, two in the afternoon, you’d drive to your hotel and check in. One you’ve got to your hotel, you’d perhaps have time for a cup of tea and a sit down to read the paper, then you’re out to the stadium because you need to be there an hour or two before kick off.
“Game kicks off at seven, you won’t get off air until probably half past nine, ten o clock… by the time you get back to the hotel it’s 11 and very often you’ve not eaten, so you have to go out and find a bite to eat, so they’re pretty long days. Then the next day I might be flying to Brisbane to do the same thing all over again. It can be pretty intensive.”
This intensive travel schedule and lack of normality in routine can be both physically and mentally draining.
“When you’re doing a game, you’re in such an intense zone of concentration for that 90 minutes, it takes you a long time afterwards to come down from it afterwards. You’re almost in a different headspace. I can’t really put words to it. You’re in a completely different mental space that cuts you off… I often find it difficult to sleep after calling a game.
“It’s the best job in the world, and I wouldn’t swap it for anything, but you can be on the road eight, nine months a year pretty much, especially when you throw in internationals.
“Not only are your sleeping patterns disrupted through travel and the concentration thing I’ve spoken about, but your eating habits, unless you’re very, very careful. Quite often you’re eating from garages late at night, or you’re having takeaway food, or you’re going to the local pizza restaurant because it’s late and it’s the only thing open. Unless you’re physically disciplined enough to prepare yourself a tuna salad to take interstate, and I’m just not, it’s not necessarily a healthy lifestyle.
“Then, a lot of the times to help me sleep, I’ll often go out for a beer or two, because that’s what works for me.
“It’s not the greatest lifestyle, but one I wouldn’t change.”
For many, being paid to travel the globe to watch football matches from the best seat in the house would be a dream come true.
When speaking to Hill, you can tell he is no different. He’s been living his dream for years.
But with the solitary hours of research, the nomadic life on the road, the disruption of sleep and eating patters, that dream comes at a price.
That’s what a commentator does the rest of the week…