Interview With Gary Taphouse, Football Commentator
The voice of football commentator Gary Taphouse will be very familiar if you watch a lot of Premier League football matches on TV.
His unmistakable voice has graced plenty of EPL commentaries as well as World Cup qualifiers, Chelsea radio and much more.
If you’re interested in what a life is like for a football commentator, read on.
The Gaffer (TG): Growing up, who were the football commentators that you idolized?
Gary Taphouse (GT): Although I watched a lot of football on TV growing up, I only really started taking notice of commentators during the 1990 World Cup in Italy. I would listen carefully to their commentaries and think “what a fascinating job”. I loved listening to John Motson and Brian Moore at their peak, but for me Barry Davies was a cut above the rest – I hugely admired his honesty, vocabulary and genuine passion for the game, which he expressed in the most erudite way. I’m very lucky now that I work in sport myself to have met him on several occasions. One time I was covering a Chelsea Champions League game in Slovakia for radio. He was there for BBC TV and joined a small group of us for dinner the night before the game. As the wine flowed, I bombarded him with tedious questions about his time behind the microphone and even though I’m sure he wished he was sitting at the other end of the table, he answered all of them with great humility and seemed genuinely interested in my own fledgling career. The other commentator I have always admired greatly is Martin Tyler. Again, working for Sky, I’m lucky to have met Martin many times – in fact he lives about a mile away from me – and even though he is a broadcasting legend, he has frequently gone out of him way to help me.
TG: What are your memories from the first football match you ever attended?
GT: Like many youngsters, the thing that struck me most was the size of the stadium when we emerged from the back of the stand. And that was at Selhurst Park, which has a capacity of only 28,000!
TG: How did you get your start as a football commentator?
GT: I think it’s always easier to get ahead in a certain career if you know that’s what you want to do from a fairly early age. I always worked towards doing a journalism degree, which was in the wonderful seaside town of Bournemouth. In my final year I met a cameraman who worked for a local production company. They filmed all of AFC Bournemouth’s home games which were then sold individually and put together for the end of season video. The guy that commentated on the matches was also one of the club’s vice-presidents and wasn’t always available so I was asked if I fancied giving it a go. What an opportunity – I ended up doing an entire season on that little gantry at Dean Court, which has now been completely rebuilt of course. It was unpaid work but I couldn’t get enough and I was left in no doubt that this was what I wanted to do for a living. After leaving university I started work on my local newspaper when another good stroke of fortune came along. Crystal Palace were launching their own matchday radio service and as a local reporter I was invited to the launch. I quickly enquired about commentating opportunities, again unpaid, and ended up staying there several years. From there it was on to a London radio station for my first paid broadcast and eventually TV, although it’s still early days for me.
TG: What’s the biggest misconception about being a football commentator?
GT: There are two: the first is that it’s easy! From the moment you put the headphones on, the director is talking to you while you’re commentating. He or she will be talking about which close-ups or replays are coming up next. Equally you can request shots by talking to the director off air so you always have to be thinking ahead. Also the amount of preparation that goes into a commentary is extraordinary – probably 70 per cent of it you won’t even use but you need to have in-depth facts and stats about every single player in the squad. The second misconception is that it’s terribly glamorous. Many TV gantries are far from inviting places. Some are accessed by the most frightening ladders which would terrify vertigo sufferers; others are covered in pigeon droppings!
TG: How difficult is it remain objective when you’re commentating on your favorite team?
GT: Not hard at all to be honest. Once you pick up that microphone your only concern is the commentary.
TG: Which match has been the pinnacle of your career thus far?
GT: From a TV perspective, it would have to be Portsmouth 7-4 Reading, the highest-scoring game in Premier League history. It wasn’t a stand-out fixture before kick off, but you couldn’t ask for better entertainment. I’ve covered Chelsea and Arsenal, but only in low scoring games. In terms of radio, I was lucky enough to be at the Champions League final in Moscow between Chelsea and Manchester United – what an occasion.
TG: What are TWI Studio’s facilities like in west London?
GT: Superb. A lot better than the view of the Chiswick flyover when you look out of the window!
TG: What are the disadvantages of commentating from a studio compared to being at the actual football match?
GT: Obviously you have no control over the pictures so you are at the mercy of the host broadcaster. One thing you dread is a close-up of someone in the stand when you have no idea who it is! Sometimes you have an agonising wait to get the team line-ups. Occasionally the picture disappears! The good thing is that there are no crowds to fight through after the match.
TG: How many hours of research do you do before a match?
GT: Depends who’s playing. If it’s two teams I’m not very familiar with, I will spend many many hours watching footage and reading up obscure facts about each player. For a Premier League game it’s more a question of updating the facts and stats I already have – but still many hours. Relatively speaking, I’m fairly new and very junior, but you quickly realise that most commentators are pretty fastidious and like to have everything exactly right before a game.
TG: What haven’t you achieved in your career thus far that you’ve always wanted to do?
GT: I haven’t been around very long (my first TV commentary was in 2005) so where do I start? I’ve covered huge games for radio – now the challenge is to try and cover some of them for TV.
TG: What’s the most interesting fact about you that your listeners would be surprised to hear?
GT: I’ve spent ages thinking about this question and have come to the conclusion that beyond being a football commentator I’m not a very interesting person as I can’t think of a single thing!