Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The story of how it came to be.... PART 3

Into the (relatively) unknown

I was never any good at actually playing football. I had a spell when I was 15/16 where I was a decent defender, but the times when I actually believed I could make it as a pro; it was merely through hope then ability. However, I always felt comfortable talking about the game and I don't just mean sitting in the pub with a bunch of mates ripping into a bad player, but actually analyzing a tactical approach. I had now gotten to a stage where I was comfortable on the air. Why wouldn't I be.... I'd learnt from some of the best (yet under rated) football broadcasters in the country and added it to something i'd always had; complete and utter determination.

So, as I said in the last post. It was Christmas eve 2010 and I was sat by the fire, cup of tea in hand, the cat was stretched out alongside me as I was going through my research for the game I was covering on boxing day. It was late, maybe 10/11pm and I had soon planned on going to bed and waking up to celebrate Christmas with my family. Then, an e-mail popped up in my inbox. It was from a team in Major League Soccer. I opened the e-mail with a sense of hesitation and almost confusion. This is what it said -

I received your resume from the Major League Soccer headquarters. We are potentially interested in hiring a new announcer for our television broadcasts and love to speak with you about that.
Do you have time next week or the following week for a quick chat?

Now, i'd love to tell you who this team is, but for their sake I really can't. All I can say is that it was a Western Conference team that had sent me this e-mail. 

My mind was obviously blown away. I had no idea how they'd gotten hold of my resume/CV or how they'd heard my voice (still to this day don't know). My best guess is that someone at MLS HQ had heard my voice online through the BBC somehow or through a feed of some of the games i'd done at PERFORM. Maybe somebody at the BBC or a recipient of an old e-mail of mine had passed it along. Who knew! Either way after we had that 'quick chat' it was clear that moving across to the USA was a very real possibility. 

I was always familiar with MLS. Especially after David Beckham made the move to LA Galaxy. I knew it was a league that was still growing and a league that had always had tons of potential. I remember lying in bed 1 morning after downloading the MLS match day app and watching the highlights of the play offs a month or so before any of this had happened. I saw Edson Buddle volley a shot from 35 yards past Kasey Keller in front of a huge crowd in Seattle. I obviously did my research into how things worked over there. Things were so different! The trades, the drafts, the separate conferences and of course, the TV/radio coverage! We'll get more in depth with that a little later but 1 thing I did notice was that I recognized a name who was broadcasting over there; Arlo White. I remember speaking to Chalres Runcie (who as i've previously mentioned helped me at the BBC) and asking his opinion on the whole thing. "Do it!" he said. "Why not? Even if you just go out there for a year it'll be something to add to your CV". We then had a long conversation about possibilities at the BBC. BBC Sport was moving up to Manchester in a year and a lot of people wouldn't be moving from London, which of course meant more opportunities. Charles said that my name had been mentioned in many conversations he'd had with various editors and producers. I was in a good spot, did I really need to do this? Risk everything and leave all that I knew behind for 'soccer'. I kept it fairly quiet, asking the opinion of only those who I trusted. Charles mentioned that he knew Arlo was over in Seattle and it'd be a good idea to talk to him. Arlo responded swiftly to my e-mail and said many things. The most important line was 'I can highly recommend life in MLS'. A line which I have repeated to many who've asked. Arlo directed me to a few websites and links so I could get an idea of what the role of 'the voice' of a team would be. I saw a lot of his commentary for the Sounders, a lot of web pieces/features and travel. Whilst several people were telling me I was "mad to be even considering leaving the BBC", 1 thing was clear, I fancied this. 

Waiting for WBA manager Roberto Di Matteo for
ITV Central
Whilst everything continued to happen in the background, I continued to thoroughly enjoy my work in England. Again the freelance work kept on coming in, to the point where I had to turn down work. I was e-mailing back and forth with the MLS club as we both tried to get things moving. However after 2 weeks or so, we hit a snag. I was informed that the club didn't want to move forward because they didn't believe they could get the visa done in time.

I remember feeling really disappointed. I had this vision of me heading over to the USA and really getting stuck in to life in MLS. However, I understood, thanked them and on we went. Before we parted ways I asked the guy i'd been dealing with, who'd given them my details as I wanted to thank them for putting me in touch. Turns out it was the head of MLS TV broadcasting Larry Tiscornia at MLS HQ who had given them my details. I e-mailed him to thank him. A few days later he'd e-mailed back and told me of the bad TV situation with 'that club'. He told me to e-mail several other teams in the league that he thought might be interested. So I did, I thought, 
"why not". I e-mailed the 3 places he told me to. The 1 club said they liked my audio but were all set for TV for 2011. The other 2 I didn't get a response from. Which was fine. I was perfectly happy continuing to grow with the BBC and carry on my work in England. Once again, I e-mailed Larry to say thanks. I also e-mailed Arlo to thank him. He responded "Keep at them, play a bit of long ball with this one". 

A week or so passed and i'd covered a game or 2, attended a press conference or 2, just like i'd been doing. I remember I got home from a press conference at Derby County and received another e-mail from Larry saying "Do me a favor and e-mail somebody at Kansas City". I responded saying (and I mean this with all due respect)... "Larry, where the *#*# is Kansas City?!". I e-mailed 1 or 2 people at the club that he told me to. I remember not having any idea why I was suppose to e-mail them, but either way, here I was sending an e-mail with my CV/Resume and an audio clip. A few days passed, no response came, I thought nothing of it.  I was quite comfortable carrying on doing what I was doing and was going through some research during a week night in preparation for the weekend's game. Then, I woke up 1 morning and as per usual, i'd check my e-mails even before i'd get out of bed. I found this waiting for me - 


I hope this note finds you well.  I wanted to follow up on your email to us to see what you are looking for in the way of a situation if you were to come to the United States to work as our play-by-play announcer.  I am not sure what I am going to do but I want to do my due diligence…also, do you have longer samples?

It was the people from Kansas City. I responded and gave them a few more examples and we continued to exchange e-mails and ideas. After a day or 2, Chris sent me this - 


I played the clips for several people in our office, including our President, and we are very impressed.
We are very serious about this possibility.  We would be interested in having you as a fulltime member of our staff, assuming we can work out the immigration issues.  Nothing is done, and there are hurdles, but I expect to call you in the morning and discuss further.
During all this I was still enjoying reporting for the BBC
Which we did. This all now seemed fairly bizarre but 1 thing was clear. Sporting Kansas City wanted to get this done. The club then asked me to commentate on a Wizards game from last season vs Houston Dynamo. A guy named Jake Yadrich posted a Youtube link for me to commentate on. I did about 10 minutes and sent it off. It all seemed very real when Chris started using phrases such as, "we can decide when you get here". Also when I was sending passport documents and other bits of paperwork needed to get the visa done quickly. Thats the 1 thing that I always remember about that particular process. The team I spoke to previously seemed to give up fairly easily when they realized there would be hurdles. I even arranged to meet them when they were coming to England for a few training sessions. But the difference with Sporting KC was unreal. It was clear that they really wanted to do this and were giving it more then their best efforts to make it happen. That in itself was a major turn on. 
I remember driving up to a game outside Manchester at Bury FC and e-mailing with Chris to get documents over to him. It all seemed like a last minute rush, which is exactly what it was. I'd now most certainly gotten the taste for this and was impressed with everything Chris had told me. I was already sold on the fact that they wanted to make it happen so badly but the fact that i'd be their lead guy in front of camera every game was obviously appealing as well. I honestly believed that with the re-brand and the stadium move there was a genuine chance to make Sporting KC the most viewed club in MLS that year and I think me saying that also went down well. Weeks passed and again we continued to exchange information and Chris did a great job in keeping me informed with what was going on and also told me stories of his MLS experience alongside discussions of TV ideas for 2011. 

Notts County - Chesterfield

5 weeks after our initial conversation via e-mail and the phone call we shared that night I was in London getting my Visa. I've been through many terrifying experiences in my life, but that day was up there. Nerve-racking is an understatement as to how I felt that day. However, once my number was called, I was stamped and ready to go within 20 minutes (This is after being told to fill in the paper work again because i'd done it wrong earlier). I remember texting Chris and the lawyer that we'd been using to say it was done and almost as soon as the visa was done, so was my signed contract for the 2011 season. I'll be totally honest here, I was very excited to do this, but my initial plan was to go out to the USA for a year and then come back to work for the BBC in Manchester. Either way, the BBC took a step towards the back of my mind that day as I broke the news to friends and family that I hadn't told. The news was greeted with mixed reaction. Several people were delighted for me and said it was a 'great opportunity'. But others, many at the BBC thought it was a mistake. I remember 1 individual coming up to me and saying, "what on earth are you doing mate! You're a young, well thought of reporter, theres no need to go and risk everything". 

Right place, right time
Its often the saying from people who have had success in this industry. To a certain extent its true and I suppose it was for me. Sporting needed a commentator, I happened to pop up into the conversation at the right time. However, when I think of 'right place, right time', I think of Kansas City and the way soccer has exploded into a mainstream thought on peoples mind's here. 
I remember breaking the news to my boss at BBC Radio Sheffield, Paul. "IN THE USA! Crikey!" Was his response. I knew he needed me to stay on for a few more weeks. To be honest I was hopeful he'd let me continue so i'd not lose any sharpness. He was very respectful and was delighted I had the opportunity. I had a few more games for the BBC and it was nice because I got to say bye to several people. It was also nice that Chesterfield FC gave me a nice little send off also -
That was an emotional day. But I had such happy memories covering that team and working for BBC Radio Sheffield on most weekends. I was young, 21 at the time and had been doing this for 6 years. I noticed on the internet reporters had started writing articles about a 'new voice for Sporting KC' and how the club had 'opted for a euro flavor'. I was told not to speak to anyone who wanted an interview and I must admit it was all quite a lot to take in. Commentators don't really get that sort of attention in England (unless you're a Martin Tyler or Ian Darke). That was something I had to adapt to. 
Last game for the BBC
I started preparing myself for a new life in the USA. Saying goodbye was the hardest part of it all. I was leaving behind the life i'd grown up with, the life I knew, the life i'd worked so hard to get. My last game for the BBC came away at Crewe Alexandre. I bumped into the BBC Radio Stoke sports editor, Graham who after learning about me leaving for the USA was quick to compliment me and said some very nice things. I'll never forget him saying "I nearly had you lad, best of luck to you". 

Paul, my boss at BBC Radio Sheffield had asked me who I thought would be a good replacement after I left. He certainly wasn't short of options but I remember telling him that Paul (the Chesterfield website commentator) would be great. 
Myself with the new BBC correspondent Paul Fisher
at the end of my final game

I remember packing everything, saying goodbye to people that i'd seen almost everyday of my life. But I was ready, ready for an adventure. Little did I know what was awaiting me across the pond, but I would most certainly land in the right place, at the right time.....

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The story of how it came to be.... PART 2

 Into the fire

Everyone wants to get involved in football; especially at a young age. I was 1 of many naive enough to actually believe that 1 day I could go on to be pro. I had dreams and aspirations of playing in front of sold out crowds at Wembley. But instead I found myself at the age of 18, scrambling for any sort of freelance work I could get and finding it very difficult to make ends meat. 

Dad's company
 My Dad had become a very good photographer and it was a service he offered alongside his companies graphics work. He offered me work here and there, where I would travel back and forth with him to different destinations across the UK as his photography assistant. I'd help set up the lights and the on site studio; I learnt a lot and enjoyed it. I did a work placement in a photography studio when I was 15 and i'd always had an interest. I was paid like any other junior would be which gave me more of an opportunity to catch trains and actually have a social life of some sort. I would help dad 2/3 times a month and continued to work for Shropshire's Beacon Radio on the weekend and help out in the studio. A friend of mine said to me "I don't understand why you don't just do that". She had a good point, but I had so much drive in me to do what I actually wanted to do and be involved in football.

Downtown Birmingham
Things were still frustrating for me. However I continued to cover both AFC Telford Utd, Shrewsbury Town and QPR when the schedule allowed me. I remember having an opportunity after a few months to move across to 'Beacon Radio' and provide reports for Walsall FC for the evening. I did so and I remember seeing and meeting quite a few names that i'd been familiar with having listened to football on the radio for a long time. I had been continuing on and quietly doing Ok. I made mistakes, but I was bound to, I was 18 with no real training. The e-mails kept on backfiring, "no thanks, we don't have anything" or "keep it up, you'll get there but we can't offer you anything". I remember doing a commentary for QPR's stadium feed and at the end of the night I spoke to the press officer, Paul, who informed that they'd not be asking me to come back as they'd decided to hire someone for the role. I was left a little frustrated but understood that they'd obviously found someone they deemed better, but i'd gotten what I needed from it; a commentary demo. 

Me, Stu and George about to go on the air at AFC Telford Utd

Like most weeks I went into the studio to help out and i'd previously asked the main commentator (who most weekends covered WBA and Wolves) if he could have a look at my demo. We sat down in a recording studio and he took a look with me. He said some rather horrific thing to me that afternoon; things you just don't forget. "Give it up kid, this just isn't going to happen", he said, alongside several other things. He put me down to the lowest of lows that day and the journey back home was long and unpleasant. 

I received a phone call from Stu the next day. He was fuming with what had been said to me. It was clear the commentator had thought it was a bit of a joke on my behalf and was boasting about it to several fellow employees. Some of which laughed with him i'm sure, but Stu restored some of my confidence (which was destroyed at this moment) and told me of some national commentators that had asked who I was and were full of praise for my work. Saturday came and I found myself on a train to Derby where i'd be covering AFC Telford Utd away at Alfreton Town. I received a phone call from Stu. We were due to have full commentary on Shrewsbury Town that afternoon but for some reason the equipment wasn't working. Stu explained this to me and also said "we need you to do full commentary today". I was full of excitement, my 1st ever radio commentary. Yes i'd done stuff for QPR, but that was stadium feed and website if I was lucky. This was my 1st genuine radio commentary and I couldn't wait to get on the air. 

Things started to pick up. 
My commentary was fine and although I listen back now and cringe, at the time it got the job done. I was alongside AFC Telford Utd super fan Rob Palin and we both enjoyed the afternoon. We would soon return to Alfreton Town and commentate again, this time it was in the play off semi finals. AFC Telford Utd went on to advance, which once again presented another opportunity...
Alfreton Town's main stand and the scene of my 1st commentary

It also became apparent that Shrewsbury Town were on a bit of a play off run in League 2 and they got a big win away at Rotherham Utd.... 

Both teams ended up in the play off final in their respective leagues and I was there for both. My 1st year as a commentator/reporter and i'd be give the opportunity to be involved in 2 play off finals. George and I split commentary with Rob Palin up north at Gateshead where AFC Telford would loose 1-0 and fail to gain promotion to the Blue Square Premier. The other play off final was at Wembley! I didn't get to commentate, the game was much to big for a mere 18 year old. The main Wolves and WBA commentators came in for it. However, George and I provided plenty of material pre game talking to fans and getting plenty of build up. 

The Beacon Radio team on Wembley Way

I had major up and down moments whilst with Beacon Radio but i'd certainly learned a lot and gained more confidence and composure on the air. I also learn at times you require 'steel skin' in this industry. I look back on my time there with fond memories however. Especially that play off weekend and our award winning coverage with very little sleep but lots of fun with Stu and George. I owe a lot to those lads. George taught me so much as a commentator as did Stu who I especially owe a big thank you for keeping faith and sticking with me when I was so young. 

For those wondering, Stu has actually just launched his own radio station and is the main man at 'Stafford FM' which I highly recommend you check out. George for the past 2 years has been the main commentator for Signal Radio's Stoke City coverage in the EPL and continues to dazzle the listening audiences in the midlands. I look forward to the next time I see those boys. I owe them so much. 

I received a phone call during the off season from Stu saying that Beacon Radio wasn't going to be covering football anymore due to financial reasons. However, what was around the corner for me, most certainly came as a welcomed surprise.... 

A new chapter

It was 2009 on a mid week summer afternoon. I'd not long got in from a kick around with the lads and my phone rang. "Hello, is that Callum? This is James Bond here" (seriously, this happened). I started to laugh and quickly responded, "alright, who's pulling my leg". James responded "Callum, this is James Bond, sports editor at BBC Radio Shropshire". I responded, "oh... really?! What can I do for you?". For those of you reading and still laughing, yes, his name really is James Bond and this most certainly wasn't a prank call. Although, I do chuckle to myself at times thinking about this day. James responded with, "well, actually I think its more what we can do for you". A few months before that i'd applied for a training course with the BBC and applied at BBC Radio Shropshire as well as several other local radio BBC outputs. Shropshire was a market I was familiar with after covering AFC Telford Utd and Shrewsbury Town for the past 8 months. James informed me that out of several hundred applicants i'd been chosen to join BBC Radio Shropshire for a 5 month training course (which i'd be paid a little for also). James quickly boosted my confidence even more, "We were very impressed with your application and experience but actually we are more then familiar with your work at Beacon (radio) and would be delighted if you'd join us for the next few months". Obviously I accepted. "Great!" he said, "we'll see you Monday morning". A few hours passed and my phone rang again. "Hi there is this Callum? Its Paul Walker here from BBC Radio Sheffield". I had no idea what to say other then, "Hi there, what can I do for you?". Come on, it worked last time! Paul continued, "sorry mate, I've had a nightmare, its been so busy with (Sheffield) United and Wednesday and their season. I saw your e-mail a few months ago". I'd obviously continued to e-mail day in day out to see if there were any opportunities anywhere in the country. "Callum, we actually need a reporter to cover Chesterfield in League 2 at the moment and I was wondering if you'd be interested in that". I remember speaking to my Dad about it. I'd also received a phone call from Stu at Beacon that day saying that there was a possibility that they might be covering football after all and I would be given much more of an opportunity to commentate. My head was all over the place. In the end after an hour or so of thinking, how on earth could I turn down a proper reporting gig with the BBC. I accepted and all of a sudden within an afternoon my professional life had turned upside down. 

Before I could start my work I was sent down to Bristol for a 2 day training course (BBC Blast was what it was called) with the BBC and about 70 other people who'd been chosen for their regional station. The 1 thing which I did notice was how many people were shocked that i'd not attended university and gotten to this stage and that i'd already got a regular reporting gig. I met some good people that day, many of who have gone off to do separate things away from sports reporting but some have done very well. I'd learnt during this time that a man called Charles Runcie had recommended that I be on the program (I'd e-mail Charles even before i'd joined Beacon Radio). Charles was and still is the head of regional sport for the BBC. He was aware that i'd been picked up but thought this would be a good opportunity to continue to learn. There are many, many people I need to thank for how far i've come and Charles is right up there. He gave me the push into the BBC that I needed and we keep in touch as often as possible.

I remember heading up to the studio’s at BBC Radio Sheffield. I was given my very own ISND kit (which was a 1st) plus a BBC jacket to make me feel even better about myself. Paul introduced me to the sports team of Andy, Seth and Rob (as 'the young lad') and several others around the office, "he's only a pup" he said. I was 19 and the youngest reporter in the country for the BBC at that time. Signing the paperwork made it all very real. It was a casual contract (which means I would be called upon when needed) but it was a contract none the less with the BBC. 

BBC Radio Sheffield newsroom with Paul and Andy
I headed down to Torquay Utd (on the south west coast of England) for my 1st game and the start of the season. I remember meeting several of the journalist people who cover the team that day. Paul Fisher, the club and website commentator, Phil Tooley, local newspaper journalist and 'Mr. Chesterfield FC' himself. I also met a lad called Chris who was there commentating for the local radio station 'Peak FM'. He seemed to be having trouble getting a connection and was scrambling through all sorts of wires and equipment. I couldn't stand to watch so I gave him the wire he needed and helped him get connected. I couldn't help but think of that horrific day i'd had in Bournemouth last year and spotted the similarities. What i'd have done for some help that day. Jay and Sinead, who produced the show were in my ear and gave me cues as to when i'd be going live. I was only providing reports (as I did most of my time at BBC Radio Sheffield) into the main show. Usually the likes of Sheffield Wednesday, United or Barnsley would be the main commentary and the fans of teams such as Rotherham Utd and Chesterfield would be updated through regular reports. We'd commentate off the air regardless so the producers would have some audio to use throughout the show. I always enjoyed commentary but reports were good fun as well, particularly as i'd be reporting for both BBC Radio Sheffield and BBC Radio Derby (due to Chesterfield's geographic location). For those wondering, thats when I 1st crossed paths with a lad called Ross Fletcher (now the voice of Seattle Sounders) who would be commentating on Derby County. I remember getting my 1st report out of the way and felt it went well. Not to long into the game Torquay Utd scored and my commentary was something along the lines of "Rendell with the header! Inside the 6 yard box doing his due diligence on his debut for Torquay Utd!". Jay, the produce said in my ear, "good, very good, well done mate". I remember leaving Plainmoor (the stadium) pleased with my efforts. I went on to continue and learn from my time at the BBC. Paul, my boss would call me once a week to go over how he thought I did and give me advice. For me that was huge at that point in my career. Paul was and still is to this day the best local BBC Radio commentator and he would often be called up to national radio (BBC Radio 5Live) and national TV. To have someone like that showing me the ropes put me in a very good place. 


James Bond gave me a
way into the BBC
I continued my work during the week with BBC Radio Shropshire also. James and his fellow sports journalist Nick Southall would always make sure I had things to do. I remember heading to the AFC Telford Utd press day with both James and Nick before their season started. It was nice to be in a familiar setting again, speaking to people i'd interviewed last year. Much to my surprise I saw 2 old friends, George and Stu were there grabbing audio as they'd been told they had 1 more season to cover football at Shropshire's Beacon Radio. I remember having a beer with them over lunch and thoroughly enjoyed the catch up. 

During my BBC travels I ended up back at some
very recognizable places

James involved me in the footballing output much more then I had originally expected and often attended Shrewsbury Town media days and I continued my work up in Sheffield as well. Occasionally but rarely Paul would send me off to cover some of the other teams as well. I remember covering Rotherham Utd and Doncaster Rovers on several occasions but I was still only 19 and big roles were out of the question. I obviously made mistakes, but learnt massively from those errors. There were a few times when an individual would say to me "you have to be better, this isn't silly boy radio anymore". I made myself better in an almost punishing but rewarding way. I dealt with John Sheridan at Chesterfield (some of you may
John Sheridan
recognize the name from his playing days at Sheffield Wednesday with John Harkes). He at times would rub people the wrong way with his hard nosed approach to things. I always seemed to have a fairly good relationship with him and found him fine to work with. 

I had just about finished my time with BBC Radio Shropshire and had been promised work with a company called IMG that are associated with 'Premier League Productions'. PLP as they're known to most are the company that provides English Premier League commentary worldwide. So people like Fox Soccer and now NBC Sports will pick up their commentary feed when they don't have any commentators on site. However, that broke down due to the woman I had dealt with and her resilience to process my details. I was then dealt another blow. I'd spoken with a lad called Graham McGarry at BBC Radio Stoke about some potential freelance work; but there was a problem. "I want you, I do, you're background is already very impressive..... but I just can't pay you". That old nightmare that had haunted me in my previous endeavors has come up again. I had to decline. I even drove to Stoke to have a meeting with Graham but we just couldn't figure it out. 

The 09/10 season was coming to an end and i'd picked up a few lower league freelance gigs around the BBC Radio platform with the likes of BBC Radio Manchester and BBC Radio London. I'd covered Chesterfield for the year as well as filling in here and there elsewhere. It was the final day of the season and Chesterfield after 139 years would be moving to a brand new stadium.
Saltergate 1871 - 2010
Gone were the days of being crammed into a tiny wooden press box with a side helping of spider webs. However, Saltergate had so much character and was 1 of the oldest stadiums remaining in the football league. It was a pleasure to be involved in so much of its last active campaign. I spoke to so many of the Chesterfield fans about their memories of the place. 1 man who said he'd just turned 90 was 2 years old when he came to his 1st Chesterfield game and hadn't missed a home game since! I was covering Burton Albion - Grimsby Town that day and watched Grimsby drop out of the football league for the 1st time in 117 years. Throughout my 1st season with the BBC, I learnt so much, made contacts and gained a reputation of some sort. I remember quite often i'd introduce myself to fellow reporters around the grounds and they'd respond with "ooohh, so you're the 19 year old". People knew me and I couldn't wait for that 2nd season. 

B2Net Stadium
New home of Chesterfield FC

10/11 Season

After once again e-mailing throughout the summer i'd gained a number of new contacts and had started the pre season well with a few match reports for the regular crew. However I was once again struggling for work during the week. I remember getting very, very frustrated and thinking of packing it all in. I was tired, i'd been sending e-mails for the past 6 years. I'd obviously gotten a decent gig but regular work was hard to come by. I often thought, "did I make a mistake not going to university? Do I have to start all over again?". I even told several people that the thought of giving up had crossed my mind. 

Then as if my magic, suddenly things started to change for me. My BBC agreement allowed me to freelance elsewhere and thats exactly what I started doing. I got to the point mid way through the year where I felt quite comfortable. I'd just turned 21 and I was working the
Working down in London
weekends for the BBC whilst helping out throughout other BBC outputs in the week. 
I was also providing audio/interviews for 'Absolute Radio' who'd recently acquired the EPL radio rights. A friend of mine Rob Daly who I'd met covering Chesterfield as he became the new 'peak FM' commentator also gave me a helping hand. He worked as a reporter for a company called 'Perform' who had ties to PLP but also provided outlets with commentary of european games. I'd started to do television commentary, which was great for me. I then landed a gig helping out ITV Central (local TV station in Birmingham) thanks to a lad called Steve Clamp. All this freelance work came in very suddenly and quickly but still, my main source of income and work was the BBC. 

Commentating for 'PERFORM'

My life was busy, I was freelancing all over the place but the 1 thing I kept on enjoying more then anything was covering League 2 football. I once again followed Chesterfield up and down the country and made some good friends along the way. Rob (who had helped me with the gig at PERFORM) who continued his work for 'Peak FM' and also covered Swansea City in the Championship for 'Swansea Sound' and Paul Fisher, the Chesterfield website commentator. At times, it felt like I was watching football up and down the country with my mates.... and to be honest, I was. 

Rob squeezed in at Southend United

Little did I know what was around the corner for me, but we'll get to that a little later. However 1 of the most exciting days of my professional life came on the January transfer deadline day when I was asked to help cover the midlands area of England for PLP. It was to this day the craziest day of my working life. Rather appropriately I was at the press conference for Michael Bradley as he was introduced by Aston Villa. I then had a tip off from an agent I knew that something was happening at WBA, so I drove down to their training center to be told to come back later as they had nothing to announce. Wolves had then signed a GK called Adriano Basso, I raced over to their training center for a quick interview. Then I headed over to Birmingham City who'd just signed Obafemi Martins (now at Seattle Sounders) on loan. The evening started to shadow the sky and the deadline loomed. Once again I headed back to WBA to hopefully break the announcement of a new signing. They'd failed to get the deal done. What a day that was in my pro life. During this time as well i'd met several people i'd worked with and for in the past. I saw a certain individual at the Aston Villa press conference who i'd worked for at BRMB. I went over to introduce myself. Maybe he'd forgotten me, it had been a few years. "Oh I know who you are, what are you doing here?" he asked. I had great pleasure explaining to him what I was doing there and who i'd been working for. I'd also met a lad called Steve Clamp who I'd been helping out a little at ITV Central. We had a good chat that day and I ended up going to a lot of mid week press conferences for him. I loved it. I was doing all of this, mixing with Premier League journalists for radio and TV coverage in the week and covering Chesterfield and others over the weekend. 
Awaiting Michael Bradley on transfer
deadline day

I was asked to cover the Women's FA Cup Final by BBC Radio London a few days after that. It was at Nottingham Forest's stadium (about 45 minutes from Birmingham). After I did the game I received a phone call from Paul who was very complementary of my work and once again gave me several pointers. This was the winning goal that day...

Dad managed to snap a pic of
me covering Villa - Arsenal
I was then asked to cover Aston Villa - Arsenal. I remember the sports editor of BBC Radio London, Pete Stevens (who gave me quite a lot of work) giving me a call and saying "Callum, can you go to Villa Park for us on Tuesday night?" he asked. I completely forgot Villa were playing as I was deep into research for a Wednesday night game I was covering. I responded to Pete "Ye sure, is there a reserve game or something?". He responded with "No you doughnut, Arsenal play Villa, do you fancy it?". I obviously was delighted and despite the game ending 0-0 I enjoyed every single minute of it. To my surprise I wasn't bias towards my beloved Villa at all and received a bunch of praise from the producers back in London. Everything was going very well and it had been for some time now. I had so much on my resume and I was active in so much around English football. After ITV Central sports news was read by Steve Clamp he spoke of Gerard Houllier and his thoughts ahead of their match this weekend, "Gerard Houllier gave his thoughts to Callum Williams". A mate of mine text me and said "mate, you're all over the place!". My life had turned upside down and for a long time I was considered a football reporter. Something, i'd been working for, for what seemed an age. No longer was I sending e-mails out, in fact, those e-mails were now coming to me. Life was great and I had no intentions of changing anything. 

It was christmas eve 2010 and I was sat in front of the fire going through my boxing day game notes and research and saw an e-mail pop up in my inbox. The context of that initial e-mail would change my life. It was a team from MLS who'd heard my voice and said.. "Callum, we'd really like to talk to you".........

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The story of how it came to be... PART 1

PART 1 -

In the beginning 

 I was never one for listening in class. I was never one for completing homework on time, or indeed completing homework at all. I went to a high school called Stuart Bathurst in a town called Wednesbury in the suburbs of Walsall. I met many of my current friends there and we all have our own opinions of that place. Some people got what they wanted, some didn't. From what I can remember, I failed most if not all of my exams at high school purely through a lack of interest in most of my subjects. I always had an idea of what I wanted. I had no aspirations to go to university, heck, I wasn't anywhere near qualified for 'higher education'; but we'll get to that later. I remember receiving my high school exam results and not being that surprised when glancing over the list of 'FAIL' signs. This was supposed to be a huge part of my life, a big deal! However, at the time I found myself not conceded in the slightest and all due to an obvious obsession with another huge part of my life........ Football.

My high school crest

 I'd had a bad knee injury playing, but if i'm totally honest and those who know me and saw me play will share my own opinion that I simply was nowhere near good enough to ever make it as a professional. Coming to terms with the fact that I knew I was never going to play was a confusing time for a 15/16 year old lad who was on the verge of leaving high school. I scraped into 6th form (for those in the USA, its 2 years of college education before you head off to university) by the skin of my teeth after my dad had a conversation with a would be class tutor. At a young age i'd always known I wanted to be involved in football, but it was finding out how and where that was causing me a problem. I thought about coaching for a long time and even worked part time in my local park on a Saturday morning for 2 years or so and even got my level 1 coaching license. It seemed a real possibility at 1 stage that i'd venture into that side of football and I loved it. In actual fact I do really miss coaching and maybe 1 day i'll get an opportunity to do it again. I really enjoyed coaching the older level lads who were 11-13 and teaching them techniques, body shape, posture, first touch, how to move off the ball and some things that are at times overlooked because at that age that learning process is key.

 I remember having my 1st journalistic experience when I was 15. I shadowed a national newspaper writer called Neil Moxley (who still writes for the Daily Mail today). That certainly sparked an interest in the industry but I wasn't sure how to approach it. I hadn't put that much thought process into commentating or broadcasting at the time. I knew it was something i'd always wanted to do, but the question was "where on earth do I start?". I was enjoying coaching on a Saturday morning, occasionally 2 close friends and I would also help out on a Tuesday night for extra sessions as well. Then of course it was an extra 10 quid for the week which always helped. It was 2006, I was 16, enjoying my school life for the 1st time in years, coaching well and learning, plus at times earning a little money in the week. Then 1 evening I had a conversation with my Mum and Dad who had a good friend that worked at the local radio station in Birmingham called 'BRMB'. Dad thought it'd be a good idea for me to go in to their studio's for a day to see what its all about and he was able to swing this through his mate Andy Davis, at the time the graphics designer at BRMB.

BRMB's studio's on Broad St,
downtown Birmingham
I was obviously excited. I'd listened to BRMB's coverage of football for as long as I could remember and to be in the studio during a match day was nothing short of a heart stopping moment. I remember Mum and Dad dropping me off at the studio on a Saturday, a few hours before they were on the air to meet the producer. I remember being nervous but at the same time so eager to learn and ask questions. I'd never been in this situation before and knowing that if I perhaps said the right thing or showed enough knowledge i'd be in. Well, at least thats what I thought. I was obviously naive enough to think if I impressed they'd give me a full time, full paid job and benefits, but little did I know of the long path that would await me for that opportunity to arise. Mum and Dad left and I found myself nervously backed in the corner of the main production room where the producer, Cosey (Ian Powell) would continuesly give information to the commentator about scores, when to get to commercial break, when to cue a pre recorded interview and so on..... I was enthralled and thus sparked a passion that I only ever previously recognized as curiosity rather then will. We'll skip forward a few hours to the moment that made me smile the most all day. I'd sat back for hours watching the pre production of it all and was really enjoying my day. Cosey had been telling the commentator score lines around the country all day and also giving him the goal scorers. Then a goal was scored at Portsmouth and Cosey looked up at the Sky Sports News feed to see who'd scored and said in a confused fashion "who the **** is that". To my delight I knew exactly who it was and was able to confidently tell him that Benjani Mwaruwari, a Zimbabwe international, who'd signed from Auxerre in France was who'd scored. His response was "**** me, alright, cheers lad". I sat back comfortably in my chair with a confident and proud smile. After the football show was done and we went off the air Cosey pulled me to 1 side and said to me "If you want, I haven't got a problem with you coming in here every week" to which I responded "YES, absolutely". I left for the day and headed home on the bus. I was in! I had an opportunity to learn and experience the industry and more importantly there and then within my very 1st sniff at radio, i'd developed a passion/obsession that still thrives today. I wasn't getting paid, but it was a way in and i'd hoped it was the start of what I wanted to be new opportunity in my life.


Lets fast forward a year or so. I'd been continuing my school work whilst coaching on a Saturday morning to then head over to BRMB in the afternoon to work. I still wasn't getting paid, but I didn't expect to be. Mum and Dad were wonderful in supporting me financially. I'd do odd jobs around the house for a bit of money here and there whilst they were at work; but it was still tough not earning. I went through a stage of coaching in the morning and earning enough money to pay for my taxi into downtown Birmingham and work at the radio station for the day. I'd learnt so much in the time I was in studio. I'd made friends and was also starting to cover shifts for the week day games and occasionally for the Friday night phone in. My role was basically editing goal clips and interviews for the producer to play during the show at certain points and to also answer the phone for the football phone in and put people on hold before they'd go on air and speak to the main commentator to cast their feelings on the days action. Also, I obviously became the best tea and coffee maker of all time. I was then asked to be apart of an OB (Outside Broadcast) for the station. We had a room full of an audience who were there for an Q&A session with the host and certain guests (current managers, players, ex managers and players). I'd walk around the room with the wireless mic for the fans to ask questions. Even better was, I started to get paid for it. It wasn't much, but it was something. After a short time a certain individual wasn't happy with me getting paid and the small amount that was coming in stopped. I did my bit around the studio and even thought of taking a full time job their when a lad called David 'Salty' Salt pulled me to 1 side and said there was a low paid but full time production job available. I was desperate for a way in, but Salty advised me not to take it. I carried on coming in 3/4 times a week for free to continue learning and this continued for 2 1/2 years with very limited opportunities. I knew, I always knew that commentary was exactly what I wanted to do and I thought i'd be good at it. I just had to be patient and work my way up.

 Like most current broadcasters, I would mute the match on TV and commentate into a recorder of some sort, edit things down on my computer and try and come up with something. I remember being told I wasn't needed 1 weekend and looking up the local football fixtures to see who was playing at home. Unfortunately for me, the only home game that weekend was Birmingham City (Villa's rivals). I plucked up the courage to head down to St. Andrews stadium with my little walkman/recorder and bought a ticket. "That'll be 45 quid please", said the lady behind the ticket window... I remember thinking to myself, "45 quid! They're in the Championship, no wonder their attendances are crap". Either way I paid and got myself in and worked my way to the back of the stands, sat in the corner to try and get the best view possible and started commentating. I remember a few people giving me a few strange looks, but I had to get over it, I was trying another way to get a demo together. I remember giving a reel of some sort to the sports editor at BRMB just so he knew thats what I wanted to do. Adam was his name. I sat back and waited for an opportunity that never came. Realistically, I never expected it to come, I was 17 and BRMB had a very big listening audience for football. I saw people in the production room go past me from assistant producer to commentator a few times and I got the feeling that it wasn't going to happen. I remember helping the main commentator pack his car up on a Friday night and asked him some advice about how to get into commentary or even if he had a chance to take a look at my demo. For the 1st time but by no means the last I was told "look kid, you're good at what you do, helping us out in studio, but you'll never be a commentator".....

BRMB logo in 2007

My heart sank. It was a particular low moment because I knew I had to find something else. During my time at BRMB i'd been sending e-mails out all over the country seeing if people needed any help anywhere covering football or any sports for that matter. I managed to get a day shadowing here and there on the odd occasion, but nothing came up. I was still only 17 but it felt like every time I e-mailed different radio stations i'd never get a reply or when I would it'd be either "sorry we don't have anything but keep doing what you're doing" or "you don't have enough experience". I tried absolutely everything and nothing was working. It was funny, the only thing I would find any sort of remorse in was the same thing that was killing me..... Football.

I remember asking the press officer of my local League 1 side Walsall, if I could come and sit in the press box for a Tuesday night game. The plan was to bring my laptop and a mic that my dad had given me and record myself commentating and perhaps meet a few people and make a few contacts here and there. It just so happens that I did indeed meet someone, an old experienced commentator named Geoff who after I asked for some advice he gave me the contact details of several people for the radio station he was working for, Beacon Radio. It was a smaller but well known station that covered football throughout the black country (an area outside of Birmingham where the main teams are West Brom and Wolves). I remember ringing the main commentator who put me on the phone to the main producer/presenter, a lad called Stu Haycock who said to me "ye, come on in, we'll see what we can do for you". A change of scene was perhaps what I needed and maybe that was about to happen...

Continuing in commercial radio

I remember telling the producer at BRMB after the previous season had ended that I wouldn't be coming back and wanted a new challenge. I was just turning 18, was in the final year of my college studies and had quite a tough time finding regular paid opportunities at BRMB (or anywhere else for that matter). I went a few months coaching on a Saturday morning and spending the afternoon's e-mailing and watching football. Then, out of nowhere I found myself heading to the city of Wolverhampton. At the time I didn't drive and it used to take me 2/3 hours riding 4 buses to get to the Beacon Radio studio's. But at the time it was something I needed to do to keep myself in the loop. I remember heading into the offices and speaking with 1 or 2 of the commentators and producers in the quaint little building that Beacon Radio called home. They were impressed with my resume, they liked the fact that I could edit and help pre produce content but they knew I wanted to commentate, an area I had no experience in what so ever.
The old Beacon Radio building on Tettenhall Road

That day, I learnt that Beacon Radio had a sister station called 'Shropshire's Beacon Radio' where an opportunity appeared to exist. The main footballing coverage was reports on League 2 (4th tier) side Shrewsbury Town and Blue Square North (6th tier) side AFC Telford Utd. The sports team from that side of Beacon Radio and its group consisted of Stu Haycock who would host and produce the sports coverage but he also had a weekly music show on the station. Elsewhere there was several other assistant producers Ben and Steve who were also heavily involved in the Wolves and WBA game production. Then there was an individual who to this day is still the craziest, strangest yet interesting man alive. Never mind the man from the dos equis commercial, George Andrews was indeed and still is the most interesting man i've come across thus far in my career. That day, Stu said to me "do you want to go to a game today?". I agreed and off I went to experience my very 1st Blue Square North game at AFC Telford Utd's delightful 'New Bucks Head'. The Blue Square North is a league full of part time players who've perhaps fallen out of youth academies or players that weren't quite good enough for the leagues above and were looking for a way back into the Football League. I sat next to George as he provided updates on the match to Stu's music show and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

New Bucks Head
Home of AFC Telford Utd

After heading back to the studio Stu told me that there would be an opportunity due to a lack of bodies and money to get myself on the air. I was to shadow George for several weeks before they put me on the air but leaving the studio after my 1st day I came away delighted. George was an old timer, he'd been in the industry for decades and taught me so much in the spell we had working together. Once again, I wasn't getting paid, but this was too good of an opportunity to say no. I remember phoning my Dad on the bus ride home to express my delight. After 2 1/2 footballing seasons it looked like i'd finally have an opportunity to get myself on the air.

I remember at this stage of my life. A lot of people were heading off to University and I was struggling to make any sort of money but I had an opportunity in front of me at Shropshire's Beacon Radio. Once again my school grades weren't great as i'd been focusing on working at the studio and seeking new opportunities. My coaching had to stop at this point, as I could no longer commit to Saturday morning due to all the traveling to the stadiums i'd be doing. I'd also been playing in a band for a about a year with some good friends. That obviously had to stop as well.

I woke up the morning of my 1st day on the air full of excitement and enthusiasm. I was heading up north to cover AFC Telford Utd's away game at Gainsborough Trinity, who surprisingly had a few ex football league players I recognized. I'd done my research during the week and I was ready to give reports every 10 minutes or so whilst George was commentating on the Shrewsbury Town game. I had remembered practicing so much, thinking of different lines to open up with and had listened to so many different commentators the past few years. I was on the brink of going live for the 1st time. Stu was in my ear saying "your next mate, we'll be with you in 5 minutes". That 5 minutes flew by as I tried to concentrate on what was going on in front of me rather then what I was going to say. "Cal, here we go", Stu said, "Live in 5,4,3,2... mic live"......

This was the scene of my first on air report, away at Gainsborough Trinity

No matter how many classes you take, no matter how much you think you're prepared or you've practiced. Nothing will ever prepare you for that moment the producer says "mic live" in your ear for the 1st time. I remember nervously reading out the team news from my phone (of course the radio equipment didn't work on my 1st day on the job) and getting through it. I listen back to it now and its absolutely awful. But at the time I had a huge sense of relief that i'd done it, i'd appeared on live radio.

During my time with Shropshire's Beacon Radio the e-mailing around the country never stopped and I rather fortunately landed myself an opportunity to commentate on a few QPR games for their website and stadium feed. It was once again unpaid but I had a chance to mix with some really well connected people. I remember a moment when QPR scored and a Sky Sports reporter well known in the UK called Chris Kamara decided to dance around me; which was odd but funny at the same time. I remember getting the train down to London which Mum and Dad paid for (not for the first or last time) For a couple of months I was quite busy covering both QPR and AFC Telford Utd. I also had the chance to cover Shrewsbury Town (arguably the bigger market team) on a few occasions and once again meet quite a few people whilst continuing to show up at the studio 2/3 times a week to help out.

I do sit back and chuckle to myself once in a while when I think of my 1st ever football league experience. I traveled down to Bournemouth (for those in the USA, its right on the tip of the UK down south) and it was a bit of a journey....

 I had one of those days where everything seemed to go wrong. My trains were late, my equipment wouldn't work, I didn't have a great day on the air and I remember in a scramble to try another idea to get the Comrex (broadcasting device) working, I slipped in the press box and split my chin open minutes before we were due on air. Eventually I did it via my phone. My shirt, blood stained, my pride hurt and it would only get worse. Of course that day I forgot my phone charger, missed my last train home and the furthest I could get up the UK was Oxford (about an hour south of Birmingham)! I couldn't call anybody because my phone died, I had little money but did have enough to make 1 phone call from a pay phone to someone I knew in Oxford to see if I could stay the night. I remember talking to her and she seemed to have no answer despite her best efforts. It was Saturday night, everyone was out and had probably had far too much to drink to be able to drive. I seriously contemplated finding cover of some sort and sleeping in an ally or on someones door step to get away from the rain. I remember standing helplessly outside the train station in the rain and looking rather suspect. I continued to get wetter and colder as the rain dripped down my face. Things just weren't going right for me. It was a serious low moment in my life but it also seemed par for the course due to the rotten luck i'd felt I had. Was someone giving me a sign? I was delighted to see my girlfriend at the time and her parents pull up at Oxford train station to pick me up. Someone must have given them notice. I'll never forget that day for as long as I live.

For the 1st time in my life I actually began to doubt myself and the choices i'd made. Was this something that I wanted to do? Was this something I could carry on doing......? Was it all worth it? It all seemed fairly pointless that evening in Oxford.....