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.....