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Talking to myself

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Steve Wilson | 14:37 UK time, Thursday, 20 October 2011

I was at Southampton's game against West Ham on Tuesday and thoroughly enjoyed a very decent game between two serious contenders for promotion, a game watched by the biggest ever crowd for a Southampton home game in a history spanning 126 years.

I also bumped into a former colleague, Mike, who reminded me of a particular low point in my broadcasting career - and there have been a few!

It was 1995, and I was on what you might call a short-term loan deal working for a station that had just bought radio rights for Southampton and Portsmouth games and was keen to make every game sound like it was the World Cup final.

So, the first foray into live football on this fledgling station was to be "THE UNMISSABLE MUST-LISTEN GAME OF THE DAY" - the match that had everyone talking and licking their lips in anticipation: it was the BIG ONE - Oldham against Portsmouth, 14th and 22nd respectively in what we then called Division One - now the Championship - "AND IT'S LIIIIVE!!!!!"

Boundary Park, Oldham

Steve Wilson had a troubled time at Boundary Park, Oldham. Photo: Getty

So unmissable, so crucial, was this game that my Rothman's Football Yearbook tells me that almost 6,000 people went to watch it at Boundary Park.

Resources at the radio station were not huge and the journey from the south coast to Oldham would be a long one, so there was no famous ex-player to sit alongside the commentator and summarise the action, no sound man, no producer; just me and Mike, the guy who had been doing the brief match reports before the live deal was signed.

My job was to present and commentate from the ground from 2pm though to 630pm, the last hour of which would be a phone-in for the fans who had been glued to action back at home.

The first hour was fine; Mike was working overtime getting the team news, doing vox-pops with a few travelling Pompey fans and even getting a couple of pre-match interviews with Portsmouth players, whilst I linked everything together including three or four pre-match reports from games involving the region's other clubs.

As far as I remember the commentary was fine, though I cannot actually recall anything about the 1-1 draw. As the final whistle sounded, Mike shot off to get some post-match reaction whilst I linked the full-time reports from the few other grounds where we had reporters.

I was feeling pretty pleased with myself not long after 5pm, thinking that, with just the last hour and bit to do, this had been a pretty impressive debut for the station. No big technical hitches and plenty of good things to build on over the coming weeks.

Even better, Mike appeared with the Portsmouth manager Terry Fenwick for a one-on-one post match interview. What could wrong now?

As Terry headed back to the dressing room, Mike indicated that he had to go too. Not a problem, just the phone-in to go - piece of cake.

Let me tell you how long an hour-long phone-in feels like when you have bundles of calls to fit in from listeners who are itching to get their points across. It flashes by in what feels like a few moments; topic after topic being raised, arguments raging, passion pouring from the radio. Presenting it is one of the most enjoyable jobs going.

Let me tell you how long an hour long phone in feels when the autumn light is failing in a grubby old press box and you are completely on your own, without one single call from any listener anywhere. It feels like an ice age - an almost endless chilling sensation of doom.

I cannot tell you how my quavering voice, croaking after more than three hours on air, must have betrayed my mounting sense of panic as the long, slow moments dripped by. I cannot tell you how many times I read out the phone number to dial with that stupid, studied cheerfulness of someone who is pretending that they are not being exposed to the most hideous of humiliations.

There were obviously so few people listening that it probably would have been easier to invite them all round to my house for dinner to have a chat about the day's football.

In fact, it is entirely possible that there was nobody tuned in at all. I even have to admit that if I had been a listener, I would have been gripped by the prospect of how one bloke was going to fill an hour of airtime with nobody to talk to but himself. Would I have picked up the phone just to hear the outpouring of relief from the presenter? Not a chance!

In the end there was nothing for it but to repeat the day's football scores, very, very slowly.
"So ... in case you missed them ... here, once again, are today's classified football results including all the non-league scores for the clubs in our region. Starting with the FA Premiership ... Arsenal one ... "

I am pleased to say that my colleague Jim Proudfoot took over on South Coast duty very soon afterwards, and made a fine job of building a loyal audience.

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