Talking a good game
I got the chance to experience a different side of football when BBC Radio 5 live invited me to be a summariser for the Premier League match between Everton and Hull at Goodison Park.
It was different watching the game and making comments rather than being involved as a player, but I did enjoy it.
I had done radio a couple of times when I was younger at Sunderland. Back then, you were only allowed three substitutes so if I wasn't on the bench I sometimes helped a local radio station with the commentary. That was over 15 years ago and I didn't have to be impartial then, but I was definitely a neutral for the game at Everton and as I got used to it I really started to enjoy it.
I must admit there were a few nerves as I was about to speak for the first time but I felt that I settled into it and what a great game to start off my radio commentary career! There were plenty of goals flying in and a few incidents in the game such as a missed penalty and hitting the post as Everton won 5-1 so there was plenty to comment on.
David Oates was the main commentator; he was really good and kept bringing me in to speak about certain things in the game. He made it easy for me and enjoyable so I should thank him for helping me on my debut! David gave me some advice before the game; he showed me the teams before kick-off and gave me some stats to bring into the conversation during the match. When the goals went in he did the commentary and brought me in to provide my insight afterwards. I thought we bounced off each other really well.
Because I was a neutral it was a unique experience; not having any bias to one team or the other. I was watching the game at Goodison and trying not to lean either way in terms of praising one team more than the other but Everton were so dominant throughout the game it was quite difficult to try and build Hull up. I did say that I thought Hull's best chance of scoring would come from a set piece and that turned out to be the case as Tom Cairney scored from a knock-down from a set play. But you could just sense that Everton really wanted to win the game.
Sitting in the press box, rather than on the bench, it was easier to see the tactics unfold and you could pick out how both sides were setting up at the beginning of the game and how that changed as the match went on.
Mikel Arteta of Everton scores the opening goal against Hull City at Goodison Park
Hull started with one up front and then tried to go a little bit more direct when they found themselves 3-1 down later in the game. But it's not just a case of watching the two teams, it's also about watching the managers and how animated they get on the touchline. If you're playing in a game yourself you don't usually see that kind of thing because you're absorbed in your job. But if the fans feel something has gone against their side you can really pick up the atmosphere and the moans and groans from the crowd when you're commentating.
It was a great place to start commentating and I felt privileged because all the people around the Goodison press box made me feel very welcome. When you are in the gantry, with all the fans around you, you can really pick up on what individuals are saying so it was quite interesting to hear that too.
Everton were a joy to watch and there were some really good individual performances. Mikel Arteta was probably the outstanding player on the day and the Everton fans were singing his name which was great to see as he had been out for a long time.
Football can be good at opening doors for you sometimes. I don't know if this blog had some influence on me being invited to work with 5 live but I have also been invited to go on BBC TV for Late Kick-Off the day after we play Sheffield United at Hillsborough so I certainly hope we get the right result in that match! Media work is certainly something I wouldn't discount for when I hang up my boots. I've been in the game a long time now so hopefully I can pass on a valid opinion to radio listeners or people watching on TV.
There has been plenty of talk recently about the standard of pitches. Wembley is one of the pitches that has been replaced several times and it seems to have been a troubled surface. The occasion of going to the old Wembley was quite something. It was exciting just to know that you were going to play at the stadium and then when you had walked out on to the pitch before the games you noticed how flat it was and you couldn't wait to get your boots on and get out there to give it your best shot.
A lot of pitches in the Championship, and the Football League in general have taken quite a hammering this winter because of the terrible winter. I don't think I've seen so many pitches in such a bad state for a long time but the groundsmen have not had the time they need to keep the surfaces the way they want to. Pitches like Arsenal's and Everton's still seem to be superb and West Brom's is still pretty good.
It's always the same for both teams to play on any given surface but any footballer will tell you they want to play on as flat a surface as possible. It is frustrating if a pitch hinders you and at Sheffield Wednesday we like to play good passing football. If you saw us train every day you would see that we pass the ball around really well but our training pitches have held up better than some in stadiums. Sometimes you have to adapt your style of play to the surface you're playing on though and you just have to get out there and give it all you've got to win any game regardless of the pitch conditions.
I have sat out the last couple of games as we beat Leicester at home and lost narrowly at West Brom so I will be hoping to be involved again at Swansea on Saturday. The Leicester game was a tremendous performance, we started really well and never looked like we would lose the game. Then we went to West Brom on Tuesday and produced another great display. We were very organised and didn't look like we were troubled by one of the best teams in the division. That's testament to our players because the concentration and work ethic was there as well as the organisation and determination to get a result.
You could see the disappointment on the players' faces when they came into the dressing room at the end, having conceded a late goal, and I think that shows how far we have come in a short space of time under Alan Irvine. We are now genuinely disappointed when we don't get a result against one of the top three teams in the Championship.