Ian Cheeseman is BBC Radio Manchester’s City commentator and journalist and known by many fans as the ‘voice of City’. Here, he takes time to answer questions about commentary, his books, offers from television, Twitter, future ambitions and more.
View From A Blue: How did you come to support City?
Ian Cheeseman: I was always a City fan, from being a little boy. I like the colour blue, my hero was Colin Bell, my Uncle was a United fan and always seemed a bit arrogant about it all “we’re the best” etc (nothing changes) and I liked the fact that City seemed more fun and “real” – but I didn’t sit there as a 6 year old making rational decisions, all I know is I was always a Blue. I was born in Manchester (closest ground being Maine Road and my Dad worked in Manchester), so it’s my City. I have always been a City fan.
VFAB: How did you get into commentating and is it something you always wanted to do?
IC: I remember listening to Radio Manchester’s commentary of City v United in the League Cup (1975) because my Mum wouldn’t let me go (overprotective – I was a season ticket holder and went to every other game) - and decided that commentating and reporting on City was the perfect job, never for one second believing I could or would do that job one day.
When I got married in 1984 I was working in a bank – unfulfilled – and inspired by other broadcasters I listened to, like Fred Eyre, Brian Butler, Ian Frame – I joined the local hospital Radio Cavell. My first commentary was as a last minute stand-in for a game between Oldham and Barnsley. I spent 10 years as a presenter at Radio Cavell, but presenting everything except sport, because I was watching City every week, home and away, so was unavailable on football days.
I was asked to do some commentaries for “ClubCall” a telecoms company, I said I’d do any City game but no-one else, unless City weren’t playing. I remember turning down £50 to do Liverpool v Spurs (£50 was a lot back then) so I could go to Torquay v City as a fan (ClubCall thought I was mad paying to go to the City game – it was a 0-0 draw!) I would make the same decision again.
Long story short (read my book “Best Job in the World” for the long version) – I spent a few years doing that, commentated for free for the City video and then got asked to apply for a job at BBC Radio Manchester by head of sport Andy Buckley, got the job as a sports reporter) and then waited for my chance to get my “dream” job. I often wondered if that chance would ever come and continued to watch City home and away, spent a couple of seasons as stadium announcer at City while I waited, and then on 17th October 2001 was appointed City commentator (My Dad’s birthday and my lucky number is 17).
VFAB: Is there any commentator, past or present, who you particularly admire?
IC: Commentary is one of my passions, there are many good commentators, John Murray (who’s on 5Live is a current favourite of mine – and he can do loads of different sports equally well, and I always enjoyed listening to Malcolm Lord, who used to do Rugby League on GMR – when it was called that) but I believe you have to be yourself, so I’ve never copied anyone, but I’ve learnt from every commentary I listen to.
VFAB: How long do you spend on preparation before each game?
IC: I often work 10 hour days, sometimes longer, doing everything from reading sports bulletins to pre-producing programmes like “Blue Tuesday”. I present Tuesday sport, In the Spotlight and loads more, so I don’t have time set aside to “prepare” commentaries. As I live and breath football, and in particular City, I rely on the knowledge I already have, for the most part. I do more preparation for a game like Bury v Scunthorpe than City v Spurs. I also work with very good summarisers who are very knowledgeable. On radio, I believe my main role is to describe what I see, in an entertaining and passionate way, my summariser adds expertise, so in some ways they add the facts, opinions, and knowledge that might be added by research.
VFAB: What has been the biggest change in football since you started commentating?
IC: Since I became City reporter, the club has gone from also-rans to Champions – they’re in Europe regularly – that’s a big change. During the 25 years or so that I’ve been commentating and reporting, the media has changed dramatically. TV shows 2/3 of top flight games live, so the role of radio commentary has probably become less significant.
I’m sure radio audiences are much bigger for 3pm Saturday games than when a match is on TV, and of course all the different media want their own interviews and access which means our contact with players has diminished significantly. When I first started in broadcasting, once you’d built up trust with a player, (who you could pop down to the training ground to see, just by turning up) he’d almost always do an interview simply by asking him nicely. These days, you only meet players, at Premier League clubs, when invited to with a group of other journalists, which means everyone is treated the same, which is a shame.
VFAB: If you had the power, would you bring in any changes to the game?
IC: I suppose goal line technology makes sense, though I’m not always certain that Hawk-Eye is right at Wimbledon. Tennis and cricket are stop start games so are better suited to TV replays being used but I’ve been to Rugby League games that use replays and it ruins the game – in my opinion – and there are still arguments after the replays, so in football I’d just use goal line technology.
VFAB: How important nowadays is social media and the likes of Twitter and Facebook, whether for breaking news or just interacting with people?
IC: Social networking has and will continue to dramatically change the media. For interaction with people it’s great, it makes people more accessible and accountable.
Journalists breaking stories has “sort of” become a thing of the past. Who knows, and probably who cares, who broke the story anymore. Journalists follow each other on Twitter, so within seconds they all have any story that breaks. I suppose social networking expects more opinion from journalists these days, and of course more and more quotes from players and stories come from players, managers etc tweeting stuff. It’ll be interesting to see how social networking changes things. Certainly, newspapers breaking stories is becoming less frequent, they break stories on Twitter and then write opinion pieces or features in the papers more often now.
VFAB: Following the rave reviews for your last book, The Best Job In The World, do you have any plans to write another one?
IC: I’m glad that those who have found my book(s) – I wrote Colin Bell’s autobiography “Reluctant Hero” too – seem to have enjoyed them. They were “labours of love” rather than for financial reward. Only JK Rowling makes money from books!
I spent 3 years working on Colin’s book, we spent a day together almost every week during that time and have become good friends. It had also been a boyhood dream of mine to write a book, and there are two with my name on, on my bookshelf at home – I’m very proud.
“Best Job in the World” was something I’d thought about for years. I think my “journey” from obsessive fan (nearly 20 years without missing a game home and away) and then making the switch into the media is probably unique, and my determination to watch City through that transition.
It takes ego to write a book about yourself, especially when you’re just a local radio reporter, hardly known outside of City fandom, so I was reluctant, so I sort of disguised an autobiography by also making it a diary of a season as a sports journalist/commentator. I thought about adding a few chapters and republishing it this year, (Henry Winter from the Telegraph suggested I should) but I doubt there’d be enough new demand to justify it (it could cost me more money to do it than I’d make, too).
One big problem with my original book, and anything I do in the future, is that because I work for the BBC , I am not allowed to mention or publicise my book on the BBC and of course rival broadcasters won’t publicise it because I work for their rival broadcaster, so letting people know I have a book out is limited to Twitter, Facebook and costly advertising.
Having said that, I am considering writing a book based on my radio programme “In the Spotlight” – mini life stories of North West Sports personalities – all sorts of people from Andy Flintoff to Ricky Hatton, Francis Lee to Lou Macari, Kevin Keegan, Sean Long, etc etc. Still thinking about it, we’ll see.
VFAB: How do you see local sports media going in the future?
IC: Covering sport is very expensive – there’s the cost of staffing, travelling AND rights – we have to pay the clubs for the rights to commentate and report (I think some people think we get it for free!) We all know the financial pressures everyone is under and the BBC has had to make cutbacks, we at Radio Manchester have had to lose staff, so it I can’t deny that I am worried about the future of local broadcasting – I can’t guarantee anything about the future, it could all end tomorrow, and as I live and breath my job, you can imagine how devastated I’d be if cutbacks affected our coverage – and my colleagues are just like me, we all work long hours (there’s no overtime) because we care so passionately about what we do (and realise how lucky we are to do such fulfilling jobs)
VFAB: Have you ever had offers, or been tempted, to move into the television world?
IC: Yes, I’ve had offers – but I’ve never been tempted. I’ve always said that if Match of the Day or Sky offered to double, treble or multiply my salary several times to work for them (not that I’m expecting the call!) I’d say no, because I have my dream job. I attend every City game and do what I love, commentate on Manchester City. Most of my colleagues think I’m mad to have that attitude. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love a better standard of living, and working in the national media or TV would pay much better, but I love doing what I do. I also believe in local radio sports coverage and the BBC. I’m not motivated by fame, I’m just an obsessive City, football and sports fan, in that order. During the season, in which my book is set, I attended 116 games. Last season, by coincidence, it was also 116 (all 55 City games plus 61 non-City games) I loved every one – especially the last one on May13th!
VFAB: Do you have any further ambitions?
IC: To carry on doing what I do for the rest of my life (well I can dream!). Writing a book was an ambition fulfilled. I’d love to do a Match of the Day game – just once (as long as I didn’t miss a City game) – cover a World Cup – in fact a personal ambition is to attend a World Cup Final (though getting a ticket and funding the trip are substantial stumbling blocks).
There are still some people I’d love to meet and interview, both from the sports world and outside sport, and of course I’d love to commentate on City winning the Champions League – Aggguueeerrooooooo!