An Interview with Match of the Day's Steve Wilson
What's in a game? It's the commentator's job to be on the ball.
Match of the Day has been part of commentator Steve Wilson's life for nearly 20 years, during which he has witnessed the growth of the Premier League and many of its greatest moments from close quarters. It only takes a second to score a goal, which means that a football commentator has to be on the ball to keep up.
Hi Steve. As a Match of the Day commentator, you’re heavily engaged in the Premier League action as it happens. What’s it like to reflect on the stories of the season as they unfold live in front of you?
It's an extraordinary thrill, and you can never be off your guard.
Match of the Day has been part of my life since I was about six years old and begged my Dad to allow me to stay up to watch... the famous music still gets my blood rushing after 20 years on the scene! What a job: to witness the growth of the Premier League and many of its greatest moments from such close quarters.
Brian Clough once famously said that it only takes a second to score a goal, which means that, during a match, a football commentator is only a second away from saying something either so good or so bad that it could be career-defining.
The post-match interviews also keep you on your toes. I’m lucky enough to have met and interviewed just about all the star names of the last two decades and more – even arranging an interview with one manager whilst he was taking a pee in a bush. I’ve been grabbed in Ferguson’s steely grip, walked out on by Harry Redknapp, flattered by Carlo Ancelotti, and sworn at by David Moyes – but I’ve never fallen out with anyone!
Witnessing the growth of the Premier League from close quarters
Your commentary during Germany’s 7 – 1 thrashing of Brazil in the World Cup semi-final of 2014 was watched by an audience of more than 14 million on BBC1. Do you ever get nervous at such a prospect? How do you get your head in the right space?
I’m pretty sure that if I visualised 14 million people tuning in I’d be thoroughly terrified, but luckily I don’t really suffer from nerves. I think it’s always a good idea to remember that you are one of a few thousand people with a ticket for a game which whole countries of people would love to be attending – so make sure that you enjoy it.
That Brazil versus Germany game was probably the most incredible match I’ll ever see. A World Cup semi-final is normally riveting for its tension: which team will progress and which will be heading home with broken hearts? However, with Germany 5 – 0 up against Brazil after less than half an hour, there was none of that!
I do remember thinking, ‘This game is over already, what on earth am I going to talk about for the next hour?’ But the scale of the defeat was so shattering that watching Brazil unravel became compulsive viewing in an almost gruesome way. You knew you were describing something that people would remember for years to come.
Having covered Five World Cups, three African Nations Cups, two Olympics and the Commonwealth Games, what been your most memorable moment so far in your career?
A lot of remarkable things have happened in football since I started commentating in 1990, and these amazing tournaments have taken me to four continents. I’ve been lucky enough to have commentated from Tromso - which lies 200 miles inside the Arctic Circle - to Benguela, a town in deepest, poorest Angola. I’ve flown into Monaco in a helicopter alongside Giovani Trapattoni and on an old Air Armenia plane into Kayes – reputed to be Africa’s hottest town - in the heart of the Sahara Desert.
It’s really impossible to pick out one best moment, but having David Beckham walk into a room, shake my hand and say "Hello, my name’s David. Nice to meet you," would come close.
"If I visualised 14 million people tuning in, I’d be thoroughly terrified"
Off the pitch for a second now. What’s it like behind-the-scenes? Can you share with us some secrets/insights into/anecdotes from the world of football?
I remember years ago, when I worked for Capital Radio, it was part of my job to get interviews with the England players on the pitch before and after Wembley internationals.
Paul Merson was a particular favourite of mine, always ready to stop for a quick reaction after a game. After a few words on air, he would usually ask me what the other scores were - even the really obscure ones from, say, Romania and Bulgaria. I was deeply impressed by the scope of his interest; here was someone whose appetite for football meant he wanted to know all the other scores before he had even had chance to get in the shower.
Some years later Merson revealed in his autobiography that he might have lost as much as £7million by betting on the outcome of just about any sporting fixture you cared to mention. Clearly his passion for news of the latest from Eastern European football had not been entirely what it seemed!
Before Match of the Day, you began your journalism career at Capital Radio in London and also spent some time at BBC Radio Five Live. What are the main lesson(s) that you’ve learned since you started out?
Someone once said to me to remember that for everyone who thinks you’re great – there’s almost certainly someone who thinks you’re crap.
Some grounding advice there, Steve. Any final thoughts? What’s next for you?
I’ll be off to the Finals of Euro 2016 in June. It’s certain to be a memorable tournament, with England joined by Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. I’m quite sure that there’ll be a few stories to tell after a month travelling the length and breadth of France!
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