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A voice of sport (and other stuff)

Mike Ingham

When Mike Ingham put down his BBC microphone for the last time and walked quietly into retirement after the 2014 World Cup, English football lost its most lucid radio voice. Some readers of this blog might well be asking why that should matter to them. I can only respond by saying that when I picked up his autobiography for the first time, the first thing I saw when it fell open was a reference not to Kevin Keegan or David Beckham but to “Green Onions” by Booker T and the MGs. The paragraph in question also contains the sentence: “For me, the sound of ’60s was the Hammond organ.” No further justification necessary.

During the 20 years I spent covering sport for a living, Mike was someone I always looked forward to seeing. Judicious and unhysterical, he exemplified the best of the BBC well into the age of social media, for which football acted as a pathfinder towards a world devoid of nuance. “We want to know what you think,” the phone-in hosts began to tell their listeners. Well, I didn’t. I wanted to know what Mike thought.

Sports reporters — most of them, anyway — are human beings, too, and a fair number of them love music and like talking about it. Mike’s interest is made clear throughout After Extra Time and Penalties, from the moment, in his first year at grammar school in Derbyshire, he makes a new friend with life-changing information to impart: “Having acquainted you with Alexis Korner and Cyril Davies, he would then suggest you lend an ear to Memphis Slim and Sonny Boy Williamson.” There are chapters headed “Too Much Monkey Business”, “Don’t Mess with Bill” and “Time Is on My Side”. Sometimes he’s able to combine these two interests, as in encounters with Ian Gillan of Deep Purple (rumoured to be taking over Reading FC) and Rod Stewart, who finds talking to Ingham about football a welcome respite from promoting his new album.

At the end of the book there are some lists — the best goals he described on air, his favourite stadiums and so on — and they include his most memorable concerts. These begin with Marty Wilde and the Wildcats at Bournemouth Pavilion in 1960 and conclude with Alabama 3 at the Looe Music Festival in 2016, by way of the Everly Brothers’ Albert Hall reunion in 1983 and Fun Lovin’ Criminals at the Viper Room in West Hollywood in 1999.

Of course the book is mostly about football and broadcasting, with a lot of insight into the characters among whom he lived and worked, from his days at Radio Derby in the mid-’70s onwards. He’s interesting on all the England managers he followed through successive World Cup campaigns, and of course the England manager who never was: Brian Clough, with whom he had a good relationship. It’s fascinating, too, to hear that he was taught the importance of breathing properly by Cliff Morgan, the great Wales fly-half who became a marvellous broadcaster. And there’s also a section, obligatory in the memoirs of former BBC employees, putting the latter-day corporation to rights — the regret, this being Ingham, voiced in the most civilised terms.

If you share any of these enthusiasms, and particularly if you miss the sound of Mike Ingham bringing a match to life without hype, without prejudice and without the help of pictures, then you can take this as a warm recommendation.

* After Extra Time and Penalties by Mike Ingham is out now in paperback, published by Book Guild.

14 Comments Post a comment
  1. Eric #

    Seems like the Hammond Organ is the sujet du jour! There’s a topic for you: Hammond Organ and Vibraphone – serious instruments or novelty. I say serious (but possibly in small doses)

    April 30, 2020
    • Mick Steels #

      Larry Young/Bobby Hutcherson – serious (large doses preferably)

      April 30, 2020
    • GuitarSlinger #

      Both instruments … very serious in the right hands regardless of the dosage . re; Gary Burton … John Medeski … Tom Coster .. Greg Allman .. David Friedman … Terry Gibbs .. Ruth Underwood .. Marilyn Mazur … Stevie Winwood etc … et al .

      April 30, 2020
  2. adycroasdell #

    Very interesting, thanks for the recommendation

    April 30, 2020
  3. Bren Pointer #

    Exactly right Richard. Mike Ingham had no fanfare or fluff. When I new it was Mike doing the commentary,I knew I was in for a reassuring listen.Not only in what he said but the way he said it. He had a voice made for radio. A wonderful broadcaster and sorely missed.

    April 30, 2020
  4. Robin Durie #

    A nice discussion – especially about the musical interests of Mike Ingham, about which I’d no idea.

    That said, I think the admirable John Murray is an excellent replacement as the BBC football correspondent, sharing a lot of Ingham’s understated qualities, married to a palpable & unaffected enthusiasm for the game.

    And, in all of this, we can be thankful for being saved from any further elevation for Alan Greene – who in more or less every way is the antithesis of both Ingham & Murray.

    April 30, 2020
  5. Lovely piece, Richard. Can anyone confirm that Mike used to provide the horseracing tip of the day’ on Radio 4 sports bulletins, and was once introduced by a colleague with the words: ‘A horse, a horse – Mike Ingham for a horse’ – or is this a myth?

    April 30, 2020
    • PHIL SHAW #

      True. Mike refers to it in the book.

      April 30, 2020
  6. I miss Mike Ingham. He was an excellent counterpoint to Alan Green’s shoutiness.

    Incidentally, I’m disappointed to hear that Ian Gillan is rumoured to be taking over the Fake Hoops, when he’s supposedly been a lifelong fan of the real ones:

    May 1, 2020
  7. James Joughin #

    Always a pleasure to read you, Richard. I look forward to your stuff in the same way you talk about Mike

    May 1, 2020
  8. The Hammond and guitars were definitely the sounds of the sixties. Winwood, Brooker, John Mayall, Rick Wright, Keith Emerson, Brian Auger, Greg Rolie, Al Kooper and of course the great Booker T. Has there ever been an instrument with so many different sounds and tones? Not counting synthesizers, which are to pop what the Hammond is to the blues, jazz and rock.

    May 3, 2020
    • Trevor East #

      You’re missing Georgie and Alan Price. Not necessarily together!!

      May 3, 2020
    • Christopher Davies #

      Of course you’re all forgetting the great Georgie Fame, the personification of all that’an cool about the Hammond organ.

      May 4, 2020
  9. Trevor East #

    A brilliant and accurate reflection of Mike and his meanderings. Lovely book, lovely bloke.

    May 3, 2020

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