A voice of sport (and other stuff)
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.