I have just returned from a wonderful relaxing break courtesy of my wonderful wife, Miriam. Eight days of pure bliss and total unwinding. I have to confess that despite the idyllic surroundings, tropical weather and my modest and long-overdue achievement of finally learning how to snorkel without being subjected to a deluge of water entering my mouth and, as a consequence, finally unlocking the door to the amazing world that lurks just beneath the surface of the ocean, I did allow myself a minor distraction last Saturday. I simply did what every self-respecting exiled Bee does on match day – tune into Bees Player.
Mark Burridge, Chris Wickham and special guest, Scott Barron, transported me from my exotic climes to the more prosaic surroundings of Portman Road. I shut my eyes and it was as if I was there in the stands alongside them. As always, they did a quite magnificent job, acting as they do as the eyes and ears of all Brentford supporters who, for whatever reason, are unable to attend a match. From personal experience I know just how hard it is to make sense of what is happening on the pitch below you and how difficult it is not to let your emotions and bias run amok and somehow manage to provide a balanced, coherent and accurate description of the match as it unfolds.
Mark Burridge is the consummate professional, with a wonderful relaxed tone of voice, he paints vivid verbal pictures and yet he knows exactly when he needs to bring in his co-commentator or player summariser. Having listened to some of the efforts from other clubs far more exalted than Brentford, I just have to say how blessed we are with the whole Bees Player operation which is streets ahead of the service provided by the overwhelming majority of our rivals. I caught up with Mark recently and over the next couple of articles I will let him tell you all about Bees Player, how it came about, and what it means to him. Thanks also to Chris Wickham for his help in providing this information.
My father has always been a staunch Bees fan . When he was a table tennis international he trained with the Brentford players. He also helped set up the Junior section many years ago in Frank Blunstone’s days. I believe he was the first Chairman, or President of Brentford Juniors. At one time he was invited on to the Board but declined due to having taken up golf and didn’t want to be committed to watching us play home and away each week. I have no idea what my first game was, probably around 1965. I remember the Cup games at Cardiff and Hull. We went back with the players on the coach to the station. I have probably only missed ten home games in the last thirty odd years. It’s fair to say most people who know me realise Brentford is massively important in my life.
Bees Player – a potted history
It started off as Bees World in the 2001/02 season as a free service for two seasons. We used the same rota and team that commentated for the blind supporters. It then became a subscription service for commentary, then came all the other additions such as interviews etc. With Bees Player as a whole there is so much content for subscribers as well as the match commentary. We started off doing this either talking through a standard old fashioned phone, at many away games doing it on a mobile phone. At Cambridge United in 2001 I was sat amongst the home supporters, trying to relay the action. It was a bit strange, as were the looks we were getting! Long time subscribers will know that over the years it has changed from starting a few minutes before the kickoff to being a full MATCH DAY LIVE programme, where listeners have a programme that runs from 2.30pm, right through to 5.30pm, including buildup, pre-match discussion, half time interviews with various guests, and the post-match thoughts of the manager and key players with interviews from Billy Reeves.
When Chris (Wickham) was involved on the commentary side he was keen to get players involved as summarisers where possible and that takes the experience for fans to a whole new level. Not only does Richard Lee work as our summariser at home games (if available) we’ve also enjoyed the wisdom of Alan McCormack, Sam Saunders, Kevin O’Connor, Harlee Dean, ex-players Paul Gibbs and Glenn Poole plus Ben Burgess at games in the North West. We must also pay homage to Luis Melville who was the ultimate professional for me when working on MDL, his enthusiasm and attention to detail helped take the whole programme to another level.
So the product has come a long way from the early days and a lot of preparation goes in to trying to put on a good match experience for subscribers. Fans can also get their own thoughts across via Twitter @brentfordfc #beesplayer. It’s ‘”the next best thing to being there” is how we like to describe MDL, so fan interaction is important to us and the listeners. Further emphasising the progress of the whole experience, Brentford have invested in state-of-the-art equipment in recent seasons to ensure we deliver the same sound quality as you would enjoy on mainstream radio broadcasts. With the addition to the media team of Sean Ridley (Video Content Manager) subscribers will have seen added extras this season such as the 30-40 minute-long highlights footage less than twenty-four hours after the game, synchronised with our ” live audio” commentary. This is really useful for long-distance fans who don’t get to see the players in action very often, and it has been very pleasing to hear how much subscribers love this additional service this season. Sean works through the night to get this ready on time and the Club continues to increase its spend in all the highest spec. equipment to make sure our fans get the most comprehensive portfolio of essential Bees viewing. Seeing more of it up close this season, it’s fair to say the thorough professionalism of the media team as a whole is a testament to all the hard work that goes on in the week and on match days, whether its covering Youth Team, Development Squad or First Team games.
Helping the disadvantaged keep in touch?
The Blind Commentary Scheme at Griffin Park has a long and proud history. Brentford were only the second English Club to introduce such a scheme which started back in August 1951 with Eric White and Peter Pond Jones covering the game against Rotherham. As hard as it is to believe, Bees manager Jackie Gibbons assisted them throughout the match with his own contributions. Brentford won 2-0!! Alan Denman, who still assists in some home matches each season, has been a contributor for around forty years and others such as the late Mary Farley, Alan Rogers, Geoff Buckingham and Steve Leggett have given their valuable services freely over the years to enable this proud service to flourish.
Through the generosity of The Brentford Lifeline Society, our blind and visually impaired supporters (and visiting fans) can hear the commentary through a UHF Radio system, which operates anywhere within the stadium up to a range of two hundred metres. Not only is this available at Griffin Park, our fans can also pick up the full MATCH DAY LIVE service at away games too. We had four blind fans at MK Dons last season who were able to pick up Brentford commentary on the day, rather than a “home club” service.
Apart from the huge privilege to be involved in bringing the game to our blind fans we have been fortunate to get to know some of them personally too, many having been coming to GP for several years. I’ve driven Andy Godfrey to several away matches and anyone who knows him will say the same, that he is non-stop entertainment and fun, is blessed with an incredible memory of Bees games from yesteryear and football in general. Andy has also come across quite a few Bees fans over the years as he is a school teacher in languages – I wish he had been mine as I’m sure I would now be fluent in French and German ! Brentford still actively encourage new blind & partially sighted fans to come along so if anyone reading this knows of someone who could benefit from the club’s service with a match day visit to Griffin Park, the scheme will offer them a great welcome.
Best and worst working conditions?
Bramall Lane is excellent, high up, plenty of room, a proper long gantry. Plus you can stand, which I far prefer. Basically the higher up and more central you are , the easier it is to see what is happening. Bolton’s this year was very good and from seasons ago Reading’s gantry view was impressive so I’m looking forward to going back there soon. Wembley is, as you would expect, just amazing, a great experience plus a great meal beforehand ! Shame we haven’t yet turned up as a team. Maybe this year? The old Saltergate was a nightmare, simply no room at all, a real hazard, to be brutally honest. Anywhere behind a glass enclosure isn’t good as you don’t get the atmosphere , although we have not had any this season.
What does Griffin Park mean to you?
Well it’s a spiritual home for all of us. Even if I’m simply driving into London I get a buzz from passing it, tinged with disappointment I’m not going to a game! I’ve seen all the changes over the years and, like many others, a big part of me doesn’t want to leave, yet we know it has to happen.
Finding your own voice and style?
I guess we all have professional commentators we like and don’t like. The best radio commentator for me is Alan Green. He has this ability, like no other, to bring listeners the goal as it happens. His timing and tempo is different class. My view is simple – the excitement is when a commentator can work up to “a chance”, that split second when you know a player is going for goal and you wait for the crowd to erupt to know it’s in the back of the net. Listeners want to know the basics first and foremost, ie where’s the ball on the pitch, are Brentford attacking or defending? If there is an attempt on goal then tell the listeners straight away what’s happened. So basically, I will try and get a good tempo for the game and keep with it. Remember you are “painting a picture in words”.
Be honest. If Brentford are playing very poorly, say so. Our fans respect that far more. They won’t want to read message boards after a game and discover those at the game said we had played badly whilst we were relaying all throughout game that Brentford were matching the opposition. That’s a sure way to lose trust of your subscribers. Be fair and respectful to the opposition. As fans we are, naturally, pro-Brentford but give credit where it’s due to our opponents. Also, try and be light hearted and have good banter with your co-commentator. Some effort at humour does mix it all up for listeners.
There will be more gems from Mark shortly.