Mark Burridge – Part Two – 17/3/15

beespBrentford play a quite crucial match away at Blackburn Rovers tonight, and they face no easy task against a team bang in form and justifiably full of confidence after three league wins in a row and a meritorious draw at Anfield in the FA Cup. The Bees on the other hand must still be smarting after Saturday’s ludicrous self-inflicted defeat to Cardiff City and need to get back on track immediately if they are to retain their limpet-like hold onto that crucial final playoff place in the Championship table.

A midweek away game in Lancashire, particularly on a work night, is too tough an ask for most of us and I salute all of those rabid Bees supporters, heroes each and every one of them, who will shortly be setting off on their long and hopefully rewarding journey to Blackburn. I am sure that I will not be alone in keeping in touch with events as they unfold at Ewood Park by tuning into Bees Player and listening to Mark Burridge describe all the action in his normal calm and professional manner. Which leads me on to the second part of my recent interview with Mark, where he expounded on all things Brentford and shed further light on the role of Bees Player.

How honest can you be?

Very. All of us just say what we see and feel. The media team have always been good with us that way, we are trusted to say it how it is. Common sense has to prevail in certain areas, if there’s a player who is having a poor game you should say, everyone has a bad day at the office, but being completely disrespectful to our own players is crossing the line.

How did you get the gig in the first place?

I saw an advert at the back of a fanzine for volunteers to commentate for the blind supporters back in 1997. The first game I did some commentary on we beat Gillingham 2-0 and the first Bees goal I had the pleasure to call was by Bob Taylor. By 2001/02 when clubs were encouraged and expected to cover away games too (in the trial period) Gary Hargraves asked me to commentate at Newcastle for the League Cup game. I sat about three yards from Newcastle legend Malcolm Macdonald and they couldn’t get us a phone line, so we had to use Gary’s phone. I gave out my own number in case anyone wanted a message read out. At half time I discovered there were thirty-eight texts to read! The Bees were one up through Owusu’s early goal and it was a great experience.

Gary then asked if I could do the away games that season and I did all but three, covering away games with Mark Chapman. It was a great season, tremendous fun and we so nearly gained promotion. I am not sure exactly how many games I’ve been involved in commentary for Brentford over the years but I’d estimate it’s been around six hundred.

The Bees Player team of commentators and analysts

Our current squad comprises Billy Reeves, Alan Denman (over forty years with both the blind scheme and Bees Player) and I on commentary, our summarisers include Chris Wickham, Mark Chapman, Ciaran Brett, Dave Morley, Natalie Sawyer and Mick Cabble, plus players when they are available .

Working with players and guests – do’s and don’ts

Be respectful and have fun. With players you simply cannot ask them to criticise their team mates, or even a fellow professional who is guilty of a very bad challenge. Try and bring them in as much as possible and if the opportunity arises take the topic off the game for a few seconds. The players can come up with some enlightening and light hearted stories about their team mates, all in good humour, of course!

Unforgettable games – good and bad!

So many memorable ones, particularly this season. I loved Forest away, total domination by Brentford. The first half at Cardiff away this year was mesmerising. The win against Derby. Preston and Peterborough away last year, that first away game I ever covered at Newcastle. All were very memorable. Bradford City at home on a rain sodden pitch with Nathan Elder’s late winning header in the title winning season. Blackpool away in 2002, with a brilliant opening goal from Lloyd Owusu in a superb and important win.

Mind you, nothing will ever match Sheffield United away in 2013 will it? Keith Stroud, four penalties, three reds, numerous yellows (was it nine?) and a late equaliser from us too. two-two and we felt robbed. Anyone who was there will never, ever forget that night.

Bad ones? Well nothing was more painful than the last fifteen minutes of the Reading home game in 2002. It was like being punched in the stomach when Cureton scored. I only got over it last year with our three-one win against them !! (Seriously!)

As for football of a quality I hope we never see again, the very word “Macclesfield” can send shivers down my spine, the one-nil loss on a Tuesday night there under Terry Butcher was about as difficult to commentate on as I can remember. Morecambe at home too with a one-nil loss. In both games, the football was as bad as I can remember -we were fifty shades of diabolical!

Best and worst interviewees and analysts?

I think it’s fair to say all are good in their way. We’ve added “Fan Interviews” to half/full time, which seem very popular and it’s great to try and hear how different supporters came to follow the Bees. Of the players we’ve worked with there’s no doubt Richard Lee and Sam Saunders have a potential career in media, indeed they’ve both already worked for Sky. Richard has a brilliant radio voice and I wouldn’t be suprised to see him on Sky’s Soccer Saturday at games next season.

Hopefully it’s decent media training for players anyway, if they are injured/suspended, to get involved with a live game and express their thoughts.

“It’s raining goals at Griffin Park !” – Discuss

Up there with “They think it’s all over!” Even the very best of commentators are lucky if they come up with one gem in their career. You have yours Greville. It’s in Brentford folklore. I do use it, tongue in cheek, if there’s a goal rush at Griffin Park.

How far can we go and how quickly?

Well, we can get to The Premier League next season. Nine games left and eight great teams going for two automatics and four playoff places. Our run in looks fairly good compared to others but its about standards and keeping them high, as Mark Warburton always says. Such is the quality of this League that if you only play to around 60% of your best then you’ll get beaten. It’s going to be a tremendously exciting six weeks. Personally, I’d love sixth place right now! What an achievement that would be for Matthew Benham, Mark Warburton and everyone at the Club – and I’d fancy us in the play-offs for sure! Next season? Well who knows –  there are going to be a few changes and it would be a brave or wise man to say at this stage. I am neither brave, or wise!

Beesplayer – the legacy 

Whichever way the service goes I do hope we keep it “in house” as having a slightly biased commentary does make fans feel more connected with the service. At present the listeners appear to like the way it all knits together, though with ever changing technology we must adapt to what the fans desire. Speaking for myself, though, I’m sure all the others in our team echo this sentiment. It’s been a joy to work on Bees World/Bees Player as I’ve met some great people, made strong lasting friendships through this experience with both fans and colleagues and if the media team are happy with what we do and the supporters enjoy the service, then I’m happy too. After all we are one big family in every way and that’s what makes us proud to support Brentford Football Club.

To catch all the commentaries and interviews plus up to date news, you can subscribe to Beesplayer for less than 10p a day at http://www.brentfordfc.co.uk

Mark Burridge – Part One – 13/3/15

burridgeI 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 wipitch 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.  

Why Brentford?

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.

Bees Player – 16/11/14

bp1I thought I would give it a couple of months for the dust to settle before I commented on the Bees Player situation.

Like all Brentford fans, I am delighted that, not before time, matters were finally sorted out satisfactorily between the club and the commentators and that normal service was resumed.

Well almost, as Luis Melville is no longer a member of the Bees Player team, at least for the time being, and I only hope that time will heal all wounds and that he will eventually return to the fold, as he is sorely missed.

Not least for the massive amount of preparatory work that he would undertake in terms of preparing stats, background information and the running order before every match.

All the necessary grunt work that makes the difference between the show being a success or an also-ran.

bp2Without betraying any confidences and revealing behind the scenes information, I would simply state that I hope that everybody has learned a lesson from what happened at the beginning of the season, that the impasse between the two sides is never repeated and that all necessary budgeting and negotiations are concluded well in advance in the future.

Bees Player Matchday Live is a Brentford institution, and is an unique service, prepared and delivered with love and dedication added to massive levels of knowledge, preparation and utter professionalism.

The entire team fits together like a glove and every individual adds his or her own individual skills and quirks to the whole.

It just works and everybody is to be congratulated.

bp3Mark Burridge is the glue that holds everything together and he is aided and abetted by Natalie Sawyer, Mick Cabble, Dave Morley and Alan Denman in particular.

Injured squad players such as Richard Lee, Sam Saunders and in past seasons, Kevin O’Connor and Scott Barron provide valuable insight with their expert analysis and we are blessed to have so many intelligent and articulate footballers at Brentford who straddle the line perfectly between indiscretion and vacuous blandness, and their contribution adds immeasurably to the proceedings.

When the main team isn’t available Billy Reeves takes over with his eccentric, passionate and inimitable style of commentating.

He is a breath of fresh air and his enthusiasm is contagious if sometimes over applied, when, despite his banshee howls of celebration, the ball doesn’t quite go into the opposition net as anticipated – ah well, nothing comes easy to us Brentford fans and it is good for us to suffer!

Chris Wickham and Mark Chapman also do an excellent and understated job when called upon.

It wasn’t always like this though, as in the deep and distant past things were done on a much more informal and ad hoc basis.

Every Brentford home match used to be filmed by Newsonic Video Productions, a small husband and wife run company that provided the same service for one of our major rivals, and commentary was generally provided by a local journalist and radio broadcaster, Phil Mison, who, if the truth be known, was, and remains, a rabid Fulham fan!

He did a decent job but when his other committments meant that the position became vacant I seized the opportunity.

I started doing the Matchday Video commentaries, as they were known at the time, on Sunday the third of December 1989, a date indelibly etched in my memory, when, as a season ticket holder in D Block, I noticed that there was no longer anyone filling that role.

Fifteen minutes before the massive local derby against Leyton Orient I approached the camera crew, asked them if there was a vacancy and lied my head off when questioned about any relevant experience I might possess.

Well, I had watched Match Of The Day since childhood, and one brief conversation later, I was on the air there and then.

I was very fortunate in that my first game was the ultimate cliched seven goal thriller with the Bees finally coming out on top.

Neil Smillie had the dubious honour of scoring the first goal that I celebrated on air and I also had three penalty kicks to remark upon.

All in all not a bad introduction to the job!

Well, from that day on I took over the commentary duties which I eventually shared with Ian Westbrook, and we were forced to learn on the job – no media training for us I am afraid.

More’s the pity as I could really have done with some expert advice, help and constructive criticism but was forced to soldier on and probably repeated the same errors every match.

What I hope came over was my total enthusiasm for the job and all things Brentford, and that I gave the role the hard work, dedication and respect it deserved, as I had the ultimate responsibility of being the eyes, ears and voice providing information and insights that would eventually be shared with Brentford supporters all around the world.

Working conditions were appalling as I was wedged into a seat situated high up in D Block directly behind the video camera.

I had to avoid being distracted by ignoring the constant and relentless barrage of advice, comments, abuse and non sequitors coming from everybody who was seated near to the commentary point, and there was really no escape or hiding place from them.

kfIt was also well-nigh impossible to read the illegible numbers on the back of the shirts of some club.

Who else can remember that appalling early 90s kit of Stockport County which resembled a psychedelic disaster where the numbers were tiny and merged into the pattern on the actual shirt?

Kevin Francis was easy to pick out but as for the others….

I also remember every match having to peer into the Bermuda Triangle down by the right hand corner flag at the Ealing Road end, which was never in clear view of my commentary position, and trying to guess what was happening.

I worked hard to show my support and encouragement for the Bees whilst also maintaining some sort of balance and perspective and although I certainly did not jump for joy when the opposition scored, I hope that I gave them some credit when it was due.

I also tried to be honest.

Viewers can’t be fooled and they know when the game or performance they are watching is unacceptable and you cannot defend the indefensible.

I always did my homework so that I was able to talk with some degree of knowledge and insight about every player on the opposition team.

I also realised that my bon mots or, more likely, cliches and inaccuracies, would only be heard by fans who actually bought the video of the match I was commentating on, as well as by all the purchasers of the end of season highlights tape.

Please excuse my self-indulgence at this juncture as I did have so much fun at the time, and hopefully some of my occasionally more inspired descriptive terms and expressions remain in vogue even today:

My personal favourites were:

“It’s raining goals at Griffin Park” when Terry Evans scored the winner in that incredible opening day four-three victory over Leyton Orient in August 1991 and “Another nonsense from Ashley Bayes” as the poor, young benighted keeper committed yet another offence against reason and belief against Spurs.

Apparently I found it all too much when Brentford threw away a vital promotion clash against Bradford City in 1992 and was heard to utter on air:

“Oh Brentford what have you done” but I confess to having no memory of that one!

Richard Cadette was always “The Wriggler” as he squirmed his way through opposition defences, but that is more than enough and I just hope that some of you appreciated my efforts and forgave me for my errors.

I kept going until, I think, the 1997/98 relegation season when the games were generally appalling and were like watching paint dry.

It also became totally impossible for me work up any enthusiasm for them, particularly as there was so much else going on off the pitch at the time and I found it hard not to be able to make mention of them on-air.

I therefore thought it was time to lay down the microphone and let someone else have a go.

A decision that was totally justified by what has subsequently happened, which is light years ahead of the service that I could offer.

Congratulations to everyone involved with Bees Player today, it is quite brilliant and I just hope that I was a worthy predecessor.