Everyone?s a critic, so they say.
When it comes to rugby league, everyone is indeed a critic. From the fair-weather fan to the diehard camped on the hill all winter, everyone has an opinion on nearly every issue. The salary cap, the top eight, the premiers, the wooden spooners ? you name it, opinions differ, opinions polarise.
One thing most fans are united on however is something that takes place off the field ? the commentators that broadcast our games. Secretly, deep down, everyone thinks they can do a better job; they could bring a new, original insight.
Hadley? Too arrogant. Vautin? Too biased. Gould? Sure, he?s a master football brain, but can anyone stand him?
One by one, the list is whittled down, and the case for the self grows. More knowledgeable than Warren. More personality than Voss. Sure, I could do it, one thinks to themselves.
7 weeks ago, I was afforded this very opportunity through the introduction of the Fox Sports ?Fan Booth.? In order to spice up the denouement of the NRL season for the viewer, Fox invited one fan from the competing clubs in a match per weekend to call the game, the audio available through Fox Digital. The Round 21 match between the Broncos and Canberra got the nod, and a few weeks beforehand I received a call from the Raiders regarding the gig.
I admit I am in a privileged position with respect to other Raiders fans ? I liaise with the club through the Sydney Green Brigade?s exploits and have written articles for the club?s website, so I was probably came to mind by default. Through years of travelling and supporting the team I know plenty of Canberra fans who could have handled the job easily ? but I somewhat selfishly took the opportunity with both hands. For someone with nowhere near the ability to play league, this was the one opportunity to be involved with the game, at some level ? even if it was only for eighty minutes.
While it was all smiles and slaps on the back from friends in the weeks prior to my commentary debut, two days out everything became deadly serious. The realisation that I was going to be on live national television, with no safety net, was terrifying. Besides forgetting a plug someone had requested, the fear was a simple one: dead air. I can ramble on and on with a pen about the Raiders, and I?m pretty quick to offer an opinion when sitting in the stands. This, however, was totally different ? it had to be informative, it had to be witty, it had to be free-flowing for the entire game.
Eighty minutes. It sounded like an eternity.
My confidence sapped, I met my foe for the evening. A fellow supporter of an interstate club trapped in a foreign land, we chatted briefly about the usual topics - life, love and Craig Frawley. The headphones were handed out. Game on.
A television screen, two chairs, and two microphones in a soundproof room were what we were confronted with. Hardly the glamorous life of the league celebrity, but this room was the centre of the universe right now. The two teams streamed out onto Suncorp Stadium, and with the thumbs up from the sound engineer on the other side of the glass, we were away. A brief pause, a stutter, then out it came ? ?Welcome to tonight?s Fan Booth?? my commentating career had begun.
I dare say I?ll remember each play of that match for the rest of my life. Phil Graham?s intercept, Lincoln Withers? freakish try, the Broncos fightback and, of course, the controversial ?No Try? to end the match. Depressing as it was to see the Green Machine pen another chapter of the ?How to Snatch Defeat from the Jaws of Victory? textbook, it was a unique experience I am grateful for having.
The tape is collecting dust now - I?ll probably never watch my call. Friends have said they tried to call me during the match, asking me to ?fire up? - probably a reflection on my nerves. After ten minutes I?d used up all of the clever comments thought up beforehand, so the remainder degenerated into simply willing the boys home. Grammatical errors, my high and whiny voice ? I can?t imagine why anyone would have wanted to listen to it.
Everyone?s a critic. This time, for the first time, I got to be my own.
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