Filed: Tuesday, 12th May 2009
By: Gordon Thrower
He’s been reading out the team selections for over 10 seasons now – yet he originally turned the job down when he was first asked to do it! We caught up with stadium announcer Jeremy Nicholas to discuss skateboarding badgers and to find out just how easy it is to upset Sir Bobby Charlton...
KUMB: You started at the Boleyn in 1998 but before that some of us recall you working at much-missed BBC radio station GLR.
JN: That’s right. I joined GLR in 1990. I was a regular there until about 1994 when I went freelance. I did the breakfast show for three years then afternoons for a while. I went back there in 1999 and did the breakfast show for a year or so. It was a smashing radio station – the people that were there Danny Baker, Chris Evans Chris Morris, Emma Freud – it was quite a breeding ground. The great thing about it was the mixture of serious speech and great music.
KUMB: So, 1998. How exactly do you go about getting a job where you are paid to watch West Ham?
JN: The way it happened was that I got a ‘phone call out of the blue from (former Managing Director) Paul Aldridge. He said that the club had installed a new sound system and were looking for a new announcer and would I like to do it – and I said “no not really!” As a fan I liked going to matches and shouting at the players and I wasn’t sure that sort of thing would be allowable in the job! I enjoyed just turning up and relaxing at matches.
I presume that I was offered the job because I was always mentioning West Ham on the radio and I think I was presenting sports programmes on Channel 5 at the time so they asked me to come down and give them some advice on how things should be run. I kept turning the job down but they were quite persistent. I then had a recurring dream that I’d be introducing Rio on the pitch as having scored the winning goal in the ’98 World Cup. I was brought up on tales of Moore, Hurst & Peters being introduced as World Cup winners in ’66 so I thought that I’d be the one to do that for Rio and I agreed to do the job.
It didn’t quite work out as I planned though. Rio didn’t get a game in the World Cup and, instead of introducing World Cup heroes in my first game, I had to introduce David Beckham – who was public enemy no.1 at the time! I’d been used to radio and tv where you don’t usually see your audience so I was scared enough at having to speak in front of 30,000+ people anyway without having to announce “No. 7 David Beckham” in front of everyone booing. The only thing that got me through it was the knowledge that the previous season I’d been up in the Dr Martens stand myself doing the booing.
KUMB: A few years back we attended one of the fans’ forums which happened to coincide with a reserve match against Spurs. We had a half-hour break to watch the end of the match and we were quite surprised to hear you announcing all the substitutions. Do you do all the reserve games as well?
JN: I do some of them if they’re at the Boleyn but I don’t go to Bishop’s Stortford or wherever. What often happens is that reserve matches get moved to the Boleyn at short notice. If there’s a player being given a run-out after injury, for example, they may move the game to the Boleyn rather than risk further injury on a non-league pitch. If that happens I’ll do it if my other commitments allow – I might have an engagement that’s been booked for months that I can’t cancel so reserve games are a bit hit and miss. Reserve games are great though – you get some real fans there.
KUMB: So over the years are there any matches that stand out from a stadium announcer’s point of view?
JN: Well the one that everybody mentions is the play-off semi final against Ipswich. We had the opera singer, the fireworks and the bloke doing the Post Horn Gallop. That was a highlight.
KUMB: Looking back on that era, we used to speak to Alan Pardew and we know that he used to ask you to do stuff to get the crowd going. Is that sort of thing common?
JN: I guess that Alan Pardew was the most “hands on” of the managers I’ve met. Harry would ask me not to get the crowd going too much in case it put pressure on the players – which I thought was a little bit strange to be honest. Glenn Roeder didn’t say anything much.
Pards would like to get anything new that was going – streamers and that sort of stuff. There were a few times I had to tell him that I didn’t think West Ham fans would go for that sort of thing. Some things might work well at Reading but I thought we were steeped in tradition a bit more than that so I had to tell him a couple of times that his suggestions wouldn’t go down too well.
KUMB: How about music after goals? We happen to know you share our distaste for that sort of thing!
JN: It was suggested once! I can’t remember if it was Pardew who suggested it but it did come up once. I was against it and, to be fair, so was everyone else at the club. Everyone agreed it was a bad idea.
KUMB: We heard a radio interview with you once when you put your views on the subject quite forcefully!
JN: I believe the phrase I used was “Over My Dead Body!” My general feeling about the job is that I’m there to do pretty much what the club wants. I only say two things: that we should always run out to “Bubbles” and that we should never play music after goals. Other than that I pretty much do what I’m told.
KUMB: You mentioned turning the job down originally because you were a fan and you occasionally hear stories of announcers at other clubs getting the sack for saying things – the guy at Preston was dismissed a few years back for making a comment about Uriah Rennie. How hard is it to stay detached during a match?
JN: It is quite tricky. There are other examples. There was the guy in the Bristol derby – can’t remember which club – who got the sack for announcing “no. 12 Junior Bent – and I bet he is” and there was the guy at Charlton who was sacked for continually referring to the opposition as “Crystal Palarse.” It is difficult to keep yourself in check. Last Saturday for example I sat there thinking that Alan Wiley wasn’t doing a particularly good job – and I’ve got a microphone in my hand! However, also in the back of my mind is the fact that Wiley is probably one of the better referees out there and, apart from the foul on Luis before the penalty he got most things right.
It wouldn’t be a good job to do if you had Tourette’s and were shouting out everything that runs through your head! You have to be conscious of what you say. I used to shout a lot as a season ticket holder but now I don’t!
KUMB: You mentioned the Ipswich game as a highlight. How about low points? Any moments where you thought “did I really say that”?
JN: (Laughs) what could I tell you that wouldn’t lose me my job! I suppose there’s the famous “Aliadiere” moment. Everyone kept getting his name wrong so I thought “he’s here, he’s there, he’s Aliadiere” – it’s impossible to get his name wrong if you say it in that rhythm. I waited for weeks for him to get on so I could use that. I thought that it would be hilarious and that everyone would crack up and it would become a real cult thing. Unfortunately he was rubbish!
KUMB: That one still raises a smile in certain quarters!
JN: Then there was Richard Shaw. He scored an own goal when he was playing for Coventry and I announced the goal in “too cheerful a voice” for the opposition directors apparently. It was a bullet header and it was quite funny – “goal for West Ham scored by Rich-ard Shaw!” I’ve since learned that you’re supposed to say these things like you’re at a funeral.
Actually it was quite funny and, you know what, we are West Ham. We’re not the BBC, we’re not neutral, it’s not Wembley. We scored a goal so let’s go nuts! I remember reading out the half-time scores once and saying “Here’s some good news – Spurs are losing” – and Bobby Charlton of all people complained! He was in the directors’ box and it was relayed to me that he thought that “your announcer shouldn’t do that sort of thing”. Mind you it was also relayed to me “carry on Jeremy – we’re not neutral” so I’ve carried on doing that sort of thing ever since.
Actually that might have been my very first game – first game and I upset Sir Bobby Charlton!
KUMB: Good! You had a bit of a break earlier this season?
JN: Yeah - it was great to watch games again from the stand with my wife. But when the call came asking me to return for the Hull game, I was delighted to say yes. Could I say thanks to everyone who’s been kind enough to suggest my return coincided with an improvement in atmosphere. I don’t think an announcer has much to do with improving atmosphere if I’m honest, it’s all down to the fans.
From watching West Ham away I would say most announcers love the sound of their own voice and talk far too much. Maybe I was guilty of that when I started. I’ve supported West Ham all my life and the one thing I know about us, is we don’t like being told what to do. I might say ‘come on let’s make some noise and get behind the Hammers’ just to raise levels at the start of the second half, but I will never do a ‘Delia’ and shout at fans ‘let’s be having you!’ Well, not unless Pards makes an unexpected return and I’m under orders!
KUMB: I believe the missus ran the marathon the other week. You didn’t fancy that one yourself?
JN: No! I can’t run - I’m a terrible runner. I love golf and tennis. I used to play football until my pace went. I hate running. Whenever I’m running I think “I could stop now”. If there’s a tennis ball at my feet or there’s something to win I think “fair enough” but just running? No! Jeanette did it in 5:36 – she did it three years ago in 4:58 but she got a calf injury this time round so she had to power walk the last 9 miles. She’s from South Africa and she’s quite “outdoorsy”. We actually got married at the ground.
She didn’t mind that? I’m in no rush to get married but I’m pretty sure that if I suggested the Boleyn Ground I’d get pretty short shrift! (I won’t ask in case she says yes!)
JN: No she didn’t mind at all! The beauty of it all was that we had the wedding and reception all in the one place and we had guests from overseas so they could stay in the hotel.
KUMB: I stayed in a hotel once that had a marvellous view across the bay of Cape Town and Table Mountain and I maintain that it’s got the second best hotel view in the world after the Boleyn! So what occupies your time away from the Boleyn these days?
JN: Everything is to do with talking really. My background is obviously radio, then I went into telly with Sky and Channel 5 and did a lot of sports presenting. Nowadays the day job is basically professional speaking. I do a lot of after dinners – there’s a lot of sports anecdotes and “when broadcasting goes wrong” stuff. I still do the odd week here and there for the BBC doing “and finally” stories – the “skateboarding badger” stuff – you can see reports like “David Beckham’s face on a melon” on the website - jeremynicholas.co.uk.
That’s mainly for the BBC “East Midlands Today” programme – I’ve done a lot of stuff for that area historically so I spend a lot of time on the motorway. I’m gradually moving away from that area though and I’m doing a lot more just speaking. I host and compere a lot of business events and awards shows.
I also do a lot of media training – I set up my company Talking Toolbox about a year ago and we go into companies armed with camcorders and laptops to show them how to be interviewed and how things get edited down, that sort of thing. That’s going really well.
KUMB: You’re also a published author we understand!
JN: Yeah! When you do public speaking they have to introduce you onto the stage and I’m a bit of a hotch-potch! “It’s Jeremy Nicholas, stadium announcer at West Ham, TV reporter, radio presenter, a bit of this, a bit of that”. Now they can say “Jeremy Nicholas, author of “Media Masters” and they’ll know roughly what I’m going to talk about.
I had no idea when I started it whether it’d be any good at it but I think it’s turned out ok!
KUMB: So what’s the book about then?
JN: Well we interviewed 25 people who are in the public eye, there’s some sports stars, TV presenters, politicians, that sort of thing, and they give their tips for how to come over well in the media – on TV and radio. There’s a couple of Hammers in there. There’s Iain Dale, who runs political and West Ham blogs, and also Phill Jupitus of “Buzzcocks” fame. Iain Dale ran through the politicians who he thinks come over well on TV and Phill’s tip was that you should make sure that what you say actually looks good in black & white as well as sounding good in context.
KUMB: The book’s available in all good bookshops we presume?!
JN: And some very poor ones as well! Another thing I did last year was hosting the reception of Rebecca Adlington – the double Olympic gold medallist. That was quite funny. She was expecting maybe 2 or 3,000 to turn up but when she came out there were 50,000 there! The previous biggest thing to come out of Mansfield was Richard Bacon!
KUMB: How about voiceovers?
JN: Yeah I do the stadium announcements on the EA Sports FIFA games – I’ve been doing those since FIFA 06. Once a year I go into a voice-over booth in Wardour Street and announce the names of every team and every player from any country in the world. Each year I just have to announce the new players – the 17 year olds that are coming through – and I announce their names as if they’ve just scored or as if they’ve been substituted and I update it for any new grounds that have been built. You get to make some announcements of your own – every car I’ve ever owned has left its lights on and Mr Moon arrives and leaves you’ll be glad to hear. I mentioned a mate’s wedding in the past and I managed to mention KUMB.com in the 2010 version. The announcements come up at random though. My mate’s brothers were playing it for a year and a half before they heard his announcement!
KUMB: It’s fun to stick somebody’s name into google just to see what the “wrong” hits come up with. Did you know that you have an MBE for services to Anglo-Belgian trade for example!?
JN: I had no idea! There is an actor called Jeremy Nicholas though. I met him in my GLR days. I’d just finished a breakfast show which puts you in a jet-lagged state. You spend the week working in one time zone and the weekend in another and you exist in a sort of twilight zone. I’d been drinking coffee all morning and reception announced “Jeremy Nicholas please come to reception – Jeremy Nicholas to see you” which I thought was a bit weird. I remember walking along the corridor in my jet-lagged state thinking “what shall I do if I get there and it’s me?!”
KUMB: BBC coffee is that good?!
JN: When I got to reception there was this actor waiting for me. We went across the road for a drink and after 20 minutes he told me that his agents were worried and would I mind awfully changing my name! I said no. He used to read “Book At Bedtime” on Radio 4 and Radio 4 kept telling GLR to get me to change my name. They were putting the pressure on even when I had moved onto TalkSport Radio. He started mentioning (the actors’ union) Equity and I countered that with my membership of the NUJ. They wanted me to change it to Jeremy J Nicholas – a bit like Harry H Corbett of Steptoe fame and Harry Corbett who did Sooty. Jeremy J Nicholas – that would have been terrible!
I did a radio show on technology once and we were discussing websites. The expert mentioned that jeremynicholas.com was available and explained how to register it – the idea was that the following week he was going to explain how to fill it with content. By the time the programme had finished the actor had registered jeremynicholas.com for himself – which is why mine is jeremynicholas.co.uk!
KUMB: Any plans for the future at the moment?
JN: Well I’m about to launch a You Tube Video channel where I’ll be presenting “soft news” – more of the “skateboarding badger” stuff that the BBC tend not to cover in too much depth. I’ve bought an illuminated globe and it’ll just be me sitting in the office talking to a camera. Very high tech! I’m also hoping to get some work in South Africa around World Cup time!
KUMB: We’ll keep an eye out for the you tube stuff. Thanks for your time.
JN: No problem.
Jeremy’s book “Media Masters” – co-written with Alan Stevens and edited by Debbie Jenkins is available from all good bookshops, some very poor ones and also at Amazon.
Jeremy’s wife Jeanette ran the London Marathon in support of an orphanage in South Africa. If you wish to make a donation you can still do so via this link.