Footy on Eurosport

By Jim Newkirk

It is 8am on a fabulously beautiful Sunday, spring morning – no clouds, no wind, 19 degrees. It promises to be a great day, and I’m off to the footy. It feels a bit like those times 20 or so years ago when the boys and I would head out to the under 11s and then the under 13s at the Fitzroy Junior Football Club, on McQuillan Ave in Adelaide. Or one of the early games at the G, when Grand Final day included that procession of finals and you could watch them all on Channel 7 after the pulling an all-nighter feast of classics.

But it isn’t. It is indeed spring, and I’m off to watch Fremantle host Geelong in Round 1 of the 2012 season. I’ll be watching in the studios of Eurosport Television in Belgrade, Serbia, with my good friend (and fellow Saint) Blazo.

But let me go back a couple of years. 9 and a half, in fact, to the 2002 Grand Final. I organised a Grand Final Breakfast for three Australian friends and myself (a Sainter from the Gold Coast, a Swan from Sydney and one other from Canberra who, well, what to say, followed that other sport). The girls all rocked up late, and drunk from an all-nighter. It was good that they came, but poor things were suffering dreadfully. Worse, how did we ‘watch’ the GF? We didn’t – we had only audio – ABC commentary from the internet.

Much has changed since those times. At some point about 5 years ago Eurosport started showing the AFL magazine on a Monday evening. The following year we got a highlights package weekly, and from time to time a complete replay. The following year we usually had one live game, although it was not guaranteed, and sometimes a replay of that game, later in the week and at strange hours. And that year we started getting one final each week live, including of course the GF. The following year we always had one live game per week, generally the Friday night match although sometimes a Saturday game, afternoon or evening. Evening matches start at 11.40 am our time, and afternoon matches such as the GF at around 6.30 am. This year we have at least one live match and sometimes TWO!

When you’ve been away as long as I have, this provides an amazing ‘lifeline’, a fabulous link back to Oz.

A few years ago, Peter Roebuck made some references to the European coverage of the T20 competition Eurosport had begun broadcasting. Every minute of international sport on Eurosport is broadcast with local commentators in local languages across Europe. I have no idea how many countries or languages, but it would be around 20. It used to all be English on my feed, but there was also a German feed. Now it is all local. Roebuck was amazed and delighted, not least because the commentators he was listening to had to find a way to explain such things as Silly Point to an audience that had never before seen a game of cricket.

In this same context you can imagine how I might listen intently to the Serbian commentary on Aussie Rules. While my Serbian language skills are not great, I can follow everything, and particularly when I understand the subject. I was watching a game one day a couple of years ago and I heard the commentator say something about the time clock that made me realise he did not understand how it works. (Time off, time on, clocks running down, clocks running up – who is surprised?) I wrote an email to the commentator, and ultimately we got involved in an email conversation. The commentator was Blazo. Let me tell you a bit about him.

While I miss English language commentary, I am constantly amazed at Blazo, and what he does. He is Eurosport’s ‘AFL’ expert (he does both our game and the Arena Football League – the indoor gridiron competition from the States), and also does American University football commentary. He is an expert on gridiron, and is a successful coach here. He also has a ‘real job’, as well as the commentating. Blazo has never been to Australia. Only a couple of years ago he had never even heard of Aussie Rules. So, he’s never seen a game live, but who would be surprised that he loves the game? Did pretty much from the start, and it has grown on him. He does a great job commentating, and has learned a great deal in the past few years. In fact I find it a touch irritating that while I am less able each year to recognise players and to know jumper numbers, he knows everyone.

At some point he asked me if I would like to come into the studio as a guest one day, for a broadcast. That sounded a nice idea, and we agreed that the next Saints game would be good. It was a Saturday night game so we met for breakfast and a coffee at a local bakery and as we got to know each other a friendship was born. We hurried up to the studio, slipped into the booth and Blazo handed me a headset. I heard the French guy down the line talking about how long to go and all that – just what one imagines – and then Blazo is talking live on-air. It was a lot of fun until I saw him turn on my microphone and introduce me. I had not realised being a ‘guest’ meant saying something! But it was a lot of fun, and has become an irregular feature of my life, even if it is a bit confusing at times for listeners. Imagine:

  • Blazo does the call in Serbian.
  • He turns to me throughout, and in Serbian asks my thoughts about a play, the state of the game or a prognosis.
  • I answer in English. Did I mention I was born and raised in the US? So yes, I speak in my own strange mix of American and Australian accents, although the idiom is purely Australian.
  • Neither of us has ever played a game of footy, if you discount the night match fundraiser between the Old Farts and the Girls at the aforementioned Fitzroy Junior Football Club that I did not star in about 20 years ago.

We get a lot of good feedback, including regular back-patting from our two, certain regular listeners, our wives.

I’m on a deadline this weekend, so cannot find the time it takes to be with Blazo, but that doesn’t stop me from having him on in the background. Not such a lovely spring morning, today, but I like the looks of the Saints against the Suns.

 

Comments

  1. Phil Dimitriadis says:

    That’s unreal Jim. Blazo is such a great name for a commentator. Could you imagine a Blazo Commetti?

    I used to watch Eurosport religiously when I lived in Greece in 1997-98. I found out that that Adelaide had beaten St Kilda in the 1997 GF through Eurosport. A surreal feeling when your so far away from the hub of footy. Most of the time the coverage was in English, but you’d get it in German and French too. Would love to see a youtube post of Blazo’s work.

  2. haiku bob says:

    brilliant jim!

    loving eurosport’s work here in stockholm too!
    like you, my local language skills are pretty ordinary, but in the right context, i can do ok.
    footy provides that context.

    anyway, the swedish call is done by a bloke called jonathon briscoe.
    he’s a swede who lived in adelaide for a few years in the early 2000’s.
    i met him at a function for aussie ex-pats here in stockholm a couple of weeks ago.
    we got talking haiku (funny how that happens) and he showed some interest in airing some footy haiku during the broadcast.

    so, during the easter sunday slaughter between the saints and the suns, i sent him the following ku which he read out during the last quarter:

    easter sunday
    a miracle comeback
    our only hope

    easter egg hunt
    saints finding goals
    everywhere

    i’ll keep sending them through and put the hard word on him to get haiku bob behind the mike!

    hb.

  3. Phil, sadly I have never even heard an excerpt of a call. Would love to, of course, and if it ever happens that we find some vision, I’ll find a way to post it.

    Bob, thanks. I’m thinking, Jonathon Briscoe – now there’s a classic Swedish name. I reckon you could lean on him, for starters, to just do the reading of a haiku yourself, and then slip in a few additional comments. He’d immediately see the value of your presence, for himself as well as the listener. I’ll read some of your work next time I work with Blazo – that’ll be fun.

  4. Hey Jim,

    Wow – what a trip down memory lane! I had totally forgotten we did this all those years ago (actually I do recall getting drunk in Belgrade on the odd occasion :) ) but your story was a lovely reminder of the many good times we all had together during that time….
    I too can watch the games now and in the luxury of my own apartment. I had satellite TV installed a few years back – only reason I got it was because it has Australia Network as part of the package and I get to watch our Sainters play most weekends during the season. Was great to see them in good form on Saturday – such a convincing win too. Let’s hope they keep it up for the entire season.
    Cheers!
    Julie

  5. Peter Flynn says:

    G’day Jim,

    Lovely piece. Thanks.

    Has Blazo seen the dying moments of the ’66 GF and heard the classic calls?

    Has Blazo modelled himself on an Australian football caller?

    Please don’t say Bruce!

  6. That was great Jim and I understood every word. Keep it up.

  7. John Harms says:

    Classic Jim. REally intersting, and entertaining. Would love to find a way of hearing some of it – and posting a link. Something?

  8. Peter, Blazo’s work is all his own – no ‘special’ here. Works very well in the context. I’ve got a video of the ’66 GF, but silly me I’ve never let him watch even the final few kicks. I’ll take it to him on the weekend – we might well have Freo v Carlton, which could be very interesting.

  9. John, thanks. I’m working on something. I’d like to hear it myself, of course, so if I find something I’ll get it to you.

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