My time with Sid – a comment on commentators

In a sporting world overflowing with hyperbole one word seems to have remained untouched. There just doesn’t seem to be a lot of doyens out there. When we lose one therefore it seems an ideal moment to hop off the tread-well and let the mind go back in time for a change. I first encountered Sid in my university days. These were years when time stood still. If you asked me now how I passed the days I would struggle to do justice to your query. To be cash poor and time rich seems so ludicrous now. What I do remember is linked to stupidity, disaster or sport.

Darts never filled a main steam niche in the campus landscape but there was a group of us who knew a good thing when we saw it. If you couldn’t see something of yourself in ‘The Crafty Cockney’ you were not looking hard enough. I didn’t realise at the time, but Eric wasn’t the only star of the show. In the background Sid was gently informing and educating. Passion is a strange thing to convey. Players use actions and gestures, spectators’ screams and gnashing of teeth. The commentator is a different beast. The great ones develop with their sport, and become melded to it. You notice it when they are absent, and relax into the event once the familiar tone is heard. But you never query their passion. You needed silence in the room just to hear Ted Lowe speak, but one never ever doubted he cared. In the modern age of close up viewing the individual sports can leave its players deeply exposed. Sid was more visible than Ted and certainly more animated, but he conveyed the same ideals. A deep knowledge of the sport, a sense of its history and theatre, and a tangible concern for the well-being of the performers.

My respect for Sid really developed once the nonsense stopped and work began. A stint in South Gippsland moved me from casual observer to obsessed player, and with a small group a darts faculty was formed that is still relevant today. We recreated what we watched, and with monikers and ego’s we strutted up and down the oche. Though we never acknowledged it, the language we used was the language of Sid, the ultimate compliment.

By the time I had moved to Blighty I had Sid in the veins. The game itself had moved on. Pints and cigarettes were disappearing from the stage and whilst a swag of nationalities had appeared ‘The Power’ reigned like a monarch and was dominating a sport like few ever had. Sid had also changed. His delivery had quickened and his turn of phrase matured, but here is where I believe the greatness lies. He never once tried to become the event, never felt the need to impose himself on the listener. Compare this to what we often here today and we see why the doyen is such a rare breed.

So the years have passed. I have returned to Gippsland and Sid has left us. No nine dart finish will ever seem as good. I deliberately made some time today. I searched youtube, first of all for Sid and then for great commentary per se. I ended with our own game. It confirmed for me how crucial the commentary is in honouring the moment. If you have not heard Clinton Grybas describe the last few minutes of the 2005 semi-final in Sydney do yourself a favour.

I then fired up the grinder and sharpened my old arrows. The arm lacked practice and to start with not many flew straight, but inside my head a familiar voice offered detailed analysis and constructive advice. And then a moment from a parallel universe occured. Two darts in succession as pure as any I have thrown. I could see the close-up screen appear. The third dart felt like it stuck in the fingers a bit, but it never veered from its destiny and nestled next to its mates. I looked around hoping for a witness but there was none. Only Sid saw it, and inside my head a familiar phrase boomed out.

Sid Waddell – gone but not forgotten.

Comments

  1. Peter Flynn says:

    Mick,

    Superb words about a legend.

    There’s an article waiting to be written about the crazy darts we played one winter’s arvo/night at Halesham. Throwing while singing Beatles songs etc.

    The Power was at Moonee Valley last night. A Night with Phil Taylor.

    I couldn’t go. Spewing.

    Apparently there was a streaker. Instead of getting frogmarched, the streaker was allowed to return to his seat and put his clothes back home.

  2. John Harms says:

    So true, Michael. Sounds like you had the perfect university career which no doubt prepared you well.

    I have never thrown a 180, but Shanghais were not out of the question.

    WE played so much darts underneath the share house we had in Toowong that there was a hole at the throw line (and a lot of bottle tops around).

    At Headingley in 1993 they sang a lot of “There’s only one Eric Bristow”.

    And finally, on Sid, his commentary was underpinned by respect for the game and players, and he disguised any sense of ego with self-deprecating playfulness. He was undergraduate until the end, despite having graduated, and that’s one of the many reasons I liked him.

  3. Andrew Starkie says:

    Great stuff, Michael. Such passion in your words.

    It’s funny, uni years are never forgotten like endless summers. I survived university on Fruche (French yoghurt), two minute noodles, dollar pots at PA’s on Thursday nights and Lygon St hotdogs. And a lot of footy.

  4. Michael Howard says:

    Andrew – what culinary memories we share. Bring back the Burko I say.

    I see Sid Waddell’s son Dan told at the funeral of how his dad was proud he had never eaten yoghurt as it was “the embodiment of all that was bourgeois.”

    If only he knew!

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