Does anyone miss Tim Lane calling cricket on the ABC?
While studying at QUT in 2005, I interviewed Lane for a subject called sport journalism. Given my absurd ambition to call sport on the ABC, I figured Lane would provide an interesting interview. Despite the restrictions of time, ten minutes by phone, he was honest and candid.
As Australia have gone 2-0 in the Ashes, it is easy to miss Lane’s contribution to the ABC. I thought he was a great commentator.
This is the unedited assignment…
Tim Lane was born in Tasmania. Like most boys, he grew up immersed in football and cricket. It wasn’t until Lane embarked on a science degree that his career focus shifted. He worked his way into the ABC with ambitions to call marquee sporting events.
After calling more than thirty grand finals, four Olympics and three Commonwealth Games, Lane has excelled, proving the value of lofty ambitions and the worth of professional sport broadcasters.
Lane, who won awards for his work with the ABC, defected to Channel 10 in 2004. His move disappointed a legion of fans, many of whom grew up watching and listening to his broadcasts.
While he concedes money was an issue, Lane said his decision was more about balancing his life and providing stability for his new relationship.
The deal, which allowed Lane to call Friday night matches for the ABC and Saturday night matches for Channel 10, didn’t appease all of his loyal listeners.
Lane didn’t anticipate the response from his fans. He was accused of disloyalty, of having financial motivations. Nor did he anticipate how much he missed calling cricket on the ABC.
He remains determined to succeed in television, and those fans who lamented his parting won’t begrudge his commercial commentary too long.
When Lane fronts the cameras for Channel 10, gone is the moustache he wore in the early eighties. Most of his hair has vanished too but his voice hasn’t fractured with age.
It remains familiar and comforting, his description of events accurate and entertaining.
An obvious question for Lane is about preferences – cricket or football?
‘There’s no decisive answer,’ he said. ‘I’ve found both in their own way to be enjoyable.’
Despite the grand finals, Test matches and tennis, none will surpass the night Lane called Cathy Freeman home when she won 400m gold at the Sydney Olympics.
It’s his favourite sporting moment…
MW: Did any commentators influence you when you were a kid?
I lived in Northern Tasmania and you could pick up the Melbourne stations if you had a half decent radio. My brother was a Collingwood fan and of course I followed Carlton. We’d go to the football to meet our mates and we took turns at listening to the transistor.
MW: You called grand finals between Carlton and Collingwood with Peter Booth. Booth is a Collingwood fan and you support Carlton.
Peter and I called the 79 and 81 grand finals. Both 79 and 81 were close games. I was fortunate to see my team winning. I get pretty excited watching my team win a flag.
MW: During the 1990 grand final between Collingwood and Essendon, Peter Booth cried during the dying moments of the match, unable to finish the call. He later described his emotion as unprofessional. I thought it was pure passion. Do you think Peter was unprofessional?
I was quite forgiving because Collingwood were a special case. Peter was a kid in 1958 when he saw Collingwood win the premiership. His son was probably a bit older than Peter was as a kid when he finally saw them win in 90. It was almost like the wheel of life, a generational moment. It was only then I realised how much Collingwood meant to Peter.
MW: Apparently Peter Booth doesn’t have much to do with AFL football since his retirement. Do you envisage this for yourself, that watching football or cricket without calling it would be difficult?
You spend so many years doing it that perhaps when it’s over you enjoy other aspects of your life more. I think I’ll be following football for many years.
I find when I’m watching football live I’m not as involved in a game if I’m not calling it. If I watch a game with friends I don’t tend to get into it as much as they do. Calling the game is stimulation and without that stimulation watching is a bit harder. I do find generally it’s not the same.
MW: Commentators can be accused of bias when calling football. Is calling the game in an unbiased manner something you’re always mindful of?
There has been a strong tradition at the ABC of the need to present an impartial coverage of the game.
Broadcasters have a responsibility to the audience. Plenty of people know I support Carlton. You’ve got to remove yourself from it as best you possibly can. It’s particularly difficult when the team is travelling well and I might be calling a season-defining game. It’s hard to sound excited when another team gets a goal.
MW: Who is the best footballer you’ve seen?
Wayne Carey is probably the most dominant player I’ve seen, during his years with the Kangaroos.
MW: Do you have any games that stand out more than others?
The 99 preliminary between Carlton and Essendon was a memorable one, given it was a one point result. The 1989 grand final because it was so tough and exciting, especially the last quarter.
MW: Mike Sheehan, among other journalists, has been criticised for not playing AFL. He countered by saying he didn’t need to have played it to have an understanding of the pressures. What do you believe?
There are areas where clearly you recognise they (former footballers and cricketers) have knowledge you couldn’t claim. Both players and coaches have personal experience, whether they’re former or current. But the more you watch the more you learn. Laurie Oakes has never stood on the floor of parliament, yet he’s a leading political commentator.
MW: Apparently Rex Hunt and Bill Jacobs didn’t always get along. Has there ever been any tension between commentators in the ABC box?
I don’t have a problem with moments in the box, debate and disagreements. I always encourage people to say what they think and if that leads to a disagreement or debate, so be it. At times they can be spirited. Often you continue to debate and argue the point afterwards, particularly with Peter Roebuck.
There is the element of two bulls in a paddock. Traditionally commentators are going to be male who are ambitious and opinionated. It’s inevitable given the closeness and intensity of the roles. It’s a part of life.
Certainly you perform professionally and present a harmonious front that won’t necessarily reflect the feeling of the moment.
MW: Jim Maxwell wrote about ‘anticipation’ when calling sport on radio. He calls each ball early, before the bowler lets the ball go in anticipation of what happens next. Is this a tactic you are taught or one you learn?
Possibly a tactic passed on to Jim by Alan McGivilray. A great characteristic of Alan was beating the pace when something was about to happen. Just beating the roar of the crowd
MW: After a call do you and your fellow commentators get together for a beer?
Certainly on Saturday night after the Channel 10 call we’ll get together and kick the football around. Going back to the ABC, the late Doug Bigalow always took an esky filled with cans and stubbies. We’d get the makeup off, stand around and get a few beers, talk about the football and tell jokes. It was terrific.
MW: What is the best test match you’ve called?
Australia’s win at Port Elizabeth in South Africa when Ian Healy hit a six to win the game was close to the best Test match I was involved with. When the West Indies beat Australia in Adelaide by one run comes to mind.
MW: Who’s the best cricketer you’ve seen?
It’s difficult given the different forms of the game, because there’s batsmen and bowlers. Viv Richards was probably the most dominant batting presence I’ve seen and for the bowlers it would be Shane Warne.
MW: Is there more scope for creativity when calling for radio than there is for television?
Inevitably you’re limited by the scope of the pictures. For radio your broadcast is the only output and you can take the broadcast where you choose, particularly during the pre-match discussion and post-match discussion.
MW: Which forum, radio or television, do you enjoy more?
They present different challenges. There’s no freedom on television, no room to indulge in endless possibilities. It makes television a subtle art. It’s more challenging and I’m trying to get better at it. I think I developed a system for radio that worked reasonably well.
MW: Was your stint on Talking Footy something you’d like to do again?
Yes. I was very pleased to do it in 1999. I’d been doing a similar program on Optus vision, the football channel C7. If the opportunity presents itself I’d like to do it again.
MW: Have you ever been approached by Carlton or any other club for a board position?
John Elliot, just sounding me out, mentioned it to me once a number of years ago, somewhat informally. I was working full-time with the ABC and talked to the head of radio, Sue Howard. She suggested given my position it probably wasn’t a great idea. I had to tell Big Jack no.
MW: What are your future ambitions?
Not specific ambitions anymore, just continued opportunities to call big events and to keep enjoying big sporting events. I’ve done the things I hoped I would do.