Obituary: “…But first, here’s the classified results with James Alexander Gordon”

To me it’s a great tragedy that the Foxtel/iPhone generation with association football shoved down their throats every weekend will never know the simplicity and twee nature of James Alexander Gordon reading out the British football results over the radio on an early Sunday morning.

The 78 year old Scot passed away over the weekend after a two year battle with throat cancer which saw him retire from announcing the football results on the BBC in 2013 after an iconic 40 year run. His voice was as reassuring as a mother’s hug with his calm demeanour giving out results that would’ve had people from Bristol to Parramatta in despair or punching the air in delight thanks to the World Service. It’s stupid to think how someone eloquently reading out ‘Manchester United 1 Aston Villa 1’ would mean so much to so many people.

I first heard ‘JAG’ as a kid when a replay of his results service would be aired on Radio 6NR in Perth on a Sunday morning on the radio in my Dad’s shed. The old man would be muttering away as he worked on some project forced upon him on a Sunday by my mother. There was always a wonder what the pools results actually meant along with where these teams came from which fired up the imagination in a way that ABC TV’s The Winners couldn’t with Kardinia Park and Moorabbin. West Bromwich Albion? It sounded at the time like Big Rock Candy Mountain to someone growing up in suburban Rockingham. When I visited Birmingham some 20 years later I saw it was most definitely not. It was an introduction to the World to me. No teacher at school could show me that.

In my adolescence there were no live games on pay TV or even SBS with the exception of the FA Cup Final, European Cup final and odd highlights package on the ABC or SBS in between World Cups. This meant listening to coverage on the World Service as they crossed to grounds across the UK to an excited commentator who could barely spit his words out after an equaliser to lowly Oxford United or late penalty drama at the Goldstone Ground in Brighton. Following all of this (and the top of the hour news) JAG would read out the classified results of the all the games to tie up all the events and send everyone off to sleep. It was like a bed time story to many.

When hitting adulthood and some would say borderline alcoholism there were many times I would slink out of a party or other gathering to go to a car out the front to hear that night’s results on the radio. Sometimes there was someone else who was doing it too and we’d have an instant bond over our sad addiction. The trouble was, being a Celtic supporter, that the Scottish results would be after all 4 divisions of English results so it would be a good 5-10 minutes I’d be MIA. Upon returning and telling people where I was there was always one ‘but it’s only soccer’. I tried to assert that no one could say Wolverhampton Wanderers quite like JAG. No One. I tried to explain why it was important to hear if Coventry had got the point needed to confirm survival in the Premier League but it was lost on them. They hadn’t been taken by JAG at an early age and moulded by his soft words. They didn’t know an icon when they heard one.

As the coverage increased on television the late night radio coverage of British football became less and less important. More and more had Foxtel to see the games live as shows like the 6NR football show and the other late night show on Information Radio went the way of the Dodo with also big thanks to the internet. The World Service was still there though and so was JAG still rifling off the results like it was still 1979, in a studio that was like a ready made time capsule, and Thatcher had just taken power.

Over time though even I slipped away from JAG as I got older, much like someone would from an imaginary friend in their childhood. Unless I was in a car heading home on a Saturday night or having a night in I would hardly hear the classified results being read. There was also the dreaded smartphone that had instant scores for all. Also, not one Premier League game was missed on Pay TV by now.  The mystique, even in Australia, was gone.

I always thought JAG would be there even though he sounded like a pensioner in the 1980s but then one night when listening in a cab on the way home he wasn’t. A female newsreader from BBC 2 had taken his role. I thought he must’ve been on holiday or had a touch of the lurgy. Upon further inquiries I had found JAG had been forced to retire after having his larynx removed because of cancer. I was sad for the hole left at 12.10/1.10 am  every Sunday morning as much as I was angry with myself that I had lost touch. Never again would we hear JAG reading the results out. We would never hear him utter that impossible score line ‘East Fife 4 Forfar 5’.

With the confirmation of his death I now have closure but also remind myself that he played a huge part in a lot of lives for those of us in Australia far removed from the sport in Europe. To some he was football and to some, like me, he steered us towards a love affair with the sport that continues this day despite big business’ constant attempts to ruin the sport with obscene wealth. James Alexander Gordon was someone who turned a broadcasting chore in an art form and like many things I grew up with he is gone and will be missed. I never did find out how the Soccer Pool worked.

About Dennis Gedling

RTR FM Presenter. Glory Guerrillas Producer and Co-Host. Contributer to Football Nation Radio and Football West. Worships at the feet of the mighty Cats, Socceroos, Matildas, West Perth, Glory and Glasgow's Green and White most of the time.

Comments

  1. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Just once I would have liked to have heard him say

    Barnestoneworth United 8 – Denley Moor Academicals 1

    Vale JAG

  2. Very nice memories bought back here Dennis, well done. I remember him, I always thought you could anticipate the score when his voice went up or down for the second team, as if quietly happy or disappointed in a result. Like Chelsea 1 (puts on slightly more chipper voice ) Barnsley 2!

    He may be the guy Billy Connolly kmde a joke about. He supported Caledonian Thistle as a kid who weren’t much chop and for years thought their name was Caledonian Thistlenil

    Sean

  3. Dennis Gedling says

    ‘Partick Thistle Nil’ was the joke.

  4. Dave Brown says

    Well written, Dennis. As a life long listener of the world service to assist with the journey to the land of nod I certainly miss JAG on a Saturday night. Like you, my youthful imagination was fired by the possibilities of the likes of Leyton Orient, Plymouth Argyle, Rushden & Diamonds, Milton Keynes Dons and Partick Thistle.

  5. A fantastic tribute Dennis. Such an iconic part of many people’s lives. Also a testament to the power of the human voice.

    The romantic associations of some of the team names of course masked the brutal, crushing reality that young folk like me in Australia could not know!

    Thanks.

  6. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Thanks Dennis JAG was a icon like Sean you could generally work out the result by the tone of his voice and ditto meeting people out the front at a party to hear him read the scores , in fact I reckon it was the way he said , Queens Park Rangers in the 70s which made me follow them in the 1st place !

  7. Trying to find the BBC theme which introduced BBC sports Round up on ABC radio in Qld during the 70s. This isn’t it:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gv_idtcK1-E

    Can anyone find it?

    I certainly rememebr, “But first the classified football results”

  8. Deserved tribute Dennis. I too loved the hint of a result in the rising and falling cadence.
    Here is the late Mel Smith’s take on the Classified Football results;
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ACMcjbmniC8

  9. Warwick Nolan says

    Lovely tribute Dennis. Preserving a much adored sporting ritual.

    Before Suduko . . . we loved any sort of a challenge.

    In the 60s, on the way home from church we would make the free phone call from the suburban red phone boxes. The PMG sports results service. How many soccer results can you accurately guess from the implied intonation?

    And Sheffield Shield updates.
    Check the time while we were there of course. “At the third stroke . . . ”

    And many thanks to Peter for the NTNON link. Superb.

  10. Peter Flynn says

    I reckon the closest it got was a few years ago when East Fife led Forfar by four goals to three.

    We all wanted the dream result.

    Great job Dennis.

  11. Who did that comedy sketch parodying it. “Some fishing village in the south of Wales 1 A desperate hamlet of coalminers 3” or something.

  12. What a great chap.

    The best way to do it is to get the inflection right, obviously.

  13. David Zampatti says

    His trick was making a world of difference between the “Norwich” in “Norwich 1 Sunderland 3” and “Norwich 1 Sunderland 4”, as well as the “Sunderland”. If you couldn’t get it after all those clues, you should avoid reading whodunnits.

    The only sports list-reader I can compare him to was the Yankees PA announcer Bob Sheppard. That lovely, languid ritual of position-number-name-repeat number introduction (The shortstop…number two…Derek Jeter… … number two).

    If only we could get rid of the excitable youths and spruikers that infect our arenas and get in some blokes like them.

  14. Old mate at the British Open?

  15. Yep, the man was excellent, but he followed in a great tradition. You could always tell the result from the inflexion, rising for an away win, declining for a home one, and dead level for a draw. Mind you he did not have to cope with what Andy Cowan Martin faced on Sportsreel in Scotland. Andy got the third division match results and reports to gallop through at the end of the program. One night he was landed with the last game as the producer was making throat-cutting signs. ‘Stenhousemuir 1 Hamilton Academicals 1 at half-time. Scorers Bruce for the Muir, Wilson for Accies. Final score, six-each and the verdict fair enough.’

    Beat that.

  16. Stik - on Lefkas says

    Great tribute.
    Turned a chore into an artform indeed. I did not start listening to the roundup until moving to the UK. And took a while to catch on to the significance of the intonations. I always turned the radio up and challenged myself to mirror the away side’s score based on the his home side score announcement. About 50%.

    I mourned his departure from the radio even more than the loss of the colourful crosses to Stuart Hall.

    Bournemouth, Brighton Albion – late kickoff.

  17. Mick Jeffrey says

    There’s only one team I listened for with a passion in the Scottish Premier League…Heart of Midlothian. Name one other person who said Hearts by that name?

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