“Ah Mr Danter! We meet again!”
A fresh-faced young man bounded into the BRMB reception area to greet me, and it took me a moment to work out who this chap was who I hadn’t seen in the building before but seemed nevertheless to know me rather well.
It was 1997, and I wasn’t yet a Barmy Brummie, nor a Flying Eye as I would subsequently become. At this point I was just a guitar distributor from a warehouse in Cradley Heath, writing occasional topical comedy skits for Tom Ross’ Saturday afternoon football shows which showcased my impressions. My first date with a Seneca aircraft 1500ft above the M6 wasn’t to happen for another 6 months, and it would be nearly 2 years before I took my bow as a football reporter and commentator for BRMB & Capital Gold.
So, I didn’t have a security pass to access the building and always needed a sports department chaperone to collect me from the downstairs reception on Aston Road North. This young fellow who’d emerged from the lift was a new chaperone, but it swiftly became apparent we knew each other. This was Jim Proudfoot, who had gone to the same school as me some years before in Solihull.
Now, Jim would want me to point out here that he is much younger than me and that we were nowhere near in the same year. 4 years apart to be precise. Maybe he’d remembered my stunning performances as Tom Thumb or Groucho Marx in school plays, or in a fledgling school bands’ attempt to play ‘Happy Hour’ by the Housemartins to a vaguely interested audience on the Big School assembly stage. It certainly wouldn’t have been for any awards in the field of sporting prowess, but Jim knew me nonetheless, and as we ascended the lift to the studios for me to record my latest sketch (probably one taking the piss out of Tom) our educational kinship launched a friendship that has endured to this day.
Jim was new to the station himself but had already spent 3 years with the Capital Gold group in London after cutting his commentating teeth in the South West and North East of England. He had come in as BRMB’s No.1 commentator, following Ian Crocker’s departure that summer of ’97 to television work.
I’m reflecting on all of this, because tomorrow (as I type) at Wembley Stadium, Jim realises a lifetime’s ambition by getting to commentate on England in a major tournament final at Euro 2020. After 30 years in the business from Devon Air to Capital to talkSPORT, he’s had many magical moments in the commentary box to reflect upon, but England? In a final? That’s next level.
Jim inadvertently helped to take me to the next level when talkSPORT came calling at the turn of the Millennium. As a consequence of his departure to national radio, I got my opportunity as a local radio commentator working for Tom on Walsall, West Brom, Blues and Villa games. Meanwhile Jim was set to participate in his first major tournament on the mic for talkSPORT at Euro 2000. Trouble was, talkSPORT didn’t have official rights to the tournament…”No problem!”, said management, “Let’s do unofficial commentary from hotel rooms in Amsterdam and tell everyone that’s exactly what we’re doing!” And so, that was Jim’s remit that summer - which can’t have been a particularly fulfilling experience, but his loyalty to the station was rewarded down the line as budgets improved, rights were properly secured and Jim could be front and centre for talkSPORT at major tournaments from then on.
Allied to that, talkSPORT had local commentary rights for Tottenham & Chelsea Premier League games to go out on 1089AM in London only whilst the rest of the country had an ‘around the grounds’ format to listen to. This was where my path started crossing with Jim again at places like Villa Park if Chelsea were in town, as he and co-commentator Alvin Martin sat just along from me in the Trinity Road stand.
My first major tournament as a frontline commentator came 6 years after I myself became part of the talkSPORT family. It was time for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, and in my time with the station I’d built up my position as more than just a reporter, and essentially flew out with the team to be No.2 commentator behind Jim. Better still, as we arrived at the lodge near Johannesburg that was to be the on-air team’s home base for the tournament, the rooms were divided up into pairs and I was slated to room with Jim.
He won’t know this, but that month was a time where I picked his brains and learned even more about the craft of commentary than I had already done from my first mentor, Tom Ross. He had a quite outstanding tournament, even if England most certainly didn’t. His commentary with Stan Collymore on the R16 exit to Germany in Bloemfontein was amazing stuff, tinged as it was with the sting of yet another disappointment for the Three Lions at a major finals. I can remember being sat with Adrian Durham & Ray Parlour at Soccer City preparing for Argentina/Mexico which followed England’s game and listening on our headsets to the awful 2nd half capitulation, which Jim handled quite magnificently.
Seeing him the next day back at the lodge, you could see how drained he actually was at such a failure from Capello’s men, and although he would stay on to commentate on the rest of the tournament including Spain’s triumph in the final, I could understand the despondent nature of him, Saggs and Stan upon their return to base. When you’re at the top of the tree in football commentary, you want your nation to provide you with those moments that make all the mileage and the Ginsters pasties at some godforsaken service station on the M1 at 2am in the morning worthwhile.
I was totally gutted when Jim left talkSPORT shortly afterwards to move to Absolute Radio, who were new players in the live football game, and I thought it was a bad move for talkSPORT to let him go - although it wasn’t a bad move for Jim at all, as the Absolute coverage won several award nominations during his time there. That’s no coincidence.
I lost my talkSPORT commentary position too in 2010, a decision that cut deep and took me nearly 6 years to come back from - by the time I was reinstated, Jim had thankfully returned too. He was back for Brazil 2014 - I was there too, but as England correspondent and so I saw much more of Jim as we were at stadia together for England’s group stage games…which ended up being England’s ONLY games that summer. That meant I had Jim’s commentary in my ear as I worked pitch side.
That was confirmation for me at just how brilliant Jim is as a football commentator. When you yourself can see what is also being described for a radio audience at the same time, you learn to appreciate the tricks and syntax that a commentator uses to paint the picture for the listener. Jim was right on top of the game in Manaus, Sao Paulo and Belo Horizonte, describing every kick and challenge as it happened, rather than commentating ‘behind the action’ as some prefer to do. There’s nothing wrong with the latter approach, but the former is far more rewarding when it’s right and it’s accurate. And that’s Jim in a nutshell.
By 2018 in Russia, I was back as No.2 commentator behind Jim, which meant I wouldn’t see too much of Jim as we’d be on totally different schedules. But thankfully we were all based in Moscow and I could spend time in Jim’s company when our paths occasionally crossed. We shared notes on other countries we were set to watch and, then as now, I have always marvelled at Jim’s incredible attention to detail in preparation, even if he doesn’t use 90% of the notes he studiously prepares for each match. That’s how it should be. The exaltation you could hear from Jim as England beat Columbia on penalties in the R16 was quite something. “Eric Dier wins the shootout! England have won a shootout!! Ghosts are exorcised!!!” he exclaimed. Perfect.
England (and Jim) came so close to that magical moment of triumph that summer, and now here we stand on the brink of a first success in 55 years and all that. Jim was nowhere near born in the days of Kenneth Wolstenholme’s most memorable line of commentary, but I’m willing to guarantee that, were England to end that barren run tomorrow against Italy, Jim will find ‘les mots justes’ to describe it for our talkSPORT listeners. And it will come instinctively…from the heart of a man who’s waited as patiently as most for a career-defining moment.
Good luck Jim. And good luck to all who take the mic at Wembley tomorrow. Bring it home - in every sense.