Careers Interview #2: Dan O’Hagan, Football Commentator

Dan O’Hagan, a freelance football commentator and television presenter who has covered competitions such as the UEFA Champions League and English Premier League, talks to Vision about his career.

1. What does your job actually involve?

Being a commentator means a lot of research, a lot of travelling and far less time behind the microphone! Each game I get will require at least a day-and-a-half of research, often more if the teams are especially obscure (I’m working on the African Under-17 Championships soon!). A matchday routine will involve getting to the stadium at least three hours before the game, meeting with the director to discuss any special requirements, then collecting my accreditation from the floor manager, normally an “access-all-areas” type pass. Around an hour before kick-off, I’ll go down to the dressing rooms to wait for the managers to hand in the official team sheets to the referee. There, the lineups will be read out to me, so I can get a head start on the confirmed team news, before going up to the gantry to prepare for the game. Of course not all games are broadcast “live”, but I treat every game as if it is – that helps to keep me nice and sharp. Once the game is over, I’ll confirm with the director, and possibly the editor, which interviews we’d like, then make my way down to to the tunnel to speak with the managers and any “headline makers”. Once all that’s done, you’re in the hand of the editors who do the real magic – turning my commentary into the final product you hear on a Saturday night!

2. What previous jobs have you had?

I’ve been a freelancer now for almost eight years, before that I held staff contracts at MUTV and ITV Anglia. In total I’ve been commentating in television and radio for fourteen years now. That’s a hell of a lot of games! While I was a student, I worked each summer in a variety of jobs – everything from a postman to a warehouse worker. Proper, hard work!

3. What qualifications do you have?

After getting four A-levels from King Edward VI College, Stourbridge, I went on to take a degree in Multi-Media Journalism (BAMMJ) at Bournemouth University, graduating in 1999.

4. How did you land the job commentating on Premier League games?

I just bombarded people with tapes and DVDs – and eventually someone listened. My first Premier League game was for Match of the Day on December 26, 2004. These days I cover a mix of leagues and competitions, including the Premier League, Football League, Serie A, Bundesliga and international tournaments at all age levels. This summer I’m off to Brazil for the Confederations Cup, which I’m very much looking forward to.

5. Was / is it what you expected?

Yes and no. While I love the job – I’m never happiest than when I’m behind the microphone, you do get to see the seedier side of the game. I’m probably much less of a fan of “the game” and all that is around it now, but certainly appreciate good play far more than before. I’d much rather watch an exciting youth game that ends 4-3, than a dull mid-table Premier League 1-1 draw.

6. What is the best aspect of that role?

The best aspect of the job is getting to do something that I absolutely love. It really is great fun, and a terrific way to earn a living. It’s something I always wanted to do, but equally I know that, as Ron Atkinson will tell you, you’re only ever one horrible faux pas away from never working again. It can be pressured, but that’s something I enjoy. Years ago that kind of thing would have thrown me, and I’d have let the pressure get to me, but nowadays I can take most things in my stride – there was a World Cup qualifier once between North Korea and Iran, where for the first ten minutes I didn’t have a team sheet, and so had no idea who was playing. The key here is to at least sound like you know what you’re talking about – as long as the audience can hear confidence and authority in your voice, they’ll have no idea that it’s utter chaos in the commentary box!

7. What is the worst aspect?

The worst aspect is that I rarely watch football at home now. When it’s your living, you really need to make time to shut off from it. I don’t want to be defined by football; there’s a danger commentators away from work can be pretty dry characters without much to say that doesn’t involve football! I have plenty of non-football interests away from work, and rarely socialise with people in the industry. I dare say bankers don’t want to go home and spend their time watching programmes on interest rates! Another drawback is that when I sit down to watch a game, I spend more time analysing the commentator than I do watching the game – and that’s unhealthy.

And any advice to those wanting to pursue a career in sports commentary?

Just be yourself. Don’t copy. Don’t be a clone. Don’t put on a silly voice you think sounds like a commentator. The best in the business are unique – Barry Davies, Martin Tyler, John Motson, the late Tony Gubba. Be prepared to put the hours in – a good commentary is only possible after a LOT of homework. Go into a game covered for all eventualities. Make sure that even if that hitherto unknown 16-year-old comes on, that you know chapter-and-verse about him. And never, ever, try to be bigger than the game you’re commentating on. You’re there to complement the action, not be the centre of attention!

Oscar Pearson
News Editor, 2012. Deputy Editor, 2013.