It’s the moment a football commentator’s blood runs cold…
“And coming on for Club America is number 286, Jose Guillen!”
What? 286? I frantically looked down to my notes and realised that the player numbers I had researched ended at 34! Such are the joys of commentating on pre-season games.
There are no such surprises in Premier League or Champions League fixtures - all squad numbers are nailed down before the season starts, making research pretty straightforward. But in pre-season, anything goes.
All square in Arizona Gallery
The best images from our first match of Tour 2018, presented by Aon.
I spend weeks before the tour trying to find out as much as I can about the opposition teams. The trouble is that it’s something of a movable feast.
Often players wear a certain shirt number for one game and then another for the next game. Sometimes a trialist, or a very recent new signing, plays that you have no information about.
Shirt numbers are crucial to a commentator - that’s the main way you identify players. And there are particular difficulties when commentating in the USA - the stadiums are so vast that you often end up incredibly high up with the players reduced to tiny dots below us.
The next pre-season game in Santa Clara is a case in point - you virtually need a Sherpa to get to the broadcast position! In fact, I’ve actually commentated using binoculars at that fantastic arena.
This is where my co-commentator on this trip, Bojan Djordic, is so good. I really had very little idea who scored Club America’s goal during our first Tour 2018 match, but in a flash Bo correctly identified who had crossed and who had scored, proving the point that teamwork is vital with your co-commentator.
Just arrived back to LA from boiling hot Phoenix. It’s been a pleasure commentating alongside @stewartgardner during the first game on #MUTOUR. Special mention tonight goes to young @TahithC and his impressive cameo appearance. Confident, brave and direct. #MUFC pic.twitter.com/W737WktdgR— Bojan Djordjic (@BojanDjordjic7) July 20, 2018
When the teams are officially announced an hour before kick-off, that’s by far the most stressful part of the job as you frantically try to work out the formation and make sure you have enough information about the players.
Does the detail matter? Do you really care where a player was born, his height, his number of appearances, previous clubs?
Perhaps not - probably 80 per cent of the information I research is never used - but it’s there as a comfort blanket just in case.
Correct pronunciation is also a challenge to overcome in these games.
Luckily, for the next game of the tour, San Jose Earthquakes provide a really handy guide to pronouncing the names of their players. And it’s something of a relief that their number 11, Qazaishvili, is simply known as Vako – which is a clear result!
Of course, you could always go down the Paddy Crerand route and write the names phonetically. Bailly is written Bye-EE by Pat and Matic is Mat-Itch.
That’s a golden rule of commentating. Do whatever works for you!
The opinions expressed in this article are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Manchester United.