Gordon Sparks

Ambassador's Argyle Archives | No. 11: Behind Enemy Lines

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We love our unique history at Argyle, but as well as the famous games and star performers, there are many tales of the unusual. Club ambassador Gordon Sparks will be unearthing the humorous, surprising and behind the scenes tales of years gone by in this fascinating series underlining what makes our club special.

When commentating at away games, it wasn’t uncommon to have some sort of interaction or even reaction from the home support.

Dirty looks have come my way and even inappropriate hand signals, especially when Argyle scored.

Just like Home Park, the radio positions are in amongst the locals and I always preferred the external location rather than being cooped up inside and behind a window. You get to feel the atmosphere and have the feeling of being more involved in the game rather than have a shield between you and the action.

A commentator carries a sound effects microphone, away from the main mic attached to the headset to give the listener added atmosphere. In an internal box, the lead could either be threaded through a drilled hole and the mic attached externally, or a long extension could take it into the fresh air.

Sat outside, space may be at a premium so it could be placed on the desk or I used to apply a lasso system and loft it onto a girder, for example. (Don’t tell health and safety).

Accrington Stanley has a tight media area, so there it’s a sound effects mic on the desk. Immediately in front of the away commentator sits Brenda, a season ticket holder of many years standing with family members either side. 

My first encounter with Brenda was at half-time when she handed out sweets. How hospitable! “Uncle Joe’s Mint Balls. They’re local!”

During the second half, it was end to end and I was doing my best to keep up with proceedings until the ball went out of play. It was difficult for Brenda not to hear me. She turned around and exclaimed: “This is proper football!”

You wouldn’t believe in the days that followed how many people mentioned that moment to me.

At the final whistle, I was preparing myself to conduct post-match interviews once off air, and Brenda asked if I’d like to pop around for a ‘bit of tea’ as I had a long drive home.  She only lived around the corner.

I very politely declined, but l reckon she would have put on a good spread.

Not all venues have I found so welcoming.

Millwall. On one particular occasion, I was alongside David Byrne who had a spell at the club, as my summariser.

Immediately to our left, Tom Watt (Lofty from ‘EastEnders’) doing his regular match updates for BBC London and alongside him, Billy Bonds. Not only did ‘Bonzo’ play well over 600 games for arch rivals West Ham United, but also had an uncomfortably short and unsuccessful time as Millwall manager.

At half-time, Tom and David left their seats to grab coffee, leaving myself sitting next to Billy Bonds, and with others in the near vicinity also going off for a comfort break, we were a little exposed to view. I didn’t help proceedings by having a bottle of water on the desk, complete with Argyle crest on the label.

Next thing, a procession of plastic bottles being thrown in our direction from behind.  Was I glad when the second half got underway.

Let’s go back to the 2002/03 season. Argyle had beaten Stockport County 4-1 at Home Park. After the game, County player-manager Carlton Palmer said in two weeks’ time, when the sides would meet at Edgeley Park in the FA Cup, it would be different as he’d make sure he played in that match.

It certainly was. A clean sheet in a 3-0 win. As The Pilgrims played out the last few minutes, that quote came to mind. I remember joyously waxing lyrical on Palmer’s statement, how it was different and that he had a mare on the pitch.

At that point, a female home fan to my left picked up the sound effects mic and shouted: “Why don’t you just b****y well shut up and get out.”

I don’t think she was best pleased.

But interaction with home fans wasn’t always exclusively inside the stadium.

During the early 2000s, Argyle achieved a succession of good results at Ninian Park, home of Cardiff City.

After winning one of those games, the Argyle team was held back from leaving the stadium because of unrest from a hundred or so locals located by the exit gate near the team bus. I had worked the game with a splitting headache, and took the opportunity to seek out physio Paul Maxwell for some tablets. 

After what seemed an eternity, the police resolved the situation and we could all finally head for home. I was using a marked BBC Radio Devon car, logos proudly all over the vehicle.

One junction from the stadium, red traffic lights. I then heard a continuous cacophony of stones thrashing against the back of the car. Explain that to the boss!

As soon as the traffic signal turned amber, for the first and only time in my life did I do my best Lewis Hamilton and got off to a flying start to escape as swiftly as possible. There was an impressive squeal of the wheels as I did so. 

I always enjoyed commentating at away games. You get the feeling that fans listening at home really are hanging on to your every word as you try to make them feel as if they’re really there.

But there are times when the job very much provided more than meets the eye - and the sound effects mic.

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