A Love Letter to… a long-serving radio and TV commentator who goes from a whisper to a scream when watching football or robots. That’ll be Jonathan Pearce, then.
Why the love?
One of our longest-serving commentators, he got his start at Capital Radio where he launched Capital Gold Sportstime in 1988 and quickly gained a lot of attention for his completely individualistic style of commentary. Back then, like all the best things, he often divided opinion between those who enjoyed his passionate roaring and those who thought it was a bit over the top and akin to being shouted at by an angry man at a bus stop.
This is lo-fi but captures Jonno in his Euro ’96 glory. Put simply, no-one had done it like this before or after. He stands alone.
He was also a controversial signing for new Channel 5 in 1997. Not sure why. Those who thought he was too excitable sound like the sort of people for whom milk is a bit too spicy.
Perhaps in recent years, he’s evolved a slightly different riff which doesn’t rely on chanting, singing or extending the word “goal” or the scorer’s name for 10 seconds. It isn’t quite as sonically intense as the early days, but as befits a man who loves football stories, he’s added some splendid anecdotal humour and no-one has a better rapport with a co-comm. He’s also taken to referring to himself as though he’s absolutely ancient, but in fact he’s only 58.
One of the most hard-working people in the business, back in the Capital days he would often do four games a week and even now, he’s working for BBCTV, 5 Live, BBC World feed and he does Champions League and Europa League duty for BT Sport. He is also a long-time supporter of and commentator on women’s football.
Add in to that his recently reprised, legendary six years on Robot Wars, where his throaty roar was the ideal soundtrack to heavy metal assaults.
Has also worked tirelessly to help fight Mitochondrial Disease, raising its profile and raising money by running marathons. This shows a more gentle side to him
A native of the south west and a Bristol City fan, there isn’t much of his origins in his voice. However, I don’t believe there is a commentator who uses his instrument in such a diverse way. Jimmy Page used to say Led Zeppelin could go from a whisper to a scream: JP is football’s Led Zeppelin. He can drop down to a chatty, light, hoarse, conspiratorial whisper, then pull the ripcord on the vocal chainsaw and give it the full tonsil gun.
He was at the mic when Eric Cantona did his infamous leapy leapy kicky kick. Now, whatever you think of JP’s viewpoint on what the Frenchman did, his commentary is incredible: lucid and descriptive, judgemental and emotional, exciting and really, really sodding great entertainment in and of itself.
He once fell asleep during a Zenith Data Systems game between Chelsea and Crystal Palace. “It was just very cold and very, very boring. I turned to the co-commentator for his analysis and just dropped off. He had to nudge me to wake me up, otherwise I could have been out for some time.”
These days there are not a lot of instantly recognisable commentators, but Jonno is definitely one of them. His chatty style really works well on the radio where he’s got more time to do a pre-game preamble and interact with the presenter. The threat of dead air also means that he can indulge in splendid badinage with co-comms. Recently he was on 5 Live with Steve Claridge (another star) and on another occasion with Coisty. On both occasions he left them in paroxysms of laughter with his dry wit and self-deprecation.
If you’ve forgotten just how raucous and bellicose and yet funny his Robot Wars performances were, go back in time and watch this. If you’re lucky you’ll catch a glimpse of Philippa Forrester and that’ll make any day nicer.
Has a pleasingly robust physique which looks designed to keep out the cold. It was possibly inspired by Brian Blessed.
Forever dressed like a polar explorer, one imagines he permanently wears an almost infinite number of layers of clothing, some of which were first donned in 1988 and have yet to see the light of day ever since. Surely a martyr to his long johns.
What the people say
The people who love JP really love him. And in that, his style is bit like heavy metal. For those who love it, they really bloody love it; the rest look at it and wonder what on earth the attraction of such riotous noise might be. So it was no surprise that social media reaction was passionate in its celebration of the greatness of JP.
‘I first heard him when one of the national stations in Ireland picked up Capital Gold’s commentaries around 1990-91. As massive a fan as I was of BBC Radio 2 and Peter Jones, Bryon Butler, Ron Jones, Green and Ingham, this was something totally new and vibrant and completely different to anything I had heard before. As a 14-year-old, I loved it and it probably made up my mind what I wanted to do for a living.’
‘He IS The memory of London football in the 1990s. Hearing him come through the crackly 1548 AM airwaves saying “it’s a ding dong derby down here at the Den and Don Goodman’s 15th minute howitzer is still the difference” would be like Proust’s Madeleine to me.’
‘He dares to be different and isn’t afraid to speak his mind. There is also an underlying positivity that you don’t always get from other strident voice.’
‘His affection for Bobby Moore following their time working together for Capital Radio is incredibly endearing and he hardly ever mentions it!’
‘Many games fade into the ether over the years, especially England games, but I can still clearly remember us beating Poland 2-0 in 1997 purely down to Pearce screaming “READY, STEADY, TEDDY!” when Sheringham scored the second.’
‘I’ll always remember the time Mike Sheron was banging then in for QPR. Pearce was commentating when he scored and chanted “Mike, Mike, Mike, Mike Sherona” to the tune of the classic by The Knack.’
‘I recall him commentating on a Chelsea game back in the 90s possibly on Channel 5 with the unforgettable “it’s G G G Granville and Chelsea are open all hours now” after scoring a goal, have enjoyed his brand of commentary ever since.’
‘He’s the best imo, & his excitement has calmed down a lot from his capital gold days (which I miss).’
‘The way he colossally misunderstood goal line technology at the World Cup was pretty endearing. It’s rare the pros lag behind the viewers but it sort of worked with his fan-commentator stylings.’
‘Nailed the 2001 Robot Wars final. Sergeant Bash destroying Matilda.’
Dan Walker messaged to say: ‘I used to commentate on lots of football matches that JP was also at and whenever he was in ear shot (which essentially meant in the same postcode) I would always take one earphone off to listen to one of the masters at work. Ready… steady… Teddy! I know it sounds like a Harry Enfield sketch but he also does an amazing amount of work for charity. Someone with his knees and, how can I put this? … other physical challenges… shouldn’t really run a marathon but he continues to do it for others.’
Surely has a good 15 years in him as a top-rank commentator. While we always need new blood coming through, the wonderful thing about commentators as they age is that they have seen more football than almost anyone in the game and so have a wealth of recollection, memories and stories and an encyclopedic knowledge of players and managers, most of whom they’ve also interviewed.
As I’ve said previously, 5 Live are missing a trick by not having a Commentators’ Summit every week. The biggest source of untapped football knowledge resides in the brains of a commentator. These are veritable professors of the game and I can’t understand why that simple fact isn’t exploited more. They’re all erudite, thoughtful and have done a tonne of work.
Because he’s so whole-hearted and so committed to the work and so unabashed at being himself, he’s always been an easy target to for the carpers and naysayers. Increasingly these critics seem more like professional killjoys. Quite how anyone can find anything bad to say about a man who throws himself into his gig with as much gusto as JP does is beyond me.
Given he has been at the top of the game for the best part of 30 years and his passion seems undiminished, we seem set to enjoy his work for years to come, especially when football’s quest for perfection results in teams fielding robots instead of humans. Robot football would surely be Jonathan’s greatest gig. It must happen.