A Football365 love letter to… results readers

Date published: Friday 17th November 2017 12:08

Johnny’s letter this week is to some people who form an important part of the warp and weft of our football lives and tell us the most important information of all: the scores. That’ll be the results readers, then….

Why the Love?
This letter was inspired by the death of Tim Gudgin this week at the ripe old age of 87. Already an established broadcaster, Tim took over in 1995 when Len Martin passed away after being in situ since 1958. Tim was replaced in 2011 by Mike West, meaning that the BBC has had just three readers-out-of-scores in nearly 60 years.

In a plastic, disposable culture, full of shallow values which know the cost of everything but the price of nothing, this is the sort of permanence that helps unify a country. It is a tap root from which all else grows. We should treasure it.

On BBC radio this role was performed from 1974 to 2013 by the famous James Alexander Gordon. When he retired, Charlotte Green took over and does it splendidly to this day. On Sky Sports it is currently Alan Lambourn who does the job. On ITV from 1965 to World of Sport’s end in 1985 it was done by Bob Colston.

We love and loved all of these people because of the familiar timbre and rhythm of their voice. When 5-o’clock rolled around, there they were, there they still are, delivering information and nothing but information. Football broadcasting is largely one subjective opinion after another, some more based in truth than others, the football results reader is the one broadcaster that only has facts to tell us.

They are thankfully not required to offer a view on the scores or anything else. They are not employed to be ‘Marmite’ pundits, to shout, to repeat themselves with rising indignation and sinking intellect. They just read out the scores. Brilliant.

Better still, they were and still are, thoroughly predictable. Always there. Always doing what they do. In a world of constant sorrow and endless change, they can be relied upon. The reading of the results always was and still is a calm moment in the foment of Saturday.

It is a line drawn under proceedings, a deep breath drawn, a moment which divides the afternoon from the evening. The moment you unscrew the cap on a bottle of whisky and let your mind wander across the country from Plymouth Argyle to Ross County.

As the teams are read out, I imagine the darkness falling across the land from coast to coast, people filling kettles, the smell of cooking food in the air, having the first pint of the night. Friends walking home after a big win or a bore draw. People laughing, people moaning, people opening their front door into the warmth of the fireside and shouting, “We’re back! We lost again!”

The results are the soundtrack to every ordinary Saturday, they are the home, hearth and family of our football lives. Non-judgmental. Always there for you, no matter what.


Superhero Skills
How results are read was set in the glory days of JAG and Len Martin and it is all to do with where the inflection in the first team’s goal number lay. Rising as the number is announced meant a home win. A sinking tone meant an away win, A flat tone, meant a draw. We all know how it goes.

Indeed, so deeply is it buried in our sonic DNA, so much a subconscious reflex that if you try to go against it, it feels deeply uneasy. Like brushing a cat’s fur up the wrong way or a vicar putting his hand on your knee. Try it on this result: Middlesbrough six, Arsenal nil.

Easy. Well all know how to do it. OK, now try going down on 6 and up on nil. It’s weird isn’t it? It makes the away team score sound surprising. It just feels wrong. There’s no reason why it shouldn’t rise. It’s just an aesthetic choice, but it doesn’t feel right. In the same way, try inverting the normal tone for this one. Go up on the nil and down on the six: Arsenal nil, Middlesbrough 6. It’s hard to do it, isn’t it? 

And that is illustrative of the power of the results readers from the late 50s onwards. That is their legacy. And if you think about it, what a brilliant legacy it is to have. It has influenced the very use of the English language within a specific context.  

It even influenced The Fall’s Mark E Smith when, for reasons that need not detain us here, he read the scores out.

This style is largely as a consequence of the men on the mic speaking in RP (received pronunciation). For those of you too young to remember RP, the Concise Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “the standard accent of English as spoken in the south of England” but the OED is wrong. It wasn’t that. And it never was. It was a class-based affectation of tone and accent struck in order to make the speaker from nowhere in particular, but recognisably not common.

It implied education and breeding and it has thankfully all but died out as it was stuffy and based in a bigoted ridiculous notion that an accent hinted at stupidity. But it lives on in the form of comedy MP and user of a wide vocabulary to express narrowness of mind, Jacob Rees-Mogg.

However, in the context of football result reading the advantage of RP was it gave the speaker a sombre, clear, rhythmic delivery. The scores have to be easily and quickly understood across the whole land and RP allowed that to be the case, proving that even out of dirt, diamonds can be formed. Today, while the likes of Charlotte Green do not use RP, the intonation conventions live on and rightly so.

For decades, the results service was inextricably hooked up to doing the football pools, whose glory days were from the mid-60s to mid-80s. I was a Littlewoods Pools Collector from 1977-79 tasked with collecting people’s coupons and stake door-to-door; the recipient of dozens of people’s hopes and dreams, the coupons a grid of boxes littered with the blue and black biro marks that had the ability to transform lives, but almost never did.

Every week, as I’d listen to the scores, I would think of all my customers sitting by the radio or TV checking their coupon, the results being the moment in the week which bound all those strangers together, wondering if this week was THE week.

And when the pools panel sat, because sufficient games had been called off due to bad weather, it meant the results readers had to announce their adjudication on the game. That was always an exotic, exciting moment. A small thing, yes, but one which I think many of us look back on fondly.


Style Guru?
J.A.G. was latterly a debonair chap with a full mop of white hair. Tim Gudgin for many years had the look of a 1970s physics teacher. Even now I have no idea what Charlotte Green looks like and I’m not interested in finding out. It matters not a jot. None of us had any idea what anyone looked like and our lives were none the worse for it. They lived in our minds and in our minds, the pictures are always better.


What The People Say
In this section, the things that move me and I’m sure other readers too, are the small quiet details of reported life. This is what binds football to us. Not just the game itself, but how it holds hands with us through life. How it evokes memories, how it helps create our private and civic cultural world. How it structures existence.

It’s also a fact that it educated us in geography. Where was Meadowbank Thistle? You’d go and look it up in the Rothman’s Annual. It was a leaping off point for so much education. So it’s natural that something so constant as the results, takes many back to childhood days, when the world seemed so big and we were so small.

– Like others of my generation, I too spent Sat afternoons listening to my Dad read the results and checking the pools coupon. Was surreal at first hearing him on the television, but soon got used to it. (Mark Gudgin – Tim’s son)

– Brings back warm childhood memories, I used to love hearing the Scottish teams’ names which seemed highly exotic back then, Partick Thistle, Queen of the South,  Hamilton Academicals, lovely.

– When I was 6, anywhere sounded exotic. Scotland was like a whole other country!

– I used to play a game with my ex-wife to guess the away score based on how James Alexander Gordon read out the home score.

– The voice tone that mirrored the result “Liverpool 3” was delivered in that upspeak that evokes joy and optimism….”west Ham nil” in that funereal evoking someone giving a bad medical test result

– The agony of not knowing the score, and hearing “home team 1,….Colchester United…” James Alexander Gordon was the voice of joy and despair, but somehow reassuring either way.

– Watching Final Score aged 9 and finding out the actual proper team names – ‘Heart of Midlothian’, etc.

– Saturdays as a child were always spent at my grandparents. My grandad checking his pools coupon whilst they read the results was wonderful. He’d know the results by the inflection of voice before they’d said it.

– Car journeys back from the lake district trying to guess the away team goals from the tone of JAG’s voice on the home score.

– The distinctive voice of full football results … the Legend JAG ….

– Growing up listening to JAG and realising you could tell your result from the first team’s tone. Amazing then and now

– I remember eating hot buttery crumpets while listening and feeling very warm inside.

– A feature on J.A.G. once described him as “performing” the football results, rather than reading them. I rather like that idea

– Sound of childhood when you actually had to wait for full time scores after checking them on Ceefax and looking for an R by the game!

– It’s a throwback to the time before rolling news, social media or Soccer Saturday. People would get to their TV/radio then as it was the best way to find out how their team had done. Still feels like the time to make sense of things after the round-the-grounds frenzy.

– My favourite bit was the pools news at the end – sadly discontinued. Like the shipping forecast in its rhythm. “Of 58 matches, 14 were draws, of which 6 were scoring draws……” Always ending with the forecast – possible jackpot!

– Such a vital service. Always remember listening on the way home from games when I went with my dad. They also used to do a second reading just at the end of Sports Report.

– My dad worked away for a spell when I was a kid and the sound of the full time results on a Saturday always signalled him coming home at the weekend

– Vivid childhood memories of running back to my dad’s car to make it for 5 on the dot for JAG.

– No matter what time of year I hear the results in that baritone, it makes me think of winter evenings with the fire lit.

– Evokes many memories of family huddled around tv in silence on a Saturday night.

– J.A.G was without question the Don – but all the others mentioned served with honour. All of whom exude banter free, professional efficiency.  

– One of the last bastions of ‘proper’ RP.  Especially important also when the football pools was still a thing.

– There are very few voices which transcend sports broadcasting. JAG’s certainly did. Peerless, though Charlotte Green has done brilliantly in following such an iconic voice.

– A joy to hear at 17:00 on a Saturday. A reminder that football doesn’t end with the English Premier League.

– Always remember the extra emphasis Gudgin used when Man Utd beat Ipswich 9-0. “Manchester United NINE!!!!!!!!! Ipswich Town Nil” Brought life to what could be a very dull procedure.

– Going to Chelsea and parking in the underground car park of the hospital. No radio reception down there and a queue to get out while everyone leaves at the same time. Absolute panic to get radio reception before the scores came on five live.

– Results readers are an oasis of calm, dependable stability within the cloaking, suffocating desert sand storms of modern football.

– James Alexander Gordon was a lifeline before we got live games on TV in Rwanda. There was so much suspense when he read out the results.

– When I worked in local radio I used to have to read the classified results, and it is not as easy as it seems, it’s all to do with the inflection of your delivery. Also I never actually remembered any of them, I would read them out and yet couldn’t tell you any of them even as little as ten minutes later.

– I worked with Charlotte Green when I was at Radio 4. Incredibly nice and diligent. She spent hours rehearsing her news scripts. I know she was similarly hardworking when taking over the football shift. Also a proper Spurs fan too. Great person.

– “Pools panel. Away win”. 4.55 at home in January. Chippy tea. Every game treated with the same reverence in their voices.  Brilliant.

Future Days
We will always need to know the results on a Saturday, but now we have other ways of finding out. Many other ways. And while the digital revolution fragments life into a billion worlds of one, and robs us of the unity of the civic collective,  I would hope broadcasters will always see value in the results service.

Currently, all of them are carrying on the legacy that their predecessors set in place. They are our friends who demand nothing but a few brief minutes of our attention. They tell us about our club’s fortunes and remind us the I am he and you are me and we are all together. They are the purveyors of the only immutable fact in football: goals scored.

They the very essence of football. God bless them all, both the fallen and the ongoing.

John Nicholson

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