A Football365 love letter to…Chris Waddle

Date published: Friday 16th February 2018 12:35 - Sarah Winterburn

A Love Letter To…one of the most distinctive voices on the co-comm and pundit circuit and a much-loved and absolutely tremendous ranter. That’ll be Chris Waddle, then…


Why the love?
We all loved watching the Waddler wander around a football pitch looking deceptively exhausted from the tenth minute of every game, whilst actually being quick in the sprint and possessing a dancer’s feet. He was an absolutely wonderful player who gave so many thousands of people pleasure, as this short clip of some of his play at Marseille well shows…

Famously had a real job before being a great footballer, working as a sausage seasoner and played for Tow Law, which is one of the north’s more bleak outposts, where the club used to do a cracking meat raffle at half-time. A pal of mine once won it and was handed a carrier bag of raw animal flesh. “What is it?” he asked, not unreasonably. “I think it’s brown meat, kidda” came the authoritative reply. “Great. I love brown meat,” said my pal, making a mental note to buy some Diocalm on the way home.

Chris is one of the most acerbic dissectors of England’s international performances and the reasons behind their failure and I think we all love him for that. No fan of the potato men in charge of the FA, in 2010 after England’s exit, he said this. It remains a definitive comment.

“The FA sit on their backsides and do nothing tournament after tournament after tournament. Why don’t they listen? Why don’t they look at other countries and ask ‘how do they keep producing talent?’ We coach talent out of players…we lack so many ideas and it is so frustrating. The amount of money in our league is frightening and all we do is waste it on rubbish ideas.

“We kid ourselves thinking we have a chance if we keep the tempo up. We can only play one way and it is poor. You can’t go on playing football and hoping to win trophies playing a hundred miles an hour and putting teams under pressure for 90 minutes. You’ve got to be able to play slow, slow, quick and we can’t do it.”

After the Iceland debacle, he famously declared in an exasperated tone that we had no team spirit and that it was “all headphones” these days. We knew what he meant. And that’s why we love him. He may be right, or he may be wrong, but he’s always certain. Pundits don’t always have to be right – no-one can be all the time – but they must be entertaining and Chris is never not entertaining and it is 100% clear that he cares. He really cares.

People here and especially in France all love The Waddler. The BBC’s, Dan Walker got in touch to recount this magnificent and heart-warming incident:

‘At Euro 2016 semi final between Germany and France I was meant to be doing a pre-match TV piece at pitchside with Chris but the stadium was on lock-down because of the arrival of the French president. No-one was allowed through. I tapped the armed guard on the shoulder and said “Can we come through? We are from the BBC?” He shook his head. This lasted for five minutes. Eventually in desperation I said: “I’m here with Chris Waddle.” He turned around immediately: “Waddle? The Waddle?” We were immediately guided to the side of the pitch. The power of Waddle.”

A former long-serving 5 Live Football Commentary Producer also got in touch to say this:

“Chris is a great man, brilliant humorous company, easygoing, unassuming. As a broadcast colleague, he’s a proper trusted team player. As a match analyst, wise and witty, insightful and plain-speaking. And I might add he’s so humble with it: some ex-players – mostly those who couldn’t hold a torch to Wadd as a player in their own right – are sadly a bit too quick to pontificate and be demanding & selective in media circles. He’s the opposite. Never ever choosing to remind listeners how good a winger he really was, he’s earthy and open-minded. As professional and enthusiastic to be at West Brom-Stoke on a cold winter’s night as he is in a sweltering World Cup cauldron angrily lamenting England’s latest World Cup exit. Versatile, but always passionate about his footy.

“And he’s warmly entertained audiences ever since. His anecdotes & storytelling has brought tears of laughter to many a face of football fans.

“Think I speak on behalf of the 5 Live footy team when I say it’s always a genuine joy to find yourself in the company of Chris Waddle in a commentary box or on tour, and as a listener a treat to hear him at games on 5 Live Sport.”

What a man.


Superhero skills
One of the most distinctive voices in the media, you only have to hear him say two words to know who it is. Given he was born south of the Tyne in Heworth, I’m not sure if that technically makes him more of a Mackem than a Geordie, but whatever you want to call Chris’s accent, it is magnificent. The Tyneside accents in the media are so varied. Chris, Alan Shearer, Lynsey Hipgrave and David Preece are all born within just a few miles of each other but all have really different speech patterns.

For those of us who have spent many years in and around the north east and absolutely love the accent, it is great to have someone in the football media whose voice is unreconstructed and offers no concession to any of the modern idioms of expression. Waddler still sounds like a fella that would have been down the Heworth pit 60 years ago. “Can’t” is “cannat”, “our” is “wa”, “old” is “oweld”, “players” is “pleyahs”. It’s never “my boots” always “me boots”. All wonderful stuff. A real treat. My missus, a born and bred Geordie from Fenham loves listening to him and often remarks at his ability to add an extra vowel to some words. And of course, famously he has evolved the word penalty into a creation all of his own – “pelanty”.

He is one of the most vocal off-mic co-comms and can often be heard groaning, or, if England are playing, growling in a frustrated, bear-like manner. In the 2010 World Cup I seem to recall he could be clearly heard beating the desk with his fist as England fell apart in dramatic style.

Perhaps far more than most, listening to Chris feels like hearing a regular but well-informed football fan in any crowd and that is testament to his down-to-earth, man-of-the-people qualities.

He’s never afraid to have a go at players, even if they’re British and for a while, he was one of a small minority who was brave enough to do that. He’s also been scathing about the Premier League and how it’s not as good as it sells itself to be. We love him for that too.

He was one of the few Englishmen to play abroad, for three seasons at Marseille, where he is still revered as a kind of superhero, not least because he recorded this with Basile Boli in one of the finest Geordie/French hybrid accents you have ever heard.

One of 5 Live’s top commentators, Ian Dennis, got in touch to say this about the great man:

‘Chris Waddle is an excellent pundit – sees it and says it how it is. He has a great passion for the game and for his country – who can ever forget his rant after the debacle in Bloemfontein. That came from the heart because he cares and I know because we talked it long into the night! I’ve known him for 20 years and he’s as easy going as they come and hasn’t changed a bit. He was adored in France as a player, known as “Magic Chris” and sometimes I feel his skills were not fully appreciated in this country but he was very special. He is great company, genuine and extremely funny and it’s always a pleasure to work alongside him.’

Amen to that. What a tribute!


Style guru?
Possibly the first thing any of us think when Waddler’s name pops into our brain is THAT haircut. Still the definitive ‘business at the front, party at the back’ mullet against which all others are judged. And there was the record with Glenn of course. There was no more unlikely popstar than Chris. We all remember Diamond Lights but what about the follow-up single? It’s classic late 80s DX7-washed pop. Chris is wearing a mint-coloured blouson. The last mint-coloured blouson he’s ever worn, I’m guessing.

These days, he has a comforting middle-age girth which suggests he lives for pleasure and pleasure alone and when interviewed often has an air of just out of the shower, hair slicked back, aftershave on, howay doon the club for a few jars, eh, look about him. Lovely.


What the people say
Chris is clearly really good at his job as a football communicator and that is in part because he’s a very good raconteur. One can easily imagine him regaling you with tales of this playing days over a few bottles of something fine. Ian Dennis confirms that ‘some of his Newcastle tales are hilarious’. Being a good storyteller is a real talent, requires a quick mind and a sense of pace and timing. Perhaps this is why Chris is good on the microphone and why so many people got in touch to celebrate his genial wonderfulness and how much pleasure he’d given them over the years.

Played against him when he was ringing in my work’s 9-a-side league. Didn’t get upset when I asked him if he was sure he wanted to take a pelanty his team won. Rattled it straight in over our goalie’s head. Wednesday legend.

One of the greatest wingers ever – a magician

Met him on a romantic weekend in Prague with my then girlfriend a few years back – genuinely nice guy.

There’s a great French documentary made when he was at Marseille, in which he speaks English in a very touching French-Geordie accent. Also, the only footballer to be thanked in the sleeve notes of Leonard Cohen tribute album, “I’m Your Fan”.

Truly brilliant, and brave at a time when skilful players were kicked far more than now. Haven’t forgiven Spurs for selling him just as we bought Lineker but glad he was so successful in France. Criminally underused by England in his later years.

Top man apparently. Like hearing his voice on the radio

Worth seeing England cock everything up terribly in order to listen to his rants about it in the aftermath. You can almost hear the steam coming out of his ears as he lets rip.

Love him….heart on sleeve. Often wrong but who cares, he speaks with genuine passion and that’s all I ask of pundits. Also…. responsible for creating a new tense….”He’s went down way too easily for me.”

The day he left Spurs was the day football broke my heart for the first time. I can still see the back page of The Sun today. Loved him so much and still do.

I loved his line ‘they are all headphones’ as crazy as it sounded I totally got what he was saying, if the players aren’t communicating with each other that will translate onto the pitch.

The complete opposite of wishy-washy, you may not agree with him every time but strongly held and asserted opinions make for entertainment

Like most of us you can tell he hates and loves the game in equal measure. You can feel it spitting out of him. Wand of a left foot. What the PFMs would call ‘a character’, none of them left in the game

One of the most brilliantly talented footballers we’ve had in this country. Loved at Marseille, ridiculously sidelined by Graham Taylor. Co-commentary always good, clear insight into technical aspects of the game. Loved his rants about England and same mistakes after early exits

Brilliant player, average pundit , terrible hair…. loved that Marseille jersey

He spent ages slagging Walcott during the Croatia game before his hat trick. I love that level of wrongness in a pundit.

Bought a Marseille shirt because of my complete & utter love for the player, my favourite non-united player. Like his matter of fact style as a pundit, but can’t escape the fast show flourishes in my head!

His post England failure rants are now as part of the media furniture as Garth Crooks’ Pogba hairstyle moans, Shearer sighing at the state of how Newcastle is being run, and Roy Keane complaining at pretty much everything

He’s brilliant. I mean, so wrong, so often, but brilliant for it. Plus the poor man is so mentally scarred by penalties that he can no longer say the word. Big fan.

My footballing hero. Simply a glorious player, mesmeric at times. Carved out a great career on the radio too, a must listen when England capitulate in a major tournament.

The Wizard of the Round Ball. Best nickname ever. Best mullet ever. Best ex-sausage-factory-worker-turned footballer ever.

His song with Basile Boli was wonderful. To put it in perspective for modern times, can you imagine Gareth Bale and Raphael Varane recoding a euro dance duet?

The Hair. Playing for as long as he did shows a deep love for the game which is pretty much unrivalled by ex pros. Rightly critical of the FA and the failures of England. Fast show Channel 9. Played well too!

Gave us ‘pelanty’. Nothing else needed.

It’s half worth the shambolic tournament exit to hear the now traditional Chris Waddle meltdown on 5Live.

Love that he went abroad at his peak. I spent a lot of time in Marseille when I was younger and when people learned I was English they’d sometimes respond “Ah.. Chris Waddle!”


Future Days
Amazing to think Chris is 57 now and that his middle name is Roland, which due to Grange Hill is a name I can’t say without putting a ‘w’ at the start. Chris does not look like a Roland.

The media needs distinctive broadcasters who paint with a unique colour from a place of insight and knowledge, but without resorting to being a shouty haircut or pointlessly confrontational, so I’d hope Chris will be around for many years, or at least for his bi-yearly anti-England rant. Maybe he could be more used for comedy strands because I’m sure he’s got a thick and as yet unmined seam of stories from his days up and down the world of football.

As it is, many of us will continue to wave at our radios or TVs when Chris is introduced and feel like a welcome old friend has entered the room.

John Nicholson


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