A Football365 love letter to…Mark Pougatch

Date published: Friday 30th March 2018 11:36

A Love Letter to… one of the most ubiquitous and popular presenters in the business, and a man who impressively works for three different broadcasters. That’ll be Mark Pougatch, then

 

Why the love?
Because he’s currently holding down three major presenting jobs on three major broadcasters. He’s on 5 live in the evening, BT Sport’s Score on Saturdays and ITV for internationals and other sports. These are three very different gigs and it’s his ability to effortlessly shift through the gears in doing all three which gets him so much admiration from viewers, listeners and colleagues alike.

He’s into his 24th year on 5 live as a presenter, which is an amazing stretch to be in such a high-profile radio gig, and is clearly proof of his ability to be consistently excellent.

Born in London, he has a soothing, accentless tone that never agitates or aggravates. Has the happy knack of being able to provide good value in a bit of knockabout chat on Score, be an expert interviewer on 5 live, bring gravitas to important news issues, and do the meat-and-potatoes pre-game presenting on ITV.

Whatever he’s doing, you trust him totally to get the tone right. If I had to illustrate just how good Mark is to someone who is as yet unaware, I’d play them this interview he did with Jimmy Armfield. It has the full rainbow of his talents on display: He’s gentle and yet never waffles; he knows when to pick up on an interesting point and pursue it further; he’s amiable and engaging. But above all, it’s his humanity that shines through. His understated amazement that Jimmy wasn’t bitter at not playing in the World Cup due to a late injury was both respectful, genuine and absolutely lovely, warm stuff.

And if you’ve any tears left to cry after that, his contribution to this tribute to the wonderful Graham Taylor should wring them out of you. Pure class.

 

Superhero skills
Absolutely unflappable in a live setting. One feels that during Score, if someone rode naked on a horse through the studio whilst blowing a trumpet, he’d take it all in his stride. This must be a product of experience doing live broadcasting, but must equally reflect the nature of his character. It is not possible to imagine him doing a nervous stare into camera if something goes wrong. Maybe you can only really take the job seriously by not taking things too seriously and that means you can improvise and not be overly worried about cocking things up.

He just has the ability to communicate calmly and clearly. This must come from having confidence born of a deep well of knowledge and being very well-researched. What is so admirable is that each of his main gigs is so different from the other. On BT Sport’s Score he has to deal with a co-presenter and up to six pundits, some of whom can be boisterous types who could get out of hand if not gently coaxed down off the ceiling. And he does it whilst keeping up to date with all the goals and incidents across all the games. This isn’t just behind-a-desk, talking-head presenting, but more of a physical performance, as he moves around what appears to be a huge studio, walking from his own station to look over the shoulders of the pundits. He manages to make it look great fun but it has to be very demanding and I wouldn’t be surprised if, when it’s over, he is absolutely knackered.

The ITV gig is much more conventional but much more high profile, especially when he’s presenting an England game. Not that it fazes him in the slightest. And here’s an interesting thing – if you look at Twitter when he’s on TV, he almost never attracts any hostility at all. While the Twitterati is not the standard against which to judge anything in this day and age of instant hysteria and ill-considered blarting, that is still quite remarkable and is a testament to his ability to subsume himself into his role as a facilitator.

He won the Sports Journalists’ Association award for Sports Broadcaster of the Year in 2012 and it’s surprising he hasn’t won it again since. It can only be a matter of time.

 

Style guru?
Rather in parallel to his broadcasting career, he seems to have adopted a somewhat understated but classy style. Score requires him to be fully exposed from head to feet, so he’s rightly invested in some quality suits. A trim 50-year-old, he wears an expensive-looking light grey single-breasted suit, or a nice, slim-fitting mid-blue number with open neck shirt. Photos of him when younger reveal that he’s one of those lucky chaps who somehow looks better and more cool as he gets older.

 

What the people say
The first thing to say is the public absolutely love him. Not a note of snark or criticism about his work at all and that is very rare. On top of that, he is hugely well-liked and highly regarded by those who work with and alongside him. A lot of people off the telly and radio wrote in to share their appreciation for Pougers.

Chris Sutton, who often works with our man on BT Sport and 5 live, got in touch to say this:

“Pougers is the go-to man. Mr Reliable, Mr Warmth. An all-round abundance of knowledge in virtually every sport that has been invented. I know he loves his cricket and he could be compared to the great Glenn McGrath when on the box or on the airwaves. He always seems to be hitting the right spot time after time. He asks the right questions at the right time. Sharp, witty, and respectful, Mark has a beautifully natural way of leading whatever show he is on (and yes there are plenty) from the front with patience, panache and poise. Any man who can control Robbie Savage and Paul Ince on a Saturday afternoon and take it in his stride deserves a medal. One of the only people I’ve ever met who nobody says a bad word about. He is held in such affection by people. The people’s person; a real leader from the front. I’ve only ever named a pet after the great George Weah before but I hold Mark in such high esteem I’ve named my pet cat after him!”

Kelly Cates said the following: “I suspect he isn’t lauded more because all his focus is on the guests and their answers, which is entirely as it should be. However, he is both completely brilliant and a lovely man.”

Fellow presenter Simon Thomas added that he is “a master of his craft”.

MOTD commentator Steve Wilson is also a big fan: “An amazingly calm and authoritative voice on the radio who has probably proved a few people wrong by becoming an amazingly calm and authoritative face on the TV. Put him in the middle of anything, anywhere and ask him to ‘hold it’ unscripted and live for however and he will deliver.”

5 live’s great commentator, Ian Dennis, noted: “As a person – warm, caring and thoughtful – one of the best. As a professional – versatile, authoritative, engaging – one of the best.”

Dennis’s 5 live colleague, David Laws, echoed those sentiments: “Always feel as if I am in the safest of hands as a listener/viewer, no matter the sport. Enthusiastic but ego-free, forensic and fair. Asks questions that need asking. As a colleague he comes into a sport like tennis that I work in, and slips in seamlessly. Raises games.”

Ian Danter, quite brilliantly of both talkSPORT and Planet Rock, said: “Quite simply from my POV, someone to aspire to, in countless ways.”

BBC Sport’s Juliette Ferrington has even been on the lash with Pougs:

“I introduced him to Aftershock in Cardiff after Arsenal won the FA Cup He’s never been the same since. Brilliant broadcaster, genuine nice guy and should have been on telly sooner. His giggle snort cracks me up, love him.”

5 live producer Simon Foat said: “A total shambles with anything half technical. Set fire to a piece of kit once just looking at it. Love him to bits.”

Dan Walker keeps the Pougers good vibes going.

“Genuinely lovely man and a truly wonderful broadcaster. Don’t think I’ve ever heard him ask a stupid question and his love of each event shines through. When I first started hosting shows on 5 live my boss said ‘If you can be half as good as Pougatch you’ll be here for years.'”

Mark Saggers, he of last week’s love letter, got in touch too:

“It’s always difficult to listen to others that do a similar job on radio, just in case they are too good. Pougers is more than good – he’s great and he is a very good man. I listen and watch him loads. He also had, perhaps still does have, a pet Vietnamese pig, I love that too.”

The Times journalist Henry Winter added his voice to the compliments for the first time: “Eloquence, no ego, sharp news judgement, huge work ethic, humour and deep knowledge and love of the main five sports. So versatile, too: TV, radio and books.”

Michelle Owen of Sky Sports said: “When I was very young, maybe 9 years old, my Dad emailed him asking for advice about how I should go about a career in sports broadcasting. He responded at length, will never forget that.”

Kelly Somers added: “As soon as you mention his name, anyone who knows him has a nice tale or anecdote to tell. A gentleman, a professional and no matter what sport he covers – an expert.”

Karthi Gnanasegaram, BBC presenter, described Pougs as “the Master”. “Always learning from him,” she added. “Intelligent without being patronising. Wicked sense of humour – you should find the TV tapes of him rapping during Wimbledon! Once slept in his child’s cot when we had a bit of a bender and we all piled back to his place overnight.”

Veteran presenter Max Rushden said: “One of the first pieces of work experience I ever did was sitting in on Sport on 5 with Pougers. I bet I was a really annoying 22-year-old, but he was friendly, encouraging and obviously professional and ridiculously good – made one of the toughest shows look so easy. Lovely bloke.”

Producer Phil Wye got in touch:

“Pougers is the master of his craft. He cuts no corners, really knows his sport and is an expert inquisitor on TV/radio. On location when things can be tricky he’s a top team player, terrific character. Full of fun, bereft of ego, he cares about folk too. A privilege to have worked with.”

“A joy to work with” was pundit Craig Burley’s take, while Simon Clancey said: “Edited my first ever Sports Report with him as presenter. Sent me a message before and after that means as much to me as anything I’ve ever done in radio. A class, class act. Funny, self deprecating, Arsenal barmy, has been the gold standard in radio sport for the longest time.”

And now for the public’s love.

‘The best presenters are quietly authoritative. And they never become a personality bigger than the programme. Unlike many others, Mark Pougatch ticks all the boxes.’

“Always a reassuring voice on the radio. Gets you excited for the game, but also always balanced in debates. Great to see him now on TV but I always associate him with Radio 5. He’s been ever present there.”

‘He never panics under pressure and actually seems to thrive on it. He’s knowledgeable about almost any sport (apart from F1 which he hates). He’s funny, listens to opinions from anyone he works with be it a runner or director, a joy to work with and I love how he says my name.’

‘I once almost stole his ITV ride home after the 2014 World Cup. Landed in Heathrow and saw the chauffeur holding his sign up. Went “I’m Pougatch” and the chauffeur believed me. Would have let me in if I didn’t say!’

‘My favourite thing was when Johnny Vaughan used to hand over from Fighting Talk to 5 live Sport with “Pougy, oh Pougy, Pougy the cat?” He’d always play along like a big brother. The man is a class act.’

‘The absolute man when he was at 5 live but I’m in love with him on TV. Him taking over ITV’s stuff from Adrian Chiles is one of the all-time great upgrades. So slick in the role, I hope he does it for years to come.’

‘Excellent. Has an educated school master about him. Could imagine he’d bring the bash street gang into line.’

‘The man just seems like a jack of all trades, completely at home commentating on any sport be it football, rugby or cricket; a very safe pair of hands.’

‘He’s like the Denis Irwin of presenting. Consistently excellent literally every week, no matter who he’s talking to he finds a way to make them interesting. Love watching him work.’

‘In his first ITV game, he asked Lee Dixon a question. Dixon replied with a prepared quip, so Pougatch asked the question again, making Dixon answer it properly, which of course he did.’

‘The fact that he’s almost omnipresent without ever getting annoying is testimony to his excellence. Sports broadcaster I’d be least surprised to find standing outside my front door when I opened it.’

‘Simply the best cross-platform sports broadcaster around. He has all the good qualities you need: knowledge, enthusiasm, modesty and skill. Undervalued amidst all the noise these days, in my opinion.’

‘I’m fairly certain his middle name is ‘Safehands’.’

 

Future days
There really are not many bigger jobs in UK football and sports media to be had than the ones Mark already holds.

His profile could really only get bigger if he took over MOTD and maybe at some point he will; you wouldn’t bet against it. Finding great performers is tough for TV people, so when you’ve got one who is so consistently good, why would you look elsewhere? I hope he always works on the radio though – he’s been such a good companion for over two decades that my football radio life wouldn’t be the same without him.

As you have already read, he is incredibly well-regarded in the media, by all who work with him and I suspect this is not insignificant. Doing the sort of broadcasting that he does, if you were not an open, generous, engaging, entertaining person and a good communicator, you probably wouldn’t be able to bring the best out of guests, pundits and interviewees.

I shall leave you with the words of Mark Chapman who wrote to me to give a comprehensive and absolutely lovely inside view of Pougs. I think it serves as a fine summation of what we all enjoy about his work.

“Mark has never been anything other than a real friend from the moment I joined. If you present the same show it would only be natural to assume there is a rivalry. I have never ever once felt that. He has always been there for me, is a joy to listen to and just loves sport. He is a journalist and a broadcaster. He does it for the love of the medium and what he covers. Not to be famous. You can tell. It was an honour to take over Saturdays from him and I hope I leave them in as healthy a way for my successor as he did for me. My favourite part of our friendship is that we text our anger about our respective teams in a variety of sports to each other in that hope that that gets it out of our system rather than it coming out on air. They occasionally mix our jingles up (two Marks can be confusing) and I have no problem being confused for Pougers. Though I am not a Lord or a Duke like he is.”

Isn’t that great? I know I often say this, but it bears repeating. We are living in a golden age of football broadcasting. The standard is incredibly high and Mark is one of the reasons why.

John Nicholson

 


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