Hero of the Week: The much-loved voice of football and everything else…

Date published: Saturday 29th February 2020 8:00

Who’s this week’s hero, Johnny?
This week’s hero is a household name, an Oxford United fan who has twice been named as the Royal Television Society’s Sports Presenter of the Year, has been a stalwart of sports and football broadcasting for nearly 50 years and this week he was given The Doug Gardner Award which honours a member of the Sports Journalist Association who has made an outstanding contribution to sports journalism.

Getting his start on the Oxford Mail and in local BBC Radio, from 1976 to 1980 he worked for the BBC Radio Sports Unit but most of our memories of him begin in 1980 when he went to work for ITV and especially for his work on the 1982 World Cup. He was on their books for a full 28 years and now works freelance. In one way or another, he’s just been there in our lives, part of the broadcasting furniture and in that, a warm comforting presence in an ever changing world. His work on F1 alone is virtually a career in itself and he is fondly remembered by people of a certain age for appearing in episodes of kids TV sitcom, Renford Rejects from 1998 – 2001.

He’s also been immortalised in a Half Man Half Biscuit song, which is perhaps the ultimate tribute. Apart from the silver hair, he barely seems to have aged 10 years in the last 40 and is now a sprightly, young-looking 72 years of age. Currently to be found presenting matchday coverage on MUTV and was an obvious choice as one of the presenters of Amazon Prime’s Premier League coverage.

That’ll be Jim Rosenthal, then.

 

What have they done to deserve this then?
Presenters of all hues, but perhaps especially the sports variety, can tend to, if not blend into the background, then get overlooked in public estimation. After all, their primary task is to facilitate the talent, be it the interviewee, the pundit in the studio and the sport itself. Their job isn’t to be the star but to show us the stars, so it is perhaps inevitable that they are taken somewhat for granted. However, the bland presenter with no warmth, charm or grit carries little credibility or interest, so they’ve got to have something about them, but not so much as to put others in your shadow. That seems to me to be a very difficult balancing act to pull off, not least because in football, down the years, any presenter will have to work with people who are not always the fizziest can of pop in the picnic basket of life. They can be inarticulate, boring, lacking in insight or just generally objectionable, but the presenter can give none of that away and must try and make the best of whatever hand he has been dealt. That means you have to be able to think on your feet during live broadcasts.

Watch one such from 1985 with Jim – looking 35 years ago exactly as he looks now – copes with a spot of half-time broadcasting with the ever-genial Greavsie whilst fans bang on the window as though zombies trying to get inside to eat their brains, albeit whilst waving big sponge hands around. This was on a night which would end in the tragic death of Jock Stein, of course.

So for Jim – or ‘Rosie’ as he was always called on Saint and Greavise, to have such a long successful career and never to be short of gigs is a huge achievement.

The broadcasting world was a very different one in the 1980s to today. If you watch this old footage of him hosting the Milk Cup final between QPR and Oxford United with The Saint and Greavsie (48 and 46 at the time but looking 15 years older – the era of the kidult had yet to dawn) and Mick Channon, it looks like peering back into a distant world made largely of lambswool jumpers, high polyester content suits and Farah slacks. It’s incredibly informal, relaxed and off-the-cuff and doesn’t take things especially seriously. A far cry from today when things are Big and Serious and everyone has a career to project and protect.

In 2020, the elder statesman has to be vigilant of changing mores and standards, being careful not to commit some verbal faux pas that will be picked up on social media and blown up into a crime against all humanity. So it is to his huge credit that when watching him, we are never worried that is going to be the case the way we would with some.

There can be few working today that can claim to have worked at eight World Cups, three Rugby World Cups, two Olympic Games and 150 Formula One races. That is little short of incredible and it was for such feats that the Sport Journalists Association honoured him this week at an awards event that Jim himself was hosting, in doing so totally catching him by surprise. Nonetheless, consummate presenting professional to the last, he still managed to make a fine speech.

 

Anyone grumpy about it?
Because much loved, long-serving presenters are part of the fabric of our everyday lives, and we can look back to specific moments that they were a part of, nobody would begrudge Jim’s accolade this week. Held in very high regard within the industry, it was a hugely popular choice, his surprise at being the recipient just made it all the better.

 

What the people say
It shouldn’t surprise me now how much the public take certain TV people to their hearts but it is certainly true and JR is no exception to that. As someone we all know and have known for so long, it was an impressive mailbag this week. We start as is traditional with a 4_4_haiku


– Makes a decent boiled egg and soldiers – Tom Rosenthal (son)

– I’ve loved him ever since he played Grandpa Munster.

– He shouted at me to get off the wall and out of the way at a Forest-Spurs game on ITV around 1992 time. Never forgiven him!

– Murray Walker when interviewed once was asked ‘Who is the most fascinating person you’ve met in Formula One?’ His reply,‘Jim Rosenthal’

– He has been an ever-present for me since my childhood and you just know that what you are about to watch will be done in a professional and engaging manner. Belongs in the pantheon next to Des and Steve Ryder.

– Love Jim. Was the voice of football on ITV for years and never seemed to get older.

– I’ve never met a single person in TV with a bad word to say about him. An unbelievable team player with time for everyone and he comes to work equipped with humour and professionalism. He’s unflappable . If it’s a World Cup or Crufts he goes full pelt and always, always delivers.

– The face of F1 on TV when I was growing up as I fell in love with the sport and it became a passion, and one of the first broadcasters to inspire me in to thinking “yeah I want to do that.” Christian Hewgill.

– A really warm and friendly presenter who clearly loves his job and it shows in everything he does.

– His voice is wonderful it makes you interested in whatever he’s talking about, even Formula 1. Also clearly people ‘in the business’ like him he’s obviously a good person – which sounds like faint praise but it is not.

– If Jim was a shopping centre he’d be one of those ones which were so new fangled in the 80s but felt left behind by the 90s/noughties. Now making a comeback thanks to the web!

– Jim Rosenthal of shirt/tie/jacket top half and tracksuit bottoms/trainers bottom half fame? Legend.

– Have a vague memory of ITV cutting to him to do the Kate Adie stuff at Mexico 86 while Saint & Greavesie we’re back in the studio with Bobby Davro on punditry. This may have been a dream.


– Jim’s been working in sport longer than I’ve been alive, the timbre of his voice is familiar enough I can recall it at will. Fantastic he’s still going now into his 70’s.

– A cheery demeanour but also a real professional. Saw him in the street once -he’s even taĺler in person!

– When Ronnie Rosenthal marked his Liverpool debut in April 1990 with a hatrick at Charlton, one of the first questions he was asked by journalists was “are you related to Jim ?”. Ronnie laughed and replied “no, but I have heard of him !” Never a truer measure of Jim’s fame.

– I will gladly add my name to the list of broadcast professionals who loved working with Jim. Super professional, kind and funny.

– Was always good to see him pop up in more recent years on MUTV, and did a sterling job on the Amazon Prime launch matches. Much more than a ‘safe pair of hands’, knows how to draw out sensible comment from the pundits.

– Worked with Jim on many occasions across Athletics,Boxing, Football, rugby, and awards shows to name just a few.He is unflappable in live situations a true professional and a Gentleman to work with.

– I imagine that I’d tell him of silly escapades and he’d react in a really sweet way, half smiling. His voice is gold.

– Always looked overjoyed to be at every great sporting occasion he covered..and what a tan!

– *VERY* ITV sports, before they decided they would sabotage sports coverage in the 2000s with ridiculous dumbing down. Thought he was great on C5. “Thursday night, channel 5!” with Stan Collymore.

– One of the highlights of my Christmas was Jim helming the Amazon Prime live coverage of the Premier League on Boxing Day. An absolute treat to see him, and still absolutely on top of his game.

– There is something marvellous about Jim being both a huge Oxford United fan and seen as completely impartial and above the fray (maybe apart from in Swindon). Many could learn from that.

– I got excited a few years ago when he was staying in the same hotel as me. He was there with his family. I first saw him walking up the beach. I grabbed my girlfriends hand and said “Look! It’s Jim f*cking Rosenthal!” I was too shy to speak to him. A cool guy enjoying his hols.

– I spoke to him on the phone once, he couldn’t make it to Amsterdam to host an event. As he apologised, it was like I listening to the TV.

– His son is brilliant in Friday night dinner. So that’s one achievement. Jim was one of those faces (and voices) on sports TV that I grew up with. I associate him with Saturday afternoon sports. Great presenter.

– What I have to say about him couldn’t be done on Twitter . We worked together for a long time. Amazing man.

– Helmed my favourite football video of all-time; watch and admire as he effortlessly guides his subject matter expert Ray Clemence through Saves Galore 89/80!

– Jim Rosenthal always reminds me of fantasy football league because they had a picture of the devil that looked like him.

– Always seems to be smiling, I seem to remember. That’s pretty cool. He deserves that award 100% as well. I miss him presenting midweek Champions League games on ITV.

– The @QuicklyKevin guys had him on a very early episode of the podcast and he was the man. You can just tell from that ep that he is a thoroughly nice bloke and a top professional in everything he does. Also a Renford Rejects regular and that deserves points too. Class act.

– Always thought he was a great host of ITV’s F1 coverage, the start of which largely coincided with me finding a love for the sport which remains to this day. Wish we saw more of him on mainstream sports TV. A master of his craft. A total pro.

 

What does the future hold?
Jim doesn’t seem to lack energy or interest in sport and shows few signs of slowing down, let alone stopping. I suppose after 50 years it is in your blood and it is not just all you know, it is who you are, so to retire would be, in a way, to retire from yourself and that doesn’t sound like much fun. With the plethora of sporting events, platforms and broadcasters, a reliable, experienced presenter is likely to always be in demand for as long as he wants to work. Important too to have someone who is clubbable, especially if covering a tournament.

He’s also a dab hand at doing deadpan delivery for comic effect

It’s unlikely there’ll be a presenter in 40 years time that enjoys the same place in the public’s affection because television audiences are now so fragmented and the public doesn’t consume it in the same en masse way it once simply had to.

So in that sense, our man is the last of a dying breed; the household name who isn’t a celebrity in that awful shallow modern sense and yet is well known and widely respected for a huge body of work. So cheers, Jim. Long may you continue to be part of our sporting lives.

John Nicholson

 

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