Radio 5 live v talkSPORT: Who wins the World Cup battle?

Date published: Friday 8th June 2018 11:48

In the third and last of his World Cup previews, Johnny turns his attention to the medium he loves best: radio. So that’ll be talkSPORT and 5live, then.


The BBC has always put World Cup commentary on the radio. In 1966 Brian Moore was the BBC’s commentator for the final. Listen to this and be transported back to a world that was both so much better than now and also so very much worse.

In the late ’60s the BBC would put some commentaries on Radio 1 which was rather vexatious to pop pickers. The 1970 World Cup was exclusively broadcast on Radio 1 on 247 metres medium wave. However, they only broadcast games involving England! They sent out three commentators – Maurice Edelston and the classic pairing of Bryon Butler and Peter Jones. The latter two were to carry BBC radio football forward into the late ’80s with their distinctive authoritative tones. Unlike in 1966, they broadcast whole games this time. They used to only do the second half – although they still only did half of the semi-finals because England were not involved, but they did broadcast the final in its entirety.

By 1974 it was on Radio 2. On the mic was Peter Jones and David Francey, who commentated on BBC Scotland, with analysis from Mike England (who confusingly was Welsh). Alan Parry presented. Yes that Alan Parry. Only Scotland’s games and the final were broadcast. They repeated this team in 1978 as Scotland were the only home nation present again. It took until 1982 for them to start covering it in a way we might recognise as modern. With three home nations to look at, the team expanded a lot. Jimmy Armfield made his World Cup bow, as did Alan Green who covered Northern Ireland’s games with Peter Brackley.

By 1986 things were settling into their future pattern with Mike Ingham now installed as a main commentator along with Butler and Jones. They now broadcast all the significant games, not just home nation ones. By 1990, Peter Jones had sadly passed away and Welshman Ron Jones – a much loved man – was on board with Ingham and Greeny. By ’94 Pleaty and Lawro were doing punditry and 5 live had come into existence and it was now The Modern World, albeit one presented by John Inverdale.

I can’t find any evidence of any other radio station ever covering the World Cup until talkSPORT came along, so with them covering all 64 games this time around, it will be unusual for the BBC to have any competition.


On talkSPORT, Stuart Pearce joins Ray Parlour, Eni Aluko, Ally McCoist, Joey Barton, Mick McCarthy, John Hartson and Matt Holland as part of the team of pundits for the tournament, with commentators and presenters in Russia including Hawksbee & Jacobs, Mark Saggers and Adrian Durham.

I haven’t been able to ascertain who the comms will actually be and which ones will be in Russia and which ones will be in England looking at a TV.

TalkSPORT also promise ‘the irrepressible Hugh Wizzy will be the face of social with fan videos and behind the scenes fun from the festival of football’. I imagine the old Sooty phrase, “Izzy Wizzy, let’s get busy” will be deployed at some point.

Over on the BBC, Mark Chapman and Kelly Cates are leading BBC Radio 5 live’s coverage from Moscow, while Robbie Savage presents a daily World Cup Breakfast Show from 8.30am with a special guest each weekday of the tournament.

The BBC’s Football Correspondent John Murray will be joined by Chris Waddle for commentary on all England matches, and Caroline Barker will provide exclusive content from inside the England team camp. Ian Dennis will accompany John for commentary duties on the World Cup final, and he’ll be with Pat Nevin for his matches until the final stage. Dion Dublin joins Conor McNamara, Chris Sutton will be working with Alistair Bruce-Ball and Vicki Sparks will commentate with Terry Butcher.

What is notable and interesting is the pairing of commentators with a dedicated co-comm. I think that’s a good idea if done well as there are some who have real chemistry with each other and can be a kind of double act. I’d have thought that they’d need at least one other presenter as a solid four-week stretch for Mark and Kelly seems a tad onerous for just two people to do. Perhaps they’ll get a loanee in from TV like Dan Walker. And also, with only five comms listed here to cover 64 games, surely they’ll need some additional help to avoid everyone getting hoarse. Hopefully, they purloin Jonno Pearce from TV.

This is a strong team but it does look slimmer and leaner than previous tournaments with fewer people being required to do more work.


Both broadcasters are saying they’ll bring us “every game live” and are “your only home for World Cup 24/7”. Both will offer comms on all 64 games.

While 5 live will have commentators live at the games, sitting in the stands as the Russian ultras beat the living daylights out of everyone, talkSPORT will have some people actually in Russia and some commentaries will be done “off tube” from the U.K. Not that anyone ever says this when introducing a game, presumably to maintain an air of authenticity, which treats it as though it’s a dirty secret. I think they should be upfront about it. As long as the commentary is good, that’s all that matters.

‘Off tube’ is an industry term for commentating on a game off the television broadcast. It’s commonplace in many countries and a lot of USA coverage will be done this way. Some companies do this even when they hold broadcasting rights, simply to cut costs. Others do it as ‘unofficial’ World Cup coverage. An industry insider told me:

“talkSPORT are sending two commentary teams to Russia with the rest done off the TV here. In fact I was talking to a friend of mine the other day who is doing 13 off tube World Cup matches for talkSPORT. The logistics mean some matches for highlights for all TV broadcasters will probably be done off tube.”

I wonder how hard or easy that is to do? It must be a totally different artform, being reliant on the images shown to you on TV rather than being in the stadium, made all the harder by having to pretend you’re actually there.


Liam Fisher, National Radio controller at talkSPORT, told RadioToday: “TalkSPORT is the World Cup station and the only place for non-stop football coverage day and night. From the first kick to the final whistle we’ll bring you all the drama as it unfolds from this very unique World Cup. Right from Alan Brazil at Breakfast through to the Sports Bar at night, our programming will be wall-to-wall World Cup across our platforms with our own line-up of footballing legends.”

The talkSPORT press release also quotes Stuart Pearce. Now you tell me if you think Stuart actually said these words.

“This World Cup will be full of spice and we’ll be pounding the streets to bring our listeners all the news as it happens from the England camp and the streets of Russia. As the fans home for this World Cup we’ll be in England’s corner from kick-off to penalty shootout…”

The BBC press pack says:

“The award-winning 5 live Sport will take you to the heart of Russia during the World Cup in a record number of ways. From the best commentary on its DAB and MW frequencies, there will also be a special World Cup Daily podcast, exclusive content accessible on smart speakers, and of course there’ll be the best commentary clips, analysis and debate on its In Short and social media platforms. Away from the Sports coverage, Rachel Burden will be the voice of the World Cup for 5 live Breakfast. Starting off in Moscow, she’ll follow England’s progress through the group stages, presenting the programme from a variety of locations in Volgograd, Nizhny Novgorod and Kaliningrad. Rachel will also be pitchside during the games for 5 live Sport. For Radio 1 Newsbeat, Ben Mundy will be following England through the group stages. Listeners can stay up to date with all the latest news and reports from Russia via BBC Radio 5 live’s news and sport bulletins – available anytime, anywhere, via the BBC Sport app with the option to listen again on the 5 live website.”


TalkSPORT have been pushing the “every game live” mantra for months now at every mention of the tournament. The BBC have just started to get into gear with previews but radio doesn’t do the big, fancy sales pitch. You don’t need to do that for radio listeners because we have good attention spans and can absorb information easily. We don’t need shouting at with expensive trailers to try and stir us out of a television stupor.

Even though I am genuinely fearful that the whole thing will turn into some hellish mixture of racism, violence and incompetent VAR, I can’t wait for it to start.

John Nicholson


More Related Articles