Tony travels the world to talk a good game


Rhian Waller

TV COMMENTATOR Tony Jones can trace the roots of his media career back to writing articles for Wrexham FC’s matchday programme as a youngster.

“”I think I can put my success down partly to helping write the programme, which I worked on when I was in high school, and also to my uncle Neville Stapley, who worked for the Leader,” Tony said. 

“I think because of him I decided that if I wasn’t good enough to play, the next best think was to write about sport or to talk about it.”

Writing for Wrexham FC gave Tony the confidence to do work experience at the now defunct Cheshire Observer newspaper as a teenager. 

“Everyone’s career takes a path. This is the one mine followed,” he said.

From print, Tony moved onto radio, working for Radio City in Liverpool, with broadcasts hosted by current ITV commentator Clive Tyldesley and ex-Sky Sports presenter Richard Keys.

He said: “Back then there was quite a big sports team. I moved onto other radio stations and eventually got a job with Anglia TV in Norwich, which was an ITV franchise, and when ITV started to pare itself back, I went freelance."

For many in the media trade, striking out alone is a daunting prospect, but thankfully, Tony’s experience paid off.

He has covered recent World Cups, including this year’s tournament in Brazil, and has covered the Champions League from London to the Ukraine.

Tony covered the international feed for the 2011 Copa America – the South American international tournament. 

But one of his best experiences was on home soil and away from football – at the 2012 London Olympics.

He said: “I commentated for the water polo and open water swimming. Each sport has its own lingo. If you research well enough and talk to people who know about the sport that’ll give you a leg-up.

“I didn’t go in completely green, as I’d covered a couple of world swimming championships in the past, but you have to be able to sit down beforehand and do your homework. If you get a 

co-commentator who knows the sport that does make things easier. The commentator’s job isn’t just to say it as you see it. You provide history, context and a bit of analysis as well. If you have a good co-commentator, they will tell you things you didn’t already know.”

In interview, Tony sounds like anybody else, and he maintains that on-air.

He said: “I don’t have a ‘commentator’s voice’. We are what we are. Once you start putting on a voice, you start to sound silly. I think the greatest fear for any commentator is losing their voice.

“As you get older, your voice develops depth. But at a certain point it starts to sound ‘old’. I don’t think I’m there yet.”

Still, there is a fine art to maintaining viewer interest.

“If the game is slow, your voice will reflect the pace of your game,” he added.

Reflecting on the recent dominance of Spain – ended in this year’s World Cup – Tony said: “Because they are so dominant and claim so much possession of the ball, you’ll have players basically passing the ball around between themselves. It might be a beauty to watch, but commentating becomes difficult. In some ways, it’s easier to talk about a game that ends 5-4, because there’s more action.

“Some people might say ‘I wish there wasn't a commentator’. But if you watch a game without commentary [on TV] it doesn’t seem quite real.”

While many fans may fancy themselves as armchair commentators, professionals tread fine lines – in terms of legal issues, factual accuracy and entertainment.

“You have to be careful. You have to be aware of any legal issues and make sure you don’t accidentally slander someone and you have to get your facts right,” Tony added

Fortunately, so far, he has avoided any real bloopers, and he does not appear in Colemanballs, a running collection of verbal gaffes by sports commentators named after the legendary former BBC broadcaster David Coleman.

He said: “A friend pulled me up on something once, about a number of strikes a player had made on goal – but that was the only time I know of.

“It’s a strange thing, being in the booth. You’ll finish a game and think ‘I should've done that differently’, but most of the time I enjoy it. If you are aware that, say, 150 million or 250 million people are listening to what you are saying, you can’t really relate to that. It doesn’t mean anything. A couple of times I’ve been asked to give talks to children in schools and standing in a room in front of a group of 15-year-olds was much more intimidating.”

Now based in England, Tony is used to upping sticks to exotic locations.

He said: “You’ll live in a hotel for two or three weeks, but it isn’t lonely. 

“It’s a team effort. There’s such a hunger for more information that you get people from all different parts of the (sports media) industry and programming. 

“The travel is one of the best aspects of the job.  I’d tell anyone to take the opportunity to travel while they’re young, because not everyone gets the opportunity later in life."

Tony spent part of his childhood in Flintshire and then Chester and both his father and mother’s side of the family have Wrexham links, which fuelled his loyalty to the side. 

But his love of the game extends beyond the Reds.

He said: “You’ve got to be a fan. You wouldn’t be able to get into the passion of the game if you weren’t. 

“You have to have an understanding of the sport and have to admire the quality of some of the players, like Lionel Messi.”

See full story in the Leader

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