The season so far has been a case of back to the future for me. Everything’s a step into the unknown, but it seems oddly familiar as I travel back to my early years as a commentator at The Racecourse.
Obviously, football is very different for all of us at the moment. I’m one of the lucky few, the tiny minority who are still able to attend matches. It’s an odd experience, having a temperature check on entering the ground, being confined to certain areas of the stadium, and filling in a questionnaire on my health just to get as far as the entrance. Am I going to watch Wrexham has turned into applying for BUPA membership.
It’s particularly odd to have to keep my distance from my colleagues because of the virus, rather than as a consequence of the multiple exclusion orders courts have imposed on me over the years.
It means that I’m commentating from the Mold Road side of the ground for the first time since the old wooden stand was condemned in the 1980s.
Actually, that’s not totally accurate. Remarkably, we continued to use the old commentary box, which was perched on top of the roof, giving the stand the appearance of a vast, derelict dorma bungalow, long after the stand was declared unfit for human use.
Being wooden, the stand began rotting the moment it was no longer being maintained. As a result, the commentary box became a high altitude health risk. The steps up to it became wobbly, the wiring was exposed to the water dripping down the walls, and the window refused to open, meaning commentating on winter matches could often feel like my idea of a hot date in my student days: a fish and chip supper beside The Flash, behind the heavily misted windscreen of my Triumph Acclaim.
The most disturbing issue in the old commentary box was the state of the floor. The wooden planks which held the structure up were rotting at a terrifying rate, but the really frightening thing was that we had no way of telling exactly where the damage had taken place, because the floor was carpeted so you couldn’t see how solid it actually was.
Therefore, match days were spent tip-toeing around, finding that your foot was going through the carpet roughly every third step.
We stayed in there for another four years, before we discovered we were unable to go up in the most unconventional manner: I arrived the day before the start of the season to put some equipment into the commentary box to find it had been boarded up! Nobody had told us, and we were therefore taken abruptly off air! Thank goodness it’s a long time since the club has been run like that; and I can’t believe I was so dim as to happily visit that death trap every week either!
Commentating in the Mold Road Stand is not quite so challenging this season, but it’s definitely odd. We have to use an executive box, which sounds like we’re living in the lap of luxury, but I’m afraid the fridges of booze are empty. Trust me, I checked.
It’s always nice to have a table to work on when you’re commentating, but unfortunately the executive box window is too narrow for two commentators to socially distance and both see the whole pitch, and the table in the box is marginally too wide to fit into the gap between seats in the stand. So, we can’t commentate either inside or outside the box without having to compromise.
Thankfully, in an act of foresightedness, we bought new headsets with incredibly long cables a year ago. As you could imagine, this sensible measure met with little opposition within the media team: the only person who objected was me! As a rule, I don’t like long cables, but now I see that it’s a purchase of genius.
So, using long cables, we can leave all the kit on the table and still socially distance: my co-commentator can sit outside, while I stay in the box and keep an eye on the equipment.
Usually I hate an enclosed press box as it cuts you off from the atmosphere. Of course, these days that’s not an issue, but there is a problem with indoor commentary. You can’t open the windows! I’ve decided to move outdoors as I’ve found that in the closing stages of night games the visibility starts to deteriorate through the glass.
I don’t want to go back to trying to focus on the game while re-enacting those exciting times in my Triumph Acclaim. I can almost taste the haddock!