In the box with John Tondeur - talking back with happiness

Cod Almighty | Article

by Tony Butcher

12 April 2024

Away days, home games, thumping victories and getting thumped. Mr T's seen it, felt it and tells us how it is these days. From the depths of despair to the highest highs, he's seen it all and said it all. Regrets? Too few to mention, though perhaps he and Burnsy secretly regret that lost weekend in That London. You don't know? Well we'll tell thee what he said...

TB: Shall we get onto Town now? You actually started at the very highest point for Town in 1984
And I've taken them down ever since. First game I was involved in was at Leeds, I didn't do the commentary I was the Gary Croft figure. People didn't realise what they'd got, especially the Buckley years. Just look at Scunthorpe now. We didn't really know how good it was. Plus the gulf in finances, it's so wide now, we'll never, ever get there.

TB: Forty sometimes glorious years, some highs, some very lows
When we have a high like beating Spurs that's something only a 'little' club will ever experience. I remember at college we were going round saying who do you support, they were all big clubs then one guy said "Southend". He came up to me afterwards and said "isn't it great supporting a little club". I always remember that as I hadn't really thought about it until then but I think he is right. The odd occasional high you get are so much higher than even winning the Champions League for someone like Man City because that is almost expected.

TB: What was your favourite season to report on (not just the outcome, but for the whole vibe) Not the best, but one you actually just enjoyed doing it
They all merge into one! The Buckley years football wise, just get that DVD out. Unbelievable some of the football they played, unbelievable. Just look at one goal and go "Wow", then there's 100 more like it. Before that, before I started reporting and commentary, I did a few bits for Radio Humberside and I got to know Mike Brolly and that year when we beat Everton and got promoted under George. I knew the players, you'd go out with the players afterwards…and stuff. That year sticks in my memory, maybe because it was my first year.

TB: A lovely little entrée into what was to come for you. You mentioned in your last Cod Almighty interview 20 years ago your favourite games at that time. Has anything changed since? Is it still the Everton wins?
As a fan, since then Liverpool obviously, Spurs and Kalala, but probably the most satisfying wins are the ones that get you promotion. Maybe not the sudden high of the cup glory but they are reward for a season.

In terms of professional pride two of the best commentaries I ever did were the two relegation games into non-league. They are the only two games where I knew what I was going to say. The first one was a bit of a 'Norwegian' as I went through a list of illustrious Town players and managers. For the second, unfortunately the sports editor at the time wouldn't let me go to the Exeter game, even though post-Covid it was permitted. So I had to do it on tube in the studio in Hull. There was no crowd noise and that one I just read a list of misdemeanours of the season. Both of those I was very happy with.

The first one led to the Sony Award which was almost unheard of for a local station. It was a bitter sweet moment though. On both those occasions we were almost down anyway, that's why I was able to prepare. At least I felt we could come out with a job well done. I managed to get Macca straight after the Exeter game. He was in a terrible state, it wasn't great for him but it did make great radio. Most people watched that game and if I'd been allowed to go my commentary would have been on TV. So not so many people heard that.

TB: The big games, the big moments, they are memorable because they are that. What about anything from the thousands of other games you have seen or commentated upon?
There was a piece of commentary I did when Keith Alexander played against Carlisle, I think. He got the ball inside the penalty area and starts running out and I think my commentary goes something like "He's going outside the area, what's he playing at?" and then he suddenly turned and whacked it into the top corner and I said "He's scored, that's what he's playing at!" Just occasionally goal commentaries will come out like that. Like family photos, the big goals get wheeled out again and again, so of course you remember them.

TB: I’m surprised you haven't mentioned the 2022 play-off extravaganza, an unusual set of games to say the least
Well yes, I was going to say the Wrexham game for all sorts of reasons but I didn't do the Notts County game. The game got moved because of TV and I was picking my daughter up from Luton Airport at 9 o'clock. So I didn't even see it.

TB: You didn't get the thrill of the moments!
No, but the Wrexham game was unbelievable – I just laughed when it went to 4-4. That's the game when someone thumped me in the back when Crofty was celebrating one of our goals. I don't think he could reach Crofty.

TB: Is that the only time you've had an opposition fan 'interact' with you?
Yes physically, no verbally. Sometimes people say you (i.e. Town) deserved that but you do get abuse, it's always been there but social media now (shakes head). Abusing opposition players is bad enough, but your own players! And then when you've got someone who played for you who comes back and get booed!

TB: I suppose social media does give the opportunity for fans to continue their frustration on from the Saturday. It used to be you could shout at them from the Barrett Stand…
The other thing is if someone says I'm crap, fine. If someone thinks on social media I'm crap, OK, but when they tag you in it to make sure you've read it… I know that probably says more about them than about you. The abuse Debbie took last season (from an extremely small number of people) but I know it upset her. And she did a fantastic job.

TB: Now, you've been in the Main Stand for a long time…can you see through the posts?
No, I don't think there is one seat in the Press Box where you can see both goals clearly.

TB: But can you see beyond the post and know what is happening behind?
No, if I missed one back in the day I used to try and make up what happened but now I'll be honest. There's a double post right in front of us – a post with a drain pipe attached to it – and I know they'll be moving a lot (of posts) but I think that one is staying. But having said all that I love the Main Stand, I prefer it to any other stand really. The view isn't great but you feel closer to the action there.

TB: So, you've drawn the long stick with the Press Box down in the Main Stand, have you ever hankered for the view from the TV gantry?
I've been to the TV gantry, it wasn't my favourite view. I don't know how John Moore gets up there every week. But the view from the Press Box is better than when I first started – then the press were up at the top of the Main Stand – you can still see where it was in Press Box B. If the ball went more than two foot off the ground you couldn't see it, especially on the far side. So it's better than it was!

TB: Apart from the bloke who always shouts "bloody rubbish Town" what can you hear of the atmosphere?
Oh yes, I can hear it. I have my cans otherwise I couldn't hear Crofty or the studio…now when we started we didn’t have a live link up, I had to listen to the radio and have a phone ready by my side. And there's a delay on radio, the time it takes for the signal to go and out back from studio to transmitter. The club now give us a feed so I have got a view of the game from the other side, but it's about a minute behind. It is nice to have the feed so you can see what you've missed, but then people are watching it and thinking "how the hell did he miss that?"

TB: So what's your most egregious miss?
Back in the day I called a goal that wasn't a goal. Now, if I'm not sure I tend to hedge my bets and hang on a little.

TB: Isn't that what your sexy sidekick is supposed to do?
Yes, but they're sat next to me, so the posts are the same for them too.

TB: You've done home games, you've done away games. Where are the catering/facilities so poor you take your own sandwiches?
Back in the day just about everywhere, things are a lot better now. Premier League, well, Chelsea…unbelievable, I almost didn't want to go to the game! A lot of the problem we have is that at Wembley, for example, they tend to bring out all the food about 90 minutes before the kick-off – when we're working, so I tend to miss all the spreads. Some clubs will now give you a voucher for a pie, some places you'll get a pie or sandwiches. I tend not use them much anyway, so I'll take a sandwich.

TB: Ah, but what sandwich?
Cheese and tomato is THE sandwich, isn't it.

TB: (teeth do suck) corned beef and a little bit of pickle for me!
Or cheese and pickle. Usually there is cheese involved: ham and cheese, cheese and cheese.

TB: Away games, are they still a bit of novelty or a chore?
The travelling is getting a pain, especially driving back. Humberside are fairly good and let me stay overnight if it is a reasonable distance away. Most of the time I am on my own. Back in the day Burnsy and I would go to a lot of games together

TB: Like players, did you have to room share at away games?
Sometimes we did…When we stayed in London one weekend we booked into our room (twin beds of course), Burnsy and I were there and the gentleman on reception asked "And are you here for the Helen Shapiro weekend?"

TB: Did you drop into the Helen Shapiro festival.

TB: There was a period – the Wilderness Year - when there was no commentary after Fenty threw a tantrum. Apart from not commentating what was the difference?
Well, firstly, I became more popular than I had been before, like when players who aren't playing suddenly become great players. The one thing I really remember from that year was going to Bury when Chris Casper was manager and Keith Alexander was director of football. During the game Keith came and sat with me. He said "I don’t know what I'm supposed to be doing here, I'd rather sit with you." I remember big Keith having that injury, being carried off with blood coming out of his ear. I am conscious that you have to report on everything you see but you have to be conscious that his family may be listening, so I didn't mention too much.

TB: When you moved to full match commentating rather than reporting from the game, how did you adapt? What difference did you feel it made to your ability to communicate?
I wasn't sure I could when I first did it in the '80s. A lot of people forget we didn't do full commentaries then, only occasionally second halves and we shared with other local stations. The Sports Editor at the time, John Boyd, just said, you'll be fine – I wasn't sure I was up to it. I did one and he said "Don't you ever tell me you can't do commentary". It gave me the confidence to carry on. The difference? Well, you're thinking more on your feet as a commentator whereas reporting is more considered.

TB: Do you see the game differently, especially tactical aspects?
Not really, just occasionally you may miss a tactical change, last month I was expecting Gillingham to play three at the back, it took us a while to work out it wasn't. I don’t think you see the game any different. I sat next to Stuart Hall – he was different – he didn't have a clue what was going on. He'd ask everyone around "who was that, what's going on" and then he'd suddenly come out with this beautiful prose…all scripted. When I first started I used to write my report but I just do it off the top of my head now.

TB: At home games you have a fixed pundit with you, presently Gary Croft, but what about the away games with a rotating cast of ancient Mariners. How does that come about and how do you manage the operation of doing it with different people?
We do have a list of regulars, such as Gritts (Martin Gritton) or Gary Cohen in London for example, so you do naturally build a rapport. Mike White, the sports editor, is responsible, and sometimes asks me for suggestions. If we can't get anyone else we call Nigel (Lowther), who knows he's the bottom of the barrel! We always try and get a former pro but there's certain areas, Carlisle or Barrow for instance, that are always difficult to get people.

TB: Here's one for Pete Anderson, our Irish dreamer who is obsessed with kits. What's your favourite kit and which was the worst, professionally or aesthetically?
I don't have a big thing about kits, I'm not a kit nerd at all.

TB: Do you have any difficulty spotting a Town player?
This year, yes. As a commentator any kit where the numbers are on the back of the stripes is quite hard. I don't like the thicker stripes. I didn't like that one in the Tom Newey/Nick Fenton years (half and half).

TB: Can't you spot the players by the way they run?
Yes, you can, but certain players are similar. Rose and Clifton I sometimes get mixed up, from a distance. You need all the help you can get sometimes when someone has nodded it in inside a crowded area. So when you can't see the number it's a problem this year, which I know other people have commented upon.

TB: When you looked over at the mass of Mariners during and after a spectacular victory what did you see, what did you feel?
Sometimes you want to be in there really. Part of me misses that bit, but I am very privileged to do what I have been doing to try and convey the feelings people are having rather than just what they look like.

TB: Well, you know what your feeling would be if you were over there (with us)
That's why Nathan Arnold's goal at Wembley was so good because you were able to call that when there was no way they could come back. It's one of my favourite commentaries because that was just off the top of my head, nothing was planned. You knew what it meant to people, I think I used the words "relief" and "agony". I hadn't planned to say that, it was just that the relief that the agony was over and the way the emotion from the fans came over. Looking over you could see they were feeling both those things.

TB: What about last season's FA Cup games?
I was in France with my daughter and missed the Southampton game – she's caused me to miss quite a few games.

TB: You definitely were at the Brighton game though?
Yes, the weekend was fantastic, as were the Brighton fans, brilliant, though I did feel that we should have just kicked them a couple of times just to do something to try and stop them. It was almost like "they're going to win, they are so much better than us". I understood that because they were, but I would have liked to see us just try and ruffle them up a little bit. We did not want to lose by too many – yeah, where their ruddy goalkeeper handled it outside the box.

TB: …and there it is
…it's a goal. You don't realise what you're saying, I should listen back to myself more often

It's in the back of the net, I know say that. The thing that annoys me now about commentary, and I do it now as I have to to a certain extent, is that because the goals are clipped and put into a little package you have to have a narrative. There's one of Burnsy when Hull went to Wembley where they'd won the previous game 5-0 and each goal he more or less says "Is that the goal that sends Hull to Wembley?...Is that the goal…is that the goal". If you're not careful every commentator can sound the same as they tee up the soundbite. What they are trying to do is tell the story before it's finished.

I think, actually this is the commentary, the story will come.