During the ‘90s I was still living in South Yorkshire and working as a full-time DJ for a large multi-op company based in Sheffield called Gary Sinclair Entertainments. In 1997 they were approached by a local football club, Rotherham United, to supply a match-day announcer and I was asked if I would like the job. I was more than up for the challenge and accepted the position. Little did I know that it would lead to one of the most interesting jobs I've ever had as a professional DJ.
I've been asked many times if it ever bothered me standing up in front of a stadium full of people and the answer is always no! It really doesn't faze me as you are, mainly, a voice in a large crowd passing on relevant information. Whilst you do become known at your home ground, most people won't be focusing on the stadium announcer standing on the pitch. I get more nervous standing up in front of a few people at a more intimate event when all eyes are on me.
Being a Stadium Announcer is not a job everyone can do but one you should try if you get the chance. I've seen some brilliant DJs try their hand at stadium announcing and turn into a quivering wreck as they walk out on to the pitch. However, I loved the job. It took me to stadiums up and down the country, covering a range of sports including football, rugby, cricket, basketball and even American football, and during that time I racked up a fair amount of amusing stories.
A few DJs have mentioned how they enjoy the variety of articles in each edition of Pro Mobile and that it's good to read the occasionally humorous piece, especially in the current climate. So let me take you on a light-hearted look at some of my experiences as a Stadium Announcer... first stop... Rotherham United FC.
No Ticket... No Entry
I became the stadium announcer at Millmoor, home of Rotherham United, in 1997 and spent over ten very happy and memorable years there before the club moved to the Don Valley Stadium in Sheffield where I returned to host the mayday presentations for a further four years. After I first got the gig a couple of my ‘friends’ began taking liberties with the elderly steward, George – (70, at least!) – on the main gate, claiming they were there to help me, before walking in for free and watching the game. It was only when they pushed their luck a bit too far and brought four of their mates along that they were caught out. They were banned from the ground and the elderly steward was politely reminded by the Commercial Manager, “not to let anyone in the ground without a ticket... no-one... no matter what excuse they gave”.
At the next game I was talking to the Commercial Manager when he was called on his walkie-talkie to go to the main gate to sort a problem out. He returned a few minutes later with a serious scowl on his face. I asked if all was well and he informed me that the elderly steward had refused entry to two people as they didn't have tickets. Well he had been told not to, so I didn't see what was wrong. Until, that is, I discovered the two guests were Sir Alex Ferguson and Sir Bobby Charlton!
The Grand National
I worked really hard not to get caught out by the Bart Simpson-esque messages that were emailed to the club prior to match days. I had them all... “happy birthday to Mr Dick Head”, “hello to my friend from Scotland – Jock Strap”, “Ben Dover”... the list goes on. I always thought that they'd have to get up pretty early in the morning to catch me out... and, ironically, that's exactly what happened when a game was chosen for the television cameras and would kick-off early at midday.
I'd been out the night before and a few beers had been sunk and the next morning I was not at my best if truth be told. I arrived at the ground, stumbled into the Commercial Department and picked up my scripts, including the usual pile of match-day announcements, to be read out over the public address system. One of the messages was a tip for the Grand National that was to be run later that day. I read it out, several times, until my co-host remarked that maybe I'd been had. The name of the horse... “NORFOLK INCHANCE”.
The Sponsors' Lounge
I had secured a match-ball sponsorship deal for The Music Factory Entertainment Group (home of Mastermix) for a game between Rotherham United and Crewe Alexandra, the latter being the team supported by a friend, Jon Gold, who at that time was doing some freelance work for Music Factory. The deal was for four guests to attend the match and present the match-ball to the 'Man Of The Match'. Jon brought a couple of important clients along with him and the fourth person was industry legend Rob Moore, who was a Director of the Music Factory at that time. All four arrived at the ground looking resplendent... suited and booted... every bit as smart as sponsors should.
As part of my match-day duties I would take time to meet some of the executive guests and show them to the Sponsors' Lounge. If you have been lucky enough to enjoy match-day hospitality at a Premier League football club then you will know how a Sponsors' Lounge should look... but this was a 2nd Division team with a ground that required a lick of paint here and there! The ‘lounge’ resembled a tap room in a working men's club complete with an over-weight steward, wearing an ill-fitting suit, sat on a small bar-stool outside the door checking everyone in... it was not a pretty sight!
Once inside, our four special guests, open-mouthed, we're shocked to find themselves in the company of lots of other guests... all wearing jeans and footballs tops... not a suit in sight! To say they stuck out like sore-thumbs is an under-statement. As part of the sponsorship package there was food served to the guests and they politely waited in line until it was their turn to be served. When they finally got to the counter they found all the trays empty... not a scrap of food to be seen anywhere. I was asked if I could help and suggested they notify the over-weight steward and ask him what they should do. Jon and his guests walked up to the steward to inform him that they were match-day sponsors and there was no food. The over-weight steward looked up from his seated position, eyed Jon and his guests up and down for a few moments before replying...“well you should have got in the f**king queue earlier then”. You wouldn't get that kind of hospitality at Old Trafford I can tell you!
It was decided that the club would change their mascot and allow fans to design a new one. Entries came in thick and fast before eventually one was chosen by the Commercial Department. There was to be a huge unveiling at a home game and I was asked to make the required introductions when the new mascot walked out onto the pitch for the first time. The new mascot was called 'Phoenix the Rother Bird' and was based on an eagle. The costume had everything you would expect... big wings, a colourful crown, a large beak, and a rather protruding chest to symbolise power, prowess and the dominance that an eagle has. The moment arrived. I took my position at the top of the players tunnel alongside the proud Commercial Manager eagerly awaiting the moment the new mascot emerged. A fanfare blasted out around the stadium, cheerleaders created a guard of honour and flags were unfurled and waved with great passion as I launched into my script that the club had written...
“Ladies and gentleman,” I began. “It's the moment you've all been waiting for. We asked you, the fans, to design a new mascot for Rotherham United Football Club and we are proud to welcome onto the pitch here at Millmoor... Phoenix the Rother Bird.”
The flags waved, the fanfare trumpeted and the new mascot walked out on to the pitch and a proud Commercial Manager looked at me and gave me a thumbs up. Then, as the fanfare faded and the ripple of polite applause died down, a member of the crowd close to where we were standing turned to his friend and, in the broadest Yorkshire accent imaginable, shouted... “Bloody hell Ken, it looks like a f**king parrot with t*ts.”
The Charity Match
I was invited to host a charity football match at Millmoor to raise additional funds for the proposed new ground that was to be built on the existing site. The match was to include two sides made up of football legends and local celebrities including players from Rotherham United, both Sheffield football clubs, World Cup referee Howard Webb, the Chuckle Brothers... and me! I'd been asked by one of the managers if I fancied a run out for the last 10 minutes and I eagerly accepted. After commentating on most of the match, I passed the mic to a DJ friend and shot off to the changing room to put my kit on. It was great. I had my own peg and on it hung a full kit plus a pair of skimpy black pants that all footballers wear during a game... apparently. They looked like the kind of thing my dad used to wear but who was I to argue with a professional footballer. If they are good enough for Chris Waddle then they are good enough for Richard Lee!
So there I am in my new kit, wearing a pair of snug black pants under my shorts and sporting my shiny new boots. My shiny new boots that I bought from the local sports shop, at the last minute, and cost less than a tenner... They had a bright green stripe down the side and were more plastic than leather... you get the idea! I strolled down the line to the dug-out. There were wolf-whistles and jeers from the crowd and as I was introduced onto the pitch one of the cool young trainees shouted “nice boots mate”. My embarrassment was completed a few seconds later when I realised that, to quote Jim from The Royle Family... “I paid £1 for these pants and I've got 50 pence worth stuck up my ar*e”. It was the most uncomfortable game of football I've ever played. My boots squeaked, the trainees constantly took the p*ss, the crowd burst into a chorus of “you fat bas**rd” and my football pants were giving me the wedgie from hell! And, to top things off, as I ran past referee Howard Webb he laughed and shouted... “Rich, what the f**k are you wearing, you look a right tw*t”! Not my finest moment on a football pitch if truth be told!
The Half-Time Draw
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The full review can be found in Pro Mobile Issue 104, Pages 30-35.