Magazine article The Spectator

Spectator Sport: Roger Alton

Magazine article The Spectator

Spectator Sport: Roger Alton

Article excerpt

A day of sporting shocks this Sunday past. As if the news of Tracey Horrobin’s bewitching performance with the ball to give Ambridge victory in their grudge match against Darrington wasn’t enough, then out of a clear blue sky, one of the best broadcasters in the country announced that he’d be standing down. For anyone interested in sport, Garry Richardson’s Sportsweek was unmissable. In a dignified little farewell at the end of his last show, Richardson said how much he had enjoyed it and paid generous tribute to everyone who had made it possible.

Why should this matter? In an age where sport is expanding like a barrage balloon on steroids, Richardson could cut through the chaff to shine a light on what mattered. He provided vital insight as to how the power structures of sport worked, and asked awkward questions. His approach was that of a fan: he treated sport with gravity but never too much solemnity.

There is more money in sport than ever before; it is more professional and sports people are fitter than ever, but there are also, to put it bluntly, more untruths than ever, and the PR industry has its tentacles all over sport. You could rely on Garry to see to the heart of the story. He had an awesome contacts book and could call Seb Coe or Rafa Benítez or Pelé on the phone when it mattered. He was the poet laureate of sport, with a pleasingly unplaceable accent (he comes from Reading). He is also, like all the best people, a fan of Oxford United. He is not confrontational but he could always press the ejector question on evasive bigwigs. He even tracked down Bill Clinton in the royal box during a rain break at Wimbledon. The ex-pres said he liked tennis but wasn’t much good.

The question is: what will the BBC put in its place? I don’t think the Beeb has covered itself in glory in serious sports journalism, though its live coverage and podcasts are excellent. …

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