Johnny Cantor: How Subbuteo helped in my commentating career

A Subbuteo start to a career in commentating
A Subbuteo start to a career in commentating

Sussex has been a hotbed for broadcasting talent.

JohnnyCantorSussex has been blessed with some wonderful footballers over the years. It has also been a hotbed for broadcasting talent (And no, I don't count myself in that group, before you start!).

As well as the likes of Peter Brackley and, of course, "Sir" Des Lynam, we currently have several locally-based commentators who feature every Saturday night on Match of the Day.

Jonathan Pearce is one; another is Steve Wilson who, like Pearce, cut his teeth, or should I say lips, behind the microphone for Capital Radio.

This week, Steve was chatting to BBC Sussex about his new book Match of the Day 365, a day-by-day collection of the best Premier League-era goals, matches, and memories.

In the interview, which airs this weekend, he spoke about how he first got into commentating. It reminded me of one the rare occasions I was asked the same question by another local journalist, Mike Ward. In the final piece, he referenced the game: “It was the 1976 World Cup Final, in which England lost to Poland. And before you go, ‘Hang on, what’s he on about? There was no such game - no such tournament, come to that’, I should maybe explain that Johnny was eight at the time, playing Subbuteo on the bedroom carpet with his brother”.

I guess some people sing in the shower; I commentated on the floor across seemingly-endless school holidays. Sadly, I don’t have the original ringbinder that had the scores of every game in tournament we played (and commentated on), but I remember it as clear as day. And the important bit: England lost in the final.

The conversation happened on the day England ensured a win against Switzerland en route to next year’s Euros in France. I won’t be on the mic but I’m sure Steve and Jonathan will be part of the BBC team.

Even from those early days, the figures, kits, games, goals from big tournaments stay with me. The ticker tape of 1978, Mario Kempes’ hair, Platini’s shorts, Lineker’s cast on his wrist, Gazza’s tears, Roger Millar’s dance at the corner flag, Robson’s early goal, Beckham’s kick-out, Beckham’s metatarsal, Stoichkov, Brolin (where is he now?) are just some that initially spring to mind.

While the domestic season and following our local team gives us that essential regular hit, the gradual shaping of our memories from big tournaments often stay with us for years to come.

Let’s hope France in 2016 deliver, and maybe for once, England will deliver, too - unlike on my floor back in 1976.

Then maybe Albion fans will be able to look forward to a season in the Premier League and their own appearances on MOTD on a Saturday night.

Now that would be some year. And then I, like Steve, might just have to write a book about it.