In almost seven years of Beyond The Title, I’ve been lucky enough to speak to giants and sometimes my heroes of Light Entertainment. Yet what has always remained unspoken is my passion for sport, most notably football. Indeed I think it would surprise many people that if you were to ask me to pick my favourite TV programme which I can’t live without, it would probably be Match Of The Day. To me, a Saturday night isn’t a Saturday night when it doesn’t end with Gary Lineker presiding over the day’s action sandwiched between that iconic theme tune. For the past seventeen years the BBC’S coverage of the Premier League has been presided over by an elite team of commentators who many consider to be the best in the business. Writer and broadcaster Guy Mowbray is the current occupant of the prestigious title of the BBC’s leading football commentator but is only too aware of the history and legacy which surrounds one of the most prominent roles in broadcasting.
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Born in York in 1972, Guy and the Mowbray family lived in a terraced house which backed onto the local football pitch where Guy was able to watch the action from his bedroom. Despite being interested in playing the game, he suddenly found himself watching from the window and commentating on the action in the style of John Motson or Barry Davies. Despite being a keen footballer himself, regularly playing with his friends, it was this analysis of the game which fascinated the young Guy and was something he developed into a passion. Sporting’s loss was definitely broadcasting’s gain and from here on in, he spent hours cultivating his commentary style in the safe confines of his bedroom.
Following a brief spell as part-time reporter for BBC local radio and Sports Editor for Metro Radio, Guy joined the satellite channel Eurosport as chief football commentator which resulted in him presiding over the 1998 World Cup. At the tender age of twenty-six, Guy became the youngest ever commentator to preside over a major football tournament: an accolade which quickly gained him a reputation within his industry. World Cup 98 shall be forever remembered for a handful of events: Beckham’s controversial red card, Michael Owen’s debut and Glen Hoddle’s controversial decision to omit Gazza from his squad. Yet for Guy Mowbray, France 98 was the start of his love affair with the art of broadcasting which has now spanned over a quarter of a century.
Just a year later, to coincide with the broadcaster winning a five year deal to show Premier League highlights, Guy joined ITV covering everything from the Champions League to domestic football. The Premiership presented by Des Lynam aimed to push the boundaries in sports broadcasting with the latest goal line technology and analysis. However a mixture of unstable scheduling and insufficient resources led to its demise meaning it lasted until 2004 when the BBC won back the rights when heralded the long awaited return of the heavyweight Match of The Day. As a freelance broadcaster, Guy was able to move with it and joined the show which would possibly define his career. Becoming a Match of The Day commentator in August 2004 catapulted Mowbray into the football broadcasting elite and in the company of legendary figures such as John Motson and Barry Davies, he really came of age.
Slowly becoming a firm fixture of the Match Of The Day family, Guy became part of the live team covering international matches and major tournaments and when the legendary John Motson retired from live commentary in 2010, Guy was selected as his natural successor. He may not have donned the infamous sheepskin coat or lacked the wonderful eccentric charm of Motty but his knowledge of the game and unrivalled broadcasting pedigree gave him all the vital qualities to inherit one of the most prestigious roles in British broadcasting. Now the boy who had grown up imitating Motson and Davies was now following in their hallowed footsteps.
The 2010 World Cup is memorable for many things but if you’re English, the tournament will only be remembered for one thing. England versus Germany has always been one of the iconic fixtures in the history of football but when it’s a knockout game at a major tournament, the tension and pressure becomes rampant. For Guy’s first tournament as the BBC’s leading commentator, it was always written in the stars that these familiar foes should meet in the last sixteen. In the era before VAR and advanced goal line technology, referees were forced into making significant decisions using human eyes alone. Frank Lampard’s shot hit the inside of the crossbar and rolled over the line but unfortunately the referee wasn’t in a position to award the goal as he didn’t physically see the ball doing so. As a commentator, Guy is meant to uphold impartiality at all times especially on a responsible broadcaster like the BBC. However, this was so far over the line that it was impossible not to allow some emotion into his commentary and this spawned the famous quote “it’s so far over the line”.
This moment is one of the most defining in recent sporting history and helped to cement Guy Mowbray as one of the best sporting commentators of recent times. But even more important than that, it encouraged UEFA to rethink their decision to allow video assistance technology into football which was to spark an international debate. Attitudes towards VAR have divided fans, journalists and pundits since its introduction to the Premier League in the 2019/20 season. As a commentator, Guy has realised that it has increased the number of celebrations in each game: first when a player has scored when there is instant jubilation but then waiting for VAR has added an extra element of jeopardy. Therefore if VAR does award a goal, then there is a second opportunity for celebration. So, in short, VAR is generally a good thing which is obviously here to stay but could do with tweaking and tightening up before it’s a smooth oiled machine.
VAR isn’t the only recent concept to revolutionise football. With the influx of streaming services, satellite channels and new ways of broadcasting, the commodity of the sport is now bigger than ever. As a freelance broadcaster, this is music to the ears of Guy who is now in the ideal situation to be able to choose the work he accepts. In a crowded market, the value of a reliable, trusted commentator remains highly prized and this era is probably a golden one for the British sport presenter. With a whole host of commentators competing for the biggest gigs in football, the role of a football broadcaster is now one of the prestigious roles in broadcasting. Yet with his unrivalled knowledge, coached style and trusted pedigree, Guy Mowbray is one of Britain’s most respected voices in sport and it was a pleasure to welcome him to the Beyond The Title microphone.