Before Newcastle United's game against Southampton, I had the pleasure of chatting to BBC Radio Newcastle's Matthew Raisbeck. A Newcastle United supporter himself, Matthew spoke passionately about the club and how much he enjoys his commentary role.
You originally started off doing the phone in shows, before taking up your commentary role, was commentary something you always wanted to do?
Yes, and it came from growing up and listening to the matches on the radio mostly! I didn't have Sky until I was fifteen, I would go to some games, but I never had a season ticket. I would also watch games at my friends house, but it was mostly listening to that match on the radio - That was my way in. I love the way it sounded and how exciting it was. During the mid 90s to the early 2000s, we had a pretty good run, didn't we? We had some great teams. There were a couple of seasons that weren't quite so good, but it was an exciting time to be a Newcastle fan. With everything that was going on, on the pitch and with the likes of Kevin Keegan and Sir Bobby Robson, it was exciting. Also listening to great commentators like Mick Lowes and Nick Barns, who does Sunderland now for BBC Newcastle, he covered Newcastle at the BBC initially and he was brilliant. There were the likes of Justin Lockwood as well, so yes, that's what made me want to commentate.
I started at the BBC just after I left school in 2006. Back then, Glenn Roeder was Newcastle manager, and Damien Duff had just signed... Feels, like a long time ago now - Fifteen years! I was doing a lot of bits and pieces for free, and a lot of behind the scenes radio stuff. I did the phone in for six years on Saturday afternoons, whether it was for Newcastle, Sunderland or both. I would also read the sports news on a Sunday morning for five years. In November 2016, when Mick (Lowes) stood down, that's when it changed.
Did you feel a lot of pressure taking over from Mick Lowes?
Yes, I knew how good he was but also I remember at the time, I was astonished that he was leaving. The best thing about all that, though, it was all done on his terms. We put all our tribute pieces together for him, I knew how good he was because I had worked with him and listened to him... But if I needed a reminder, going through all the archives of big moments like Newcastle in the San Siro, cup final runs, Alan Shearer's record-breaking goal and things like that, you just thought "Wow." Mick is the best commentator I've ever heard and rightly is number one, and will always be the voice of Newcastle in my opinion, and I'm sure in the opinion of most, if not all, of your readers. As a big Newcastle fan, and someone who loved radio and always wanted to commentate, this was just a dream opportunity. I had Mick's support and backing, I still do. I talk to him regularly, and always been very grateful because we've got on well, and worked closely together. That relationship has continued, and that has really helped.
I knew it was going to be big, and I knew it was going to be impossible to do what Mick had done. To try and get to his standard is what anyone has to do, and I also knew it's the sort of thing you get better at over time. Five years have gone by now, and it's gone quickly!
What's it like to commentate on the club you actually support?
It is, I think, having to be there in a professional capacity dilutes your passion because you have to do your job first and foremost. Within that, there is some scope to go wild if you need to, I think I did at Everton a few seasons ago! Nobody had a clue what was going on, which probably didn't help, I listen back to that and wish I had been a little more controlled. At the time, you just go with what feels right and natural, it was just a chaotic end to the game. There are other times when things go against Newcastle, just look at this season - The VAR at Aston Villa and against West Ham, we're seeing it on the replay... The two penalties at Villa and the one against West Ham... I could feel myself getting really wound up! But you've got to remember to keep a lid on it, you've got to be straight down the line, we are describing the game from a Newcastle perspective, but you still have to try and be impartial. You have to keep your emotions in check, so even if you disagree with the decisions, you've got to just tell people what's going on, that's the job.
I'm lucky enough to sit beside John Anderson, and he's there to help me because if I was all on my own, there would probably be a lot of ranting! It is something I learnt very quickly, you have to keep everything in check, but it is hard to at times when it's good and also when it's bad!
What was the first Newcastle game you attended as a supporter?
It was in March 1997 against Southampton at home. Matt Le Tissier scored the winner, there's a shock! I remember going with my uncle, we were in the Leazes end - I had wanted to go for years. I didn't have any older siblings or anyone on the immediate family to go with, and then I got the chance to go, and I was so excited.
I missed the Kevin Keegan "Entertainers" era, but it was still that team under Kenny Dalglish for the remainder of that season. That was obviously before St James' Park was redeveloped again, but, yes, we lost 0-1 and that was a big disappointment! It was perhaps a good introduction, and a sign of things to come.
What's the best game you've commentated on?
I've been asked this a few times, and I should have an answer! I've been lucky as I've been to a few FA Vase Finals, and I'm a big fan of North East non-league football. There's been some great wins, there was one all North East final I commentated on, but I've never seen a North East team lose a Vase Final, which is excellent! I follow Gateshead closely as well, and have done for a number of years. I saw them (Gateshead) lose at Wembley, but their Play-Off semi-final against Grimsby in 2014, was incredible. For pure drama, goals, red cards and what it meant - That was a terrific game, and I always remember that season for following them rather than Newcastle! The phone in every single week for the second half of that season was difficult... It was depressing. So, that Gateshead vs Grimsby semi-final second leg was great, but in terms of Newcastle, there will be some that you might not think of like the two 3-2 wins against West Ham. The one under Rafael Benitez just before Christmas when Henri Saivet scored, Rob Elliot saved a penalty and we'd been on such a long run without a win before that, it was so significant. Also, when we went to West Ham under Steve Bruce two years ago and absolutely blew them away! We should've been about 0-6 up at half-time!
When it's good like that and they're on top, there is nothing better, and you know as a fan and you'll think, why do we struggle? Why can't they be like this all the time, they're clearly good enough? It's just consistency, those are probably two that you might not expect. The obvious ones are the 3-0 win over Chelsea, in May 2018 - Great weather, finished tenth, and we were all hopeful for the future. Then there's the two wins over Manchester United, when Matt Ritchie scored, and then when Matty Longstaff scored on his debut, they really meant something, as did the win over Manchester City. What I enjoy, and you'll know this as a fan, and anyone reading this who is lucky enough to travel to away games in particular, I always find it exciting going to a new ground. I've been to about 60 of the 92, and quite a few non-league grounds, so I always try to savour the experience of being at a new stadium. In terms of matches themselves, they don't always live up to the excitement you feel before!
There was also last season, during the time without supporters, against Leicester. That was one of those times when they just look so good, and they've done that on numerous occasions under Steve Bruce, just not often enough. They did it quite often under Rafael Benitez as well, that's when you feel on top of the world, because your team is doing well. So, that Leicester game, and Liverpool away last season - With the dramatic finish, I think about that one a lot because justice was served then!