County commentator Jon Keighren answers our questions.
Could you explain to County fans how long you’ve been supporting County and how you got into match commentary?
My first experience of watching County came about purely by accident. There used to be a youth club just at the back of the reservoirs and I used to go there every so often on a Friday night with my mates. One week, we turned up and the place was shut, but the floodlights were on at Edgeley Park, so we decided to watch the football instead. It was February 1981 and we were playing Wimbledon ? County were going into the fixture on the back of a four-game losing streak; I can?t remember too much about it because I spent most of the game trying to chat a girl up. All I know is that John Rutter had an outstanding game at right-back and the Hatters drew 0-0. Naturally, after that, I was hooked. We ended the season fifth from bottom of the Football League.
I had ambitions to be a footballer myself, but gave those up when I realised I was c**p. If you?re in any doubt, come to Power League on a Thursday night and see for yourself! But I genuinely believe that commentary is the next best thing to actually playing the game. I started out as a reporter with the Stockport Express, before leaving to join Signal Radio in Stoke. In 1992, Signal bought KFM in Stockport and I was transferred back to my home town to work for the newly-branded Signal Cheshire. That move coincided with the glory years under Dannny Bergara, of course, and the four Wembley trips, which I was fortunate enough to cover.
A few years later, and with the help of another change of management, I finally persuaded the station bosses that to become a truly successful local radio station, we needed to get behind the Hatters properly. In 1998/99 – with lots of help and support from Steve Bellis and Gary Megson ? we signed our first exclusive commentary deal. And, despite a few scares along the way, we?re still going strong almost eight years later and the listening figures are better than ever. I did my first league game with Phil Staley at Bradford in 1998 and we won 2-1 thanks to two Tony Dinning penalties. I?ve never had formal training in how to commentate, but I spent two years presenting the Breakfast Show and have been on the radio in some way, shape or form for 14 years now.
Who was the best ever player (for any team) you’ve seen play against County?
Robert Prosinecki for Portsmouth ? no doubt about it. I would love to get hold of a video of the game he played at Edgeley Park because it was the most commanding performance I have ever seen. It was August 2001 ? I?m pretty sure Briggsy played at right-back ? and it was our final season in the Championship. Andy Kilner had lost his first two games of the season and was desperate for a change of fortune. Pompey weren?t in great shape and the big fat Croatian in the middle of the park didn?t look much of a threat, particularly when I caught him smoking a Woodbine before kick-off! There are even rumours he was seen buying a burger outside the players? entrance. However, it was the most awesome display of passing I have ever seen from anyone at Edgeley Park. Prosinecki just seemed to have so much time on the ball and he destroyed our midfield of David Smith and Jarko Wiss. He scored the only goal of the game from the penalty spot, before wandering onto the coach with his fags up his sleeve and his burger on top of his kit bag!
Who was the best County player you’ve ever see play during a)your commentary stint and b)you supporting County?
I hate to be predictable, but it?s got to be Kevin Francis (for both a & b). It used to wind me up when Saint and Greavsie showed clips of the Big Man when things went wrong for him, and then they?d put on a look of amazement when he smashed one in the top corner from the edge of the box. At County, we got used to him doing that. He scored 117 goals in four years, which works out at around 30 goals a season. It?s a phenomenally consistent record and he became such a talisman for the club. In many ways, Big Kev symbolises the brilliance of Danny Bergara ? Kev hadn?t even scored in the league for Derby and was pretty much on the fringes at the Baseball Ground when Danny shelled out £45,000 for him; we later sold him to Birmingham for £800,000. My only regret over the Big Man is that I just wish he hadn?t come back for a second time in 2000, when his brief stint was cut short by injury.
Big Kev is only a day older than me and I know that many people of my generation only became involved with County because of Kevin Francis. He was quite rightly voted County?s Player of the Century at our Gala Dinner in 2002.
Best team you’ve see play against County?
Probably Fulham when we played them in the Championship; I remember losing 4-1 at Craven Cottage under Andy Kilner back in 2000 and the Fulham side that day was packed with talent ? Barry Hayles, Steve Finnan, Chris Coleman, Bjarni Goldbaek, Lee Clark, Maik Taylor. It was a bit of a reality check, although we did stay up that season. The neat season they beat us 4-1 again ? and they?d added Luis Boa Morte and Louis Saha to their squad by then!
Best County team you’ve seen?
I think the team Danny Bergara had built by 1993 was incredible ? I still remember the Autoglass Final against Port Vale as if it was yesterday, when we were two down at half-time and almost snatched a draw. But you?d be hard pushed to name a better eleven than Dave Jones? promotion side of 1996-97. Winning promotion was incredible, but to reach a major semi final in the same season defies belief. The likes of Jones, Connelly, Todd, Bennett, Flynn, Gannon, Marsden, Cavaco, Dinning, Armstrong, Angell, Durkan, Cooper ? will we ever see their like again?
Best goal scored against County?
They?ve all been sh*t! No, at a push I?d say Michael Ricketts for Bolton in the FA Cup in 2002.
Best goal scored for County?
Rob Clare wants me to nominate his header at Oxford earlier this season! But my favourite County goal is still Colin Woodthorpe?s screamer at the Reebok in 98/99 when we beat them 2-1. It was hit with such venom and precision ? a great goal from a great pro. There?ve been more significant goals down the years, of course, but Woody wins it for sheer technical quality.
In which match would you say you had your most embarrassing moment (if you’ve had any) during commentary?
There is a very embarrassing story about Latoya Jackson rubbing my upper thigh during a live interview and then asking me to go back to her place afterwards ?to party? ? but I?ll assume you want a football-related incident!
There have been a few, but the worst was when I was asked to cover the FA Cup final in 1994, when Manchester United beat Chelsea 4-0. (I wasn?t particularly interested in being there, but the money was good!)At the end of the game, I was asked to keep going up until United had received the trophy. The press box at Wembley was situated behind the Royal Box, but everyone stood up in front of me, so I couldn?t see a thing. I had to guess by the cheering when Steve Bruce had actually lifted the Cup, and then I said: ?The FA Cup has been handed over by FA chief Ted Croker.? Little did I know Croker had died 18 months earlier.
In which match would you say you went the ‘maddest’ when County scored a goal?
That?s an easy one ? John Hardiker?s double against Manchester City. I can remember turning up at Edgeley Park that night feeling totally depressed. We were heading for relegation; City were top of the table and on their way back to the Premiership. Before kick-off I felt physically sick and I confided to Des Hinks that I thought we could be on the wrong end of a proper hiding. Carlton had put himself back in the team following the defeat at Wimbledon which had sent us back down to League One, and when Jon Macken opened the scoring midway through the first half I feared the worst.
But County refused to lie down and when John Hardiker equalised I jumped so far out of my seat that I ripped out all the cables and took us off air. Thankfully I managed to repair the damage in time for Hardiker to score the winner and this time I was able to hold the wires in place ? it was an amazing moment although my voice did go missing for the next 48 hours!
How do you think Jimbo has performed since taking the role of manager after Boxing Day?
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but if you go back to my programme notes in December, you?ll see that I nailed my colours firmly to the mast as soon as Chris Turner left the club ? I wanted Jim Gannon in charge. To bring in ?an outsider? at that stage of the season would have been a much bigger gamble than appointing The Ghost. I?ve been fortunate to know Jim for a good few years now ? he even came on my stag night in Dublin seven years ago! He has always been a deep thinker about football, perhaps too deep at times – he is a real student of the game and I knew he could make a difference. However, even I have to admit to being surprised at how well he has done. Three defeats in 15 games tells its own story. I just hope the Trust Board sit down with Jim and Peter Ward at an early stage and get them sorted for next season, because Jim is the kind of coach who will look at all areas of the club, not just the first team. There is still a lot of work which needs doing behind the scenes to put Stockport County back on a professional footing, but Jim is the man to do it.
In football terms, just look at the recent performances of Keith Briggs, Mark Robinson, Tes Bramble and Ashley Williams ? it?s as if we have signed four new players, and that?s down to the manager and his assistant.
Player of the season so far for County?
For me the Player of the Season has to be Adam Le Fondre. Des and I received a bit of stick last year when we were singing the praises of Alfie; some of the emails and internet messages were pretty harsh, so it?s doubly gratifying to see him scoring goals in the first team now. He?s not quite the finished article, but with time on his side he could become a top-notch striker. He?s already said he wants to overtake Jermaine Easter to become County?s top scorer this season ? and I wouldn?t bet against that happening.
Expectations for next season?
My hope is that we can build on our strong finish to the current campaign and push for the Play Offs. However, it will be a tough division next year, with Swindon, Rotherham and Gillingham possibly entering League Two, as well as the mighty Accrington Stanley! So whilst I hope we can finish in the top seven, I expect us to finish mid-table ? Rome wasn?t built in a day, remember! I?m not being defeatist or negative here, but our decline over the last five years has been so rapid and so damaging, I do feel it will take another couple of years to steady the ship again.