ANTON RIPPON profiles Mike Ingham, the BBC’s chief football correspondent, who after covering Sunday’s World Cup final will be taking retirement
When the final whistle sounds – or maybe the final penalty is kicked – at the World Cup final on Sunday, it will also signal the end of a sports broadcasting era.
After more than four decades in the business, the BBC’s chief football correspondent, Mike Ingham, will retire.
Ingham was first drawn to football when his father took him to see Plymouth Argyle in the late 1950s. He was 10 when the family moved to Derby and after studying law at university, Ingham began his broadcasting career in 1973, with BBC Radio Derby before joining the BBC in London in 1979.
For several years he hosted Saturday afternoon’s Sport on Two before, in the mid-1980s, joining Peter Jones and Bryon Butler on the football commentary team. “The deceptive difficulty of this brief is regularly illustrated by the alarming number of practitioners who ought to be very good at it but clearly are not,” as one glowing tribute piece this week pointed out.
From 1990 Ingham worked alongside Alan Green as Radio 5’s principal commentating pair. In 2004, Ingham was promoted to chief football correspondent. He also commentated during the BBC’s coverage of the funeral of Princess Diana in 1997, and in the early 1980s occasionally hosted Andy Peebles’ show on Radio 1. He was appointed MBE in the 2010 Birthday Honours, for services to sports broadcasting.
Ingham’s “default setting is ‘soothing vocal balm’ in a football world where almost everyone seems to be increasingly irate about almost everything”, the tribute in The Guardian said this week. “The BBC man’s soon-to-be-vacated role as softly spoken antithesis of the mouth-foaming mob mentality will take some filling.”
The piece continued, “Anyone who has a passing acquaintance with his work will know that, even when football’s apparently never-ending capacity for the breathtakingly squalid has left him at his most exasperated, Ingham’s apparently endless reserves of perspective mean that he rarely sounds jaded.”
Ingham, now 64, told the Derby Telegraph: “I’ve been so privileged to have a job that I always wanted ever since my primary school days. I’m really not sure how I’m going to feel next season when I’m at home and hear the spine-chilling Champions League music being played. Perhaps I’ll get massive withdrawal symptoms.
“Most of all, though, I’ll miss the company of valued colleagues and friends, and, of course, the listeners.
“I have to say a huge thank you to Radio Derby for giving me the start, the education and as well as inspiring me. And I’ll always be grateful to the late Gerald Mortimer at the Derby Telegraph for his encouragement and wisdom, and to local journalists Mike Carey and Neil Hallam for welcoming me into their profession.
“I will also never forget the influence that Radio Derby broadcasters like Mike Warr, Kit Poxon and Barrie Eccleston had on me. I don’t think I ever wrote a match report without thinking ‘how would Barrie have started and finished this?’”
Ingham has always had a special place in his heart for Derby County, the team he supported as a boy.
“When I left Derby to take a job with the BBC in London, my family was living in Quarndon, just down the road from Brian Clough. Dad decided to do a This Is Your Life-style send-off for me. He got someone at Radio Derby to do a tape with Tommy Docherty. Then, one Sunday morning, he marched up Brian’s Clough’s drive with a tape recorder in hand.
“If Dad had been a journalist he would probably have been machine-gunned down but Brian let him in and, as a great family man, he was touched by the fact that my dad was showing love for his son. Brian allowed him to do a little interview with him.
“Years after, whenever I had to interview Brian, he always asked after my dad. He also never refused me an interview, though I didn’t ask very often.”
Such was Ingham’s love for the Rams and for his local station, when, in 1984, I wrote a 13-part series for BBC Radio Derby – those were the days, when local radio had a budget for such projects – charting the club’s first 100 years, he readily agreed to come up from London to record the narrative.
After this Sunday, Mike Ingham will retire to his home, now in Buckinghamshire, but not with the intention of laying down the microphone altogether: “I’m still hoping to work for the BBC occasionally, presenting special programmes. After football, my second hobby has always been listening to music. It would be wonderful to be able to indulge in playing some of my favourite R&B and classic rock tracks that people may not hear on other stations.”
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