How 2 young men help to make St James Park accessible on match days

Did you know that there is commentary provided via headsets on games at St James Park?

I caught up with 2 of the Soccer Sight commentators, Ollie Heptinstall and Paul Martin who explained to me what it’s all about.

Let’s begin by way of an introduction. Tell us who you are.
Ollie. I’m 16 and studying in the final year of my GCSE’s. I hope to be at Exeter College in September.
Paul – I’m 17 years old and go to Colyton Grammar, in the sixth form at the moment.

Do you play football?

Ollie I’m a poor 5-a-side footballer and an even worse 11-a-side player! Despite this I love the buzz of a good game of footy!
Paul. Yeah love playing, played for Central then Stoke Hill through the age groups and now struggling to get in the Clyst Valley u-18s team! I have split loyalties with team from ‘other’ SJP due to having family up there, but I went to first ECFC game when I was 6 or 7 and the first one I remember really well is the relegation game against Southend in 2003. Been regularly over last few years, helped by the fact that I live just over the road from SJP!

What is Soccer Sight?

Ollie. Soccer Sight was an RNIB project which aimed to bring quality football commentary to blind and partially sighted people at every professional football club in the UK. Matt Cotton was the original commentator at ECFC, but has since gone on to study Sports Journalism at Southampton Uni. Paul and myself are the current ECFC commentators, along with Matt when he’s home from Uni. Ironically, Paul and myself both made our Soccer Sight debuts at home to Oldham. Myself last season and Paul earlier on this season.
Paul. A scheme, run by the RNIB, that allows blind or partially sighted supporters to still be able to enjoy the matchday experience by getting a headset from the club and tuning into live commentary of the game.
Why did you get involved?

Ollie. I got involved because I felt it was a very worthwhile cause to support, as it enhances our listeners’ matchday experience. Also, I’d very much would like to work in Sports Media when I’m older so it is very good experience in that regard.
Paul. Saw an advert for another commentator in the programme for the Bournemouth game earlier this season, and thought it would be a great thing to try and do, so I got in touch with the club and my first game was the victory over Oldham on 1st October.
Do you co-commentate or do a set amount of time each?

Ollie. We used to each do 22 minutes of each half due to having just the one mic. However, the club have kindly bought us another mic in the past week so the Preston game we will be co-commentating which I’m looking forward to. The extra mic will hopefully add another dimension to the commentary which will include more analysis before the game and at half-time. We’re looking to give John Ayres and Jimmy Giles a good run for their money!

Paul. So far we’ve split the halves in two and done 23-ish minutes each due to only having one microphone, but now the club have got another one we may branch out into one of us co-commentating whilst the other person’s on the mic, or inviting guest co-commentators could be a possibility.

What is the view from OG like, Radio Devon quite often complain about their view!

Ollie. It isn’t the best in the ground, that’s for sure. the closed-style roof of the OG means we can’t see the Big Bank at all which is a shame. On the upside we are slightly closer to the halfway line than Radio Devon, but they have the luxury of a commentary box! I hope the club can find us a spot in the press box when the OG is redeveloped!

Paul. It’s not too bad, the pillars are obviously quite annoying and can cause you to have to stretch to see key incidents at times. But generally it’s good, the view of the majority of the pitch is fine, and you can see both penalty boxes well which is the most important thing!

How do you cope with knowing who the opposition players are?

Ollie. I always research the opposition on the morning of each game. Find out their last line-up, formation, team stats, fixture history etc… If you don’t prepare then you’re always going to be in for a long old afternoon.

Paul. Research is key, as the more you know in advance about opposition players the better as it gives you more to talk about when there’s a break in play as well as helping you identify them. Normally we’ve looked up a copy of their last team so we have a rough idea of who will play where once the team sheets come in, which we then write down and have in front of us for the game. Fortunately it doesn’t usually take me too long once the game has started to work out who’s who, as I have a decent memory for useless, trivial football stuff anyway(such as recognising player names from playing ‘Football Manager’), but pronunciations can be an issue at times!

Do you get any feedback from your listeners?

Ollie. Not as much as I’d like! However, a few months ago Grecian Greg asked if we could have some live-score updates during the game which we now try and do.

Paul. Not often I don’t think, we did get told a couple of weeks back that the volume was too quiet for the second half of a game, and also we try to include latest scores as we go as well, which I believe was down to feedback Ollie got from one of the listeners a while ago.

Who do you admire as commentators?

Paul. I guess you’ve got to admire John Motson for still commentating after all these years, but personally my favourites are the people on 5Live, particularly John Murray and Mike Ingham. To be honest I can’t really tell the MoTD commentators apart because they all sound pretty similar to me, and I don’t have Sky Sports so I can’t really judge the one’s on there.
Do you have an ambition to be a sports commentator in later life?

Ollie. Yes, I really enjoy doing the Soccer Sight commentary and it is something I’d love to do as a career but I realise it’s a very tough market to get into so I’m going to keep my options open.

Paul. Doing ‘Soccer Sight’ has been really enjoyable so far and has led me to becoming interested in perhaps pursuing sports broadcasting as a career, as I’ve always been interested in journalism and the media, so something along those lines would be my ambition.

How do people get hold of the equipment? Is there a deposit to pay?

Ollie. It’s free-of-charge to all fans, including away fans. Simply go into main reception before you go through the turnstiles and ask for a Soccer Sight headset. There is enough to go round, and it works in most of the ground.  We’d love for you to tune in on matchdays!