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Tuesday 02 November 2010
Jon Champion profile

As part of the build up to this Saturday's FA Cup tie against Ebbsfleet United we spoke to non league fan Jon Champion. Jon will be the commentator for the game which is to be shown as part of the ITV highlights programme that night. Even though he has commentated on six World Cups, he still gets drawn into the excitement of the FA Cup, as he told us when he kindly agreed to be on the receiving end of a pre-match interview.

We started by asking how he became a commentator. “It was really by chance”, he told us. “Playing cricket one day at the age of 18, I scored a few runs and went off to the bar where I was surprised to be called by the local radio station and asked for an interview. I thought no more about it until, some time later, I got a call from the sports editor of the radio station who was looking for a couple of football reporters for a few weeks. He’d heard my interview and liked my voice. I was stacking books on shelves in the local library at the time, while I tried to decide whether or not to go to university, and I thought it sounded interesting so I accepted.”

Jon found that he really enjoyed the work, so when he was delighted to get another call a few weeks later suggesting that he go and get a degree but that when he came back they would help him get work. So he did and towards the end of his course he got a call from the BBC who were looking for a radio sports reporter. “They told me what questions to expect at the interview – and what answers to give – and I got the job.”

After eighteen months on network radio and five or six years on what became Five Live, his break came when he was commentating on the Crystal Palace versus Manchester United game and Eric Cantona leapt into the crowd. “When something like that happens the commentary just flows and I was lucky that the Head of Sport happened to be listening. It landed me a year’s trial on Match of the Day which extended to six years.” After the BBC lost many of their rights, Jon moved to ITV and then ESPN – he is in effect ‘on loan’ to ITV to commentate on our game.

During his time on radio and TV he commented on Wimbledon many times. “I suppose the game that sticks in my mind is the FA Cup draw at Old Trafford in 1997 when Robbie Earle got a late equaliser. And I commentated many times at Plough Lane where it always felt quite a surprise if the big clubs took anything away from the games. Then there were the antics at the training ground where I sometimes felt grateful to get away with my life intact!”

Talking about Saturday’s game, Jon revealed that he has already done a lot of research, talking knowledgeably about the current Wimbledon team and who might make the bench. “I love these games but it’s quite a challenge getting all the names right, especially where one team doesn’t have squad numbers. But I’ve got a very good short term memory and by 3.00 pm on Saturday I will be able to trot out key facts about every player – but don’t ask me a few days later, as it all just drains away. What every commentator hopes for is some easily identifiable characteristic, whether it be a player’s hair, or lack of it, a large behind, the way they run, anything that gives you something to latch on to.”

Jon loves this time of year and the FA Cup. “I regard it as the finest cup competition in the world and I get annoyed when people knock it. The FA Cup is for everyone at every level of the game and I like to celebrate the way it can even out inequalities, the drama, the romance and the stories. I still relish my favourite FA Cup moment which was 26 January 1985 when my home town team York City, then in the third division, were holding Arsenal 0-0. Then, in the last minute, the referee awarded York a penalty. Up stepped Keith Houchen to put it away and create another classic FA Cup upset. So I love this time of year when I get sent to clubs like Blyth and FC United (Jon is doing the ESPN live commentary on Friday night at Rochdale) to commentate on what might be another upset.”

We look forward to welcoming Jon to Kingsmeadow on Saturday but hopefully not for another upset. “If you hear your fans complaining that they switched on to watch AFC Wimbledon on the highlights and you were only on for ten minutes, that’s a good sign. It means you won! And, if you do, I might be back later in the competition to commentate on a live televised game.”