The Radio Sheffield sport reporter on bleeding blue, red…and Brian the Blade
Ever since the days of the Bob Jackson‘s Praise or Grumble I’ve been a big fan of the football phone-in on Radio Sheffield.
Bob is now retired but the station’s football coverage continues with Football Heaven five nights a week and Praise or Grumble on Saturday teatimes.
For the last 13 years, Seth Bennett has been working for Radio Sheffield and for as long as I can remember, he’s been regularly presenting their football phone-in.
You may not have realised, but Seth left continuing employment at Radio Sheffield over the summer, only to come back as a freelancer via his company FourFive Media. He can still be heard at least three nights a week hosting Football Heaven, as well as on the Football League Show, BBC Leeds and Sky Sports.
For me, Seth is one of the big talents on Radio Sheffield so I decided to put to him a few questions and find out more about his times covering our local football teams. He explains below about his affiliation with Sheffield, its football clubs – and the current threat to Radio Sheffield that could see its sports coverage affected by cuts resulting in Wednesday and United’s away game commentaries covered by the home club’s BBC radio station.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Sheffield, Granville Road to be more specific. I went to St Marie’s Junior School at Fulwood and then on to All Saints secondary. We did move out to Todwick when I was 10 and I have lived out in that area ever since.
I am very much a Sheffield lad and I am extremely proud of the city and the way it looks these days. It is amazing to think of town now compared to town when I was 10, where going through the hole in the road to see the fish was the highlight, however the stench of urine was the trade-off.
Did you support a football team as a child?
As for football teams I can say with hand on heart that as a kid I went to both United and Wednesday. This is not me copping out of the answer but the truth. I actually owned both shirts – the yellow Wednesday Brazil away shirt and the red, white and black thin stripe United shirt.
As to who I support these days I would say for the last five years if there was a team I was going to pay to watch, I would have chosen Doncaster Rovers. I have a big soft spot for them and they played some great football under Sean O’Driscoll.
My utopia would be to see the steel city two in the premier league and first and second, but which way round would I want them to finish?
How did you get into sports broadcasting? What is the best and worst thing about it?
From being a kid it is always what I wanted to do and I had a spell as a 17 year-old working at the Children’s Hospital Radio, but I was awful. It didn’t stop me trying though and when I was 18 I had no clue how to get into it and so I elected to take a year out to be an au pair, I ended up in New Jersey. I didn’t come back for two years because I had so much fun, it was a real life experience.
Whilst I was over there I was dared to phone in the ‘Iceline’ which I did, I was bored and anything was more entertaining than doing the ironing! Anyway they seemed to keep me on the line for a while and then we talked about the NHL and I did them a round-up of what had been going on. Turns out now I realise that they were just very short of callers so I was better than nothing, but only just.
I really enjoyed the whole experience and so I called again a few times and one day I called the office and had a chat with Jamie Campbell, a thoroughly nice guy and asked him how to get into radio he gave me plenty of advice. I am not sure exactly how it came about, but I was invited in by Colin Hazelden who had a brief spell at Radio Sheffield and when I went to the studios I was offered the chance to cover the Steelers.
The deal was if I turned up to the games and did a post match interview then took it back to the station and edited a clip, then they would pay me £15. I was stunned they were going to pay me to cover sport. From there it developed into doing Saturday sports news and then covering football.
I suppose that brings me on to the best and worst things of the job. The best part is being out and meeting people, I love talking to people be that supporters or managers or players. You end up making relationships that last a life time. The football world is the biggest gossip shop going and so it is always very interesting to speak to people and find out the latest.
The worst bit is the number of hours that you work, people seem to think that we have a big production team, but for the longest time it was just Paul, Andy and me and 60-70 hour weeks were the norm. That in itself it was never a problem, but it is the bit when you get home and the phone continues to ring, you can’t ignore it because what if that is the BIG story.
The number of phone calls that end between Paul Walker and I with, “I better go I am getting the look!” Our partners are incredibly understanding, but it must drive them up the wall.
Interestingly since the advent of social media our jobs have changed massively, mostly for the better, but I think sometimes the very personal criticism is hard to take especially when it involves your family. That said overall it has been a job I have loved for 13 years and everyday much to my wife’s frustration I have been happy to be at work.
How long have you been on Radio Sheffield? What are your most memorable moments so far?
My first piece of Radio Sheffield work was in October 1998 I was 20 years old and it was an interview with Don McKee the former Sheffield Steelers coach. Since then I think I have presented every single show on station from the Breakfast Show to the new music show to the gardening phone in, it’s all part of the education.
As for memorable moments, I have been to Wembley twice, the Millennium Stadium four times and commentated on Doncaster Rovers lifting the third division and the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy. Away from footy I have really enjoyed the Sheffield Steelers grand slam in 2001 and Clinton Woods becoming world champion.
I think my favourite moment was Doncaster Rovers beating Leeds at Wembley, but the Sheffield United cup run under Neil Warnock was special. I was the pitch side reporter and I was being driven on to do increasingly outrageous things and which included nearly getting thrown out of Old Trafford in the build up to kick-off because I wasn’t meant to be pitch-side. I somehow talked my way around it. The BIG highlight was Wednesday in Cardiff, I have a lot of friends from that SWFC team and to see them win in the way they did was amazing.
You left Radio Sheffield over the summer to set up your own company but haven’t really been off air. Why did you decide to leave and how is FourFive Media going?
After 13 years with one brief seven-month break I had to decide what my next move was, whether that would be to remain at BBC Radio Sheffield for the next 30 years or whether it was time to push myself and try to do something else. I love Radio Sheffield and Football Heaven, in fact I think the weeknight phone-in is me at my most comfortable on-air.
However I think my favourite time presenting it was when Paul Walker and Luke Wileman and I double headed and presented together. There were three very different dynamics, but three good mates who worked really well together. I thought it was a great show then and the chemistry was outstanding, but we have never quite been able to get back to that for a few reasons, one was that we all grew up and got responsibilities that meant coming into work on your day off to present the show was just not going to happen anymore. I miss those days because we used to laugh so much.
Luke is one of the most straight laced people you would ever meet, but would have a habit of saying the most outrageous thing usually with a swear word in it just as an interview was coming to an end and then point at you and start laughing. At which point I was meant to speak, but I would of course be laughing for no apparent reason.
I also knew that with the budget cuts coming, the chances of doing more than football were going to be few and far between and I really enjoy doing the ice hockey, basketball and boxing. But the feedback I was getting was that the station couldn’t afford my time to do that stuff, I was needed just to do football. I love football, but I am a sports journalist and the test you get as a broadcaster doing different sports is important.
For most people me leaving Radio Sheffield hasn’t happened yet, because I have continued to work on a freelance basis three nights a week, which has been great. I am very grateful that has been the case because I love the show. The bosses have been good to me and it is great to still be able to work for them, what the future holds I don’t know, but as long as they want me on the radio then I will continue to do the show.
The football phone-in was pioneered by Radio Sheffield as Praise or Grumble back in the 1980s and is as popular as ever now, running six nights a week. Why is there such an appetite for it in South Yorkshire, especially given the varying fortunes of the Sheffield clubs?
We are bunch of nosey parkers and we have six teams that we all seem to take a keen interest in the fortunes of. It’s strange because even on a quiet night, people always want to talk. It’s great.
Brian the Blade talks sense. Discuss.
Brian is very funny I have had the pleasure of meeting him a few times and it has been good fun. People think he is a plant and we pay him to come on to stir things up. I can assure you we don’t, he comes on all on his own.
He knows a lot about football and as he tells us he knows a lot about the local football scene. I think more importantly than that he likes to get people talking and if he can say something that can stir the pot then he will, sometimes at the expense of himself.
I enjoy him as a caller because he takes it usually in the right spirit, at least twice a season he makes a formal complaint about me and tries to get me sacked, but most of the time we do ok.
If the BBC’s Delivering Quality First proposals go through, we could see drastic changes to Radio Sheffield, in particular to the sports coverage. What concerns you most about the possible impact of this?
In my opinion the proposals are disappointing because I have fought for 13 years of my life to give the listeners in South Yorkshire and North Derbyshire the best product we can, but now for that, in grand scheme of things to go by the wayside is upsetting.
Not being able to travel to watch your local side play leaves you with only half a story, how can you be a journalist and deliver stories if you can’t watch the team play away from home? It would also force Radio Sheffield’s hand as to what games we cover and potentially it could mean we have to put up four commentary teams to satisfy other station’s needs, doubling the cost of our current commentary costs.
I accept and understand there need to be cut backs and that will hurt somewhere along the line. But this idea seems flawed and I really hope the people of South Yorkshire speak up and tell those at the BBC Trust who will make the decisions that they should think again.
What can people do to comment on the proposals?
Got to the BBC Trust website and tell ‘em what you think whichever side of the fence you are on. It is a consultation so please give them something to consider.
As well as away game commentaries being hosted by the home club’s BBC radio station, the proposed cuts to Radio Sheffield could also see networked afternoon shows coming from Leeds and a cut to Sheffield-based evening programming, including the show that champions new local music, BBC Introducing Sheffield.
The window for commenting on the proposals closes on 21 December, 2011.