James Alexander Gordon, football radio’s master of intonation

M Salut writes: something told me we’d be hearing from Pete Sixsmith on the passing of that wonderful voice of broadcast football results, James Alexander Gordon. He was football’s Brian Johnston, with only Jimmy Armfield from recent years getting close in terms of wise, reassuring familiarity. Pete correctly identifies that knack JAG had for making sure you knew from the way he said the first part of the result whether it was a home win, away win or draw. I am sorry the optimistic tone of the YouTube clip did not reflect James’s recovery prospects …

There are certain advantages to getting older. A season ticket for Dean Street, where the mighty Shildon play, is £50. The Senior Railcard makes trips much cheaper (Brighton to London last week for £3.30). The bus pass means that you can get around for nothing. All good things.

But the down side is that things that you have known all your life begin to disappear. There is no more Walter Willson’s or Vaux Samson. Darlington FC no longer exists – although an ersatz version has appeared on the scene. And James Alexander Gordon has just died.

If ever a voice conjured pictures of younger days, sitting in VW Beetles or Citroen 2CVs waiting to find out how Crewe Alexandra had gone on at Preston North End, it was his. The dash back to the car from Roker Park or whichever away ground we had been stuffed at that week, key in the ignition and radio on.

It was Radio 2 in those days and Sports Report had an hour to fit everything in. There would be reports on the important games of the day, a roundup of the other games, reports on both rugby codes and a review of the week’s sporting press hosted by the ever grumpy Robin Marler.

But the thing you dashed back for was JAG and his beautifully enunciated football results. It was Football League Division One in those days and there were 11 games to read out. All kicked off at 3pm so no late, next-day or Monday absentees. Then into Divisions Two and Three and Four before we moved north of the border and back to his Edinburgh roots.

His pronunciation of “Heart of Midlothian” was a thing of great beauty. He rolled his tongue around it and it came out as if it were a line written by Scotland’s national poet, Robbie Burns (an Ayr United fan, I believe). You did not want it to end, although it often came out with a 0 or a 1 on the end of it, the opposition having at the very least matched it.

And then the great wait. Would we get it? Would he have to read out the ultimate football score – Forfar 4, East Fife 5? Alas, no, partly because it never happened and partly because he would have had to have added Athletic to Forfar, which would have destroyed the symmetry of it.

He had a truly wonderful way of reading the results. Before, they were read by a Mr Cholmondeley-Walker type character, who clearly resented reading out names like Sunderland and Tranmere Rovers when he could have been relaying the final score from Harlequins v Saracens at Twickers. James changed that and made it sound as if he cared.

There was a lovely replay of an interview that he did when he retired in which he said he felt sorry for the losing team and happy for the one that won. It was that which gave him that special way of reading the scores which told us straight away whether our team had won, lost or drawn. The slightly upward swoop of the voice for a winner, the downward traverse for the loser and the oh so neutral tone when it ended as a draw.

I would have loved to have heard him reading out the Northern League scores. How he would have loved to get his tongue around Norton and Stockton Ancients and Bedlington Terriers, not to mention Ryton and Crawcrook Albion. His cup of sympathy for the losing team would have been running over in the case of Esh Winning this season and poor old Billingham Town last.

He retired last year when he had to have his larynx removed as a result of cancer and died at a hospice in Reading last week. There are millions all over this land who will never forget his lovely Scots lilt and his sheer professionalism when it came to giving people news of the most important thing in their lives – the Saturday afternoon result. Jeff Stelling and the bunch of 12-year-olds on Sky will never have such a place in people’s hearts (Come on Pete, the monkey hanger’s OK – Ed).

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3 thoughts on “James Alexander Gordon, football radio’s master of intonation”

  1. I forgot to mention that on a good day, you could get James twice in a day, as Sports Report used to have a “second reading of the classified football results” at 5.50 p.m. Not any more.
    Some other names from Sports Report that might bring back memories for readers;
    Eamonn Andrews; Bill Bothwell; Peter Jones (my favourite commentator); Des Lynham; Charlie Lambert; George Bailey; Bryan Buttler.
    Toasted teacakes and strong tea, followed by William Hartnell as Dr Who. Those were the days!!!

  2. If there was a man born to read football results and become the national institution that JAG became, then he was that man.

    Pure chance that he ended up doing this job, which he performed in a unique and personal style that none of us will ever forget.

    Like home cooked scones, your comfy living room chair. He made Saturday tea times part of home. Not many people can have that impact on a nation, but he did.

    Rest in peace James.

  3. Very sad news about JAG, I heard that interview with him that you mention Pete and he came across as a lovely bloke.
    While we’re reminiscing, there’s been a lot of talk about Match Of The Day lately, because of its 50th anniversary, and I’ve been racking my brains trying to remember the original theme tune. In the end I resorted to Youtube and found it….. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aYXEIaLKiKo

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