EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW – Right in the Gary Kelly’s Meets – Thom Kirwin

On Friday 7th October 2011 Right in the Gary Kellys (Matthew McKeith and Jeff Griffiths) travelled to Elland Road to visit the office of Yorkshire Radio. The reason for this journey had been to interview the Leeds United commentator Thom Kirwin, arranged through the social medium Twitter. Our theory was, as fans we all like to discuss and debate Leeds United but who is better placed to comment than a man paid to watch Leeds United home and away…

Some Leeds United fans see Yorkshire Radio as an extension of the long arm of the law, otherwise known round Leeds as Ken Bates’ propaganda machine, and refuse to listen. Whilst this has never particularly been our view (we have always enjoyed listening to the games we cannot attend) there was, undoubtedly, an element of trepidation sitting parked outside Elland Road. Prior to entering the office which housed Yorkshire Radio, discussion had been centred around the CCTV which had no doubt alerted security of our arrival, the heavies on the door and the stern warnings we would no doubt receive regarding which topics were available for discussion. We were seeing shadows in every corner, hearing whispers in every silence, a smell that can be only described as menacing filled the air around Yorkshire Radio…

Or that’s how this pretty little picture would have been painted  had this interview been conducted by the BBC or any of the footballing authorities always eager to paint Leeds United in the darkest shade of despair. Fortunately within approximately 3 seconds (or however long it took us to walk up the dim staircase leading to the main entrance) of entering the Yorkshire Radio office we realised our concerns were misplaced. We were greeted by a friendly atmosphere and a smiling workforce of about 3 members. Following a short tour of the Yorkshire Radio office (smaller than we imagined) and offers of drinks, we sat in an office with the promise of twenty minutes of Thom’s time. Meeting Thom was initially a strange experience, having heard the man commentate on Leeds for a good few years now but never having seen his face it was interesting to meet a man who, in his own words, looked very similar to Tubes from Soccer AM. With only twenty minutes to play with we were eager to begin…

An hour and a half later we walked away having spent the whole time discussing Leeds United with a man as passionate as ourselves about the club. Here is the first part of RITGKs meeting with Thom Kirwin:

RITGK team Matthew Mckeith and Jeff Griffiths with Thom Kirwin

Basically, it’s every Leeds fan’s dream job you’ve got. How did you come about it?

Well I’d always wanted to do it, since I was probably 9 or 10. I’d been going to Leeds about 3 or 4 years then and got the buzz. I was rubbish at football so… the only other way I could think about getting into it was through the radio side of it. I loved radio commentaries and listening to Leeds away games and stuff… I always loved the radio, everything about it, more than tv, more than any other medium It was a matter of trying to get from A to B… A Levels, University, trying to get toward this. I did a journalism degree in Preston, came out of university looking for a job but the industry is pretty intense, pretty competitive, especially radio. I worked for an internet sports company, writing match reports and things like that. Eventually this (Yorkshire Radio) got set up, I applied.. I’d seen a board at one of the games saying Yorkshire Radio coming soon, something like that. I’d heard a rumour about it, saw the job advertised. I think they were after someone to do what I do now, reporting on Leeds during the week and then commentating but they couldn’t find anyone. I didn’t have any commentary experience so they got a commentator in on the Saturday and me during the week. It was very different back then.

What season was this?

Just before Cardiff… I got the job or I knew I was going to get the job before Cardiff so I thought bloody hell!!! I could be involved with a Premier League team here. I thought this is going to be unbelievable… and then we lost that (laughing…) and then we got relegated the season after.  It was a combination of luck and timing really

Can you remember your first game as commentator?

It was a few years into being here that I got the call up. It was Gary Mac’s first season… 2008/09. Scunthorpe away… we won 2-1. I was going through the archives actually and I came across that game, I sound completely different it was awful.  In fact I did a few games the season before, Forest at home 1 all, did a few pre-season games but they don’t count.

I listened to a few this year… sounds like hard work…

Yeah I’m not the biggest fan of pre-season as they’re hard to commentate on.  . I enjoy going on the tours, and it’s a good chance for me to… sort of build relationships with the players, especially the new signings but there weren’t many this year. The games are crap, just warm up games. The problem is you shouldn’t call them friendlies, if you called them practice matches no one would get carried away but because they’re called friendlies everyone gets excited. We build them up here, if you’ve been to any you know what they’re like,

Yeah, Michael Brown looked good then…

The Newcastle game was alright…

Yeah yeah the games against Premiership opposition, Blackburn, Wolves, Newcastle etc.

Right then, voice for radio or do you consider yourself good looking enough for TV?

No no, (laughs…) that’s part of the reason I’m on the radio. I’ve had a few chances… some people say I’ve got a voice for print actually as well.

You’ve been on LUTV though haven’t you?

Yeah yes I have, reluctantly though. If they’re filming me doing something then whatever but I’m not a fan of being on TV at all. The problem is… in this game now journalists are expected to be able to do video, to write, do radio… be able to do everything. You can’t really say oh I’m just radio or I’m just print because nowadays people from the YEP are coming to press conferences with cameras. It’s all for websites, all multimedia now.

Like being a utility player…

Yes I’m the Andrew Hughes of things.

What’s the best part of the job then?

Best part of the job is watching the games, no doubt about it. I mean some people think you must be mates with the players but… I mean I thought that when I got the job, don’t get me wrong I’m good friends with a few of them but… when I got the job I thought oh this is gonna be great I’m gonna be hanging out with the players and stuff like that.

The reality is very different. When I first started it was Gregan, Butler, Kelly, Sullivan, Derry… that was an older dressing room and I was coming into it all fresh faced but its changed now as I’ve been here longer than all of the players so I’m much more confident about things. I can talk to them a bit more on their level… but footballers and me are obviously quite different. I mean some of the players are great, I’m not naming names but… others are like your more stereotypical footballers.

Certain players I’ve got a bit more in common with… (pause) Snodgrass, Howson, Bromby, Parker.

Yorkshire lads then…

Yeah I get on really well with them. Snoddy’s absolutely great, I mean all the lads are great but certain things you’ve got to keep separate.

You wouldn’t last right long if you were out on the lash with the players every weekend?

Yeah I mean I’m the one who’s got to interview them after a defeat or whatever so I prefer not to mix it all up.

Any negative aspects of the job?

When they lose, if the team have been on a bad run it effects…don’t get me wrong I know the jobs great but I think if I was working anywhere else and the team were losing or on a bad run I could kind of escape it during the week. Here, I’m faced with it on the Monday, I mean the last few years have been a bit false because Leeds have won a lot more games than they’ve lost obviously but the first season I was here when they got relegated it was pretty tough. It’s just because I take defeats pretty bad, it’s like the old saying from fever pitch… you can’t remember if life’s crap ‘cos your team’s crap, or your team’s crap ‘cos life’s crap and it all kind of merges into one a little bit. It always puts me in a bad mood, luckily though on the whole it’s been good apart from relegation, administration etc.

Possibly this might be a bit of a stupid question… but do you ever get recognised in the street?

No. The only time I get recognised, well that’s the beauty of being on radio and I kind of like that but the only time I get recognised is if I’m at Leeds things… so if I’m at things where there’s Leeds fans there or something it can be pretty obvious.

Player of the year dinners, things like that?

Yeah, pre-season tours, they do them ‘On the Road’ events. I definitely get recognised on a match day, if I’m walking round it’s pretty obvious. I’ve got a pass with my name on, I’m carrying a load of gear around the ground two and a half hours before kick-off so that’s probably about it. I think I got recognised at a Kaiser Chiefs gig at Kirkstall Abbey… but it’s only when there’s a load of Leeds fans there.

Well it’s nice to put a face to the voice, I mean I’d probably walk past you in the street but if I heard your voice then I’d recognise it. I mean, you don’t want a load of peckers coming up to you in the street asking for your autograph…

Yeah that’s the beauty of radio (laughs…)

I mean you could never compare what people like me and people in the media do to, like what Eddie did. He gets a lot of attention, I mean when we’re walking into a ground it takes a long time…

even at away grounds, like at Southampton there were fans coming up to him asking like ‘oh Eddie I remember you in 1970’etc, l mean the man’s a legend. They’re the people who deserve people coming up to them, although sometimes…

Suppose it probably gets a bit annoying…

I don’t think you can ever get annoyed at people, I mean it’s never negative stuff put it that way.

What’s Eddie like?

Oh he’s great, great to work with… He’s got such a good view on the game, a good handle on the game. I think mainly because he’s worked in the modern era as a coach, he’s worked with modern day players whereas perhaps other guys who played in the 70s aren’t quite… they offer a different kind of view. I love working with Peter Lorimer because he’s so enthusiastic, so passionate but with the finer points of the game he maybe doesn’t have the eye that Eddie has… simply because Eddie coached.

Does he not do any of that anymore?

No nothing now, no. He had a bit of a bad experience towards the end but with Eddie… sometimes it’s difficult to find people who want to go home and away. I mean we spoke to a few people years ago about doing the commentary but finding people to commit to do it… especially when we were in League One… a lot of the ex-players, Nigel Martyn stuff like that didn’t want to do it. I mean they didn’t need the money, it’s not the money with Eddie he just loves this club and that’s the thing, he’s exactly like us lot he just loves it.

It’s good to hear stuff like that…

All he wants to do is watch the game, that’s all he wants to do. I mean he’s not gonna be part of the coaching team anymore so it’s the only way he can…

I mean it still hits me now, when I’m walking into games and stuff.

So how long have you been a Leeds fan?

Well first game I was about 4, I was dragged along, didn’t enjoy it and didn’t enjoy subsequent games after that, people swearing, it was cold and miserable but then about the time we got promoted from League Two, about 1989 was when I properly got into it.

How about your favourite player, of all time?

All time…Viduka is up there for me, I thought he was fantastic. So many players from that time, Lee Bowyer was outstanding during that time. I mean I can only go for the players I’ve seen, if I was going for a player from the past I won’t have seen them. Erm… I’d have to go for Lucas. I think he was, well throughout the time I was right into it, going home and away, he was the constant… I think I watched this player going from being a bit ropey when he first came in, they had him playing on the wing in some games. To see him turn, starting with Graham (George), into this unbelievable centre half and of course what he’s like off the pitch…

Have you met him as well?

Yeah I met him last year when his book came out, it was an absolute pleasure. His whole story is unbelievable and the personal tragedies he’s gone through over the last few years… so it would probably be him. To be fair there’s a lot of players you could pick from, Strachan as well. I mean he was my generation’s midfield general, my mum’s was Billy Bremner so…

What about present players?

Present… Snodgrass. I like Snodgrass… he’s got a great attitude and I think he’s the most talented player in the squad. I think for what he’s done over the last few years Jonny Howson is close but Snodgrass, he’s that old fashion winger type.

I think Eddie Gray is a big fan of Snodgrass…

Yeah I think he sees a bit of himself in Snodgrass. I think when he first came, after a game Eddie would take him to the side and have a word with him. During his first year I think him and Peter Lorimer to be fair sort of mentored him a little bit.

He was a bit of lad wont he…

Yeah, by his own admission he needed the move to progress his career. Like lots of players in the past, they need to move away from bad habits to progress there career. Here it’s a different world, maybe you can get away with it the Scottish leagues but that’s a bit like playing in our third division almost… take Rangers and Celtic out of it. Some of them have real bad habits. He was linked with loads of clubs… He was offered a trial with Barcelona but couldn’t go for some reason. I mean he’d been talked about… I remember speaking to Gary McAllister just after we’d signed him and he said there’d been talk about this kid for a few years before Leeds made the move. He said nobody had just taken that punt on him and then we did.

You can read both parts of the interview here:   Part Two Part Three

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