The latest in a series of profiles and interviews, Orginal Fat Bob gives his personal view on the life and career of a footballing guest before sitting down for a chat and asking a few questions. Our Diasboro special guest this week is Dave Roberts…
1. The Overview – the man and his career
Dave Roberts is a man of many talents Radio broadcaster, TV Presenter and Sports Personality, Middlesbrough Mayoral candidate (he came third in May 2015 election after standing as an independent, behind winner Dave Budd and former hedge fund manager Andy Preston in second), football referee – plus he’s even done a bungee jump off the transporter bridge!
When I asked him why he had decided to do a bungee jump, he laughed and told me a rather unexpected story… “The bungee jump was to bring closure to my fool of a great great uncle, Daniel McAllister, who when a little drunk lost a bet to dive from the top of the then new transporter bridge and in doing so unsurprisingly became the first person to die from jumping off it. It had always been a family tale that someone had apparently done this, so I began an investigation to try and confirm it. The problem was that the McAllister family line had disappeared so we could never prove it. That was until I undertook a search of the Teesside archives and microfiche Gazette archives and there he was, in all his not so glamorous glory.” – incidentally, you can see Dave beginning his bungee jump in the header graphic photo.
Dave always does however, come across first and foremost as a Boro supporter! He gave me a photo of him on the Beeline bus, holding his scarf up in true supporter style (see photo below) as an excited ten-year-old. He remembers it fondly from his more youthful days and thinks he was going to a Boro away match in London in 1973. Like a lot of us on this blog, we all remember Bee Line going to away games using their coaches. Beeline used to have the bus garage at the top of Linthorpe Road, not far from where I used to live as a boy, before they moved to Eston. My friend and I, whose father worked there, often went to see the coaches being serviced and cleaned. I always recall staring up at them, not believing that one day I would be using them myself. It brings back happy days for a lot of Boro fans with the big bee logo on the rear of the coach.
Dave Roberts was born in Middlesbrough and he left school in 1980 to start as an electrician with ICI Wilton Works on Teesside before moving into research within ICI’s Research and Technology division as an Experimental Physicist. He is a bubbly personable guy like all those associated with Broadcasting and an avid Boro fan. I met him earlier this season when he was a guest of Jim Platt at the Riverside, where he talked at length about his love for the Boro and his career in Broadcasting.
He left ICI in 1989, to focus on his broadcasting career and In 1981 he started working at BBC Radio Cleveland, (BBC Tees) in Middlesbrough and whilst there, a mid-morning programme he presented about living with HIV & AIDS was submitted for UK national broadcasting awards. He then moved to Teesside’s commercial station, Radio Tees (TFM Radio). He was a programme assistant for my good friend and former business associate Graham Robb, who in those days was a DJ on the late-night phone-in show. Dave played a character called ‘The Priestfield Pest’ but I must confess I have never heard it.
He then presented a Saturday sports programme paired with his existing football commentary role covering Middlesbrough FC. He began freelancing for Capital Gold Radio in London providing reports and commentaries on football games as well as ITV Sport. He regularly appeared on ITV Sport providing live reports at football matches throughout England. Following the birth of the Premier League, he also conducted after-match interviews for BBC Match of the Day. But his TV career began in earnest when he joined BBC North to cover Durham County Cricket Club, where he became known as the commentator for Brian Lara’s world record breaking cricket innings of 501 not out. He later joined BSKYB’s channel UK Talk to present the daily sports show Sportstalk and Channel 5’s Live and Dangerous.
In August 1998, when Sky launched their 24/7 Sky Sports News channel, he joined full-time and established SKY’s North East Bureau and operated as Bureau Chief and reporter and was seen on a daily basis reporting from the region’s training grounds, press conferences and live at matches of English Premier League clubs.
In 2003, after 5 years full-time with Sky, he left the UK to take up a Presenter/Commentator role with Singapore-based ESPN Star Sports. He covered Euro 2004 from Portugal, 2005 UEFA Champions League Final and World Cup Germany 2006. One story he tells is of travelling to Damascus, Syria to cover AFC Cup Finals where he was arrested by Syrian secret police. This was not his only brush with trouble, in 2005 newspaper reports claim he was ‘roughed up’ by Thai Prime Minister’s secret police at Government House after asking the, then PM, questions in a press conference, on his attempt to buy Liverpool FC. The report says he had been instructed not to ask questions after being identified as not one of the regular press members.
After leaving South East Asia Dave next appeared on ESPN as a Presenter/Commentator for ESPN International. He immediately began presenting the internationally networked football program ESPN Soccernet Press Pass and providing commentary on European and international football matches as well as two new international SportsCenter programmes (Australia/Africa).
Like me, Dave is a former referee and whilst I have never seen him referee we do share mutual friends like Jeff Winter.
2. The Interview – a quick chat
OFB: What was the first Boro match you remember going to see?
DR: The first game I attended was Boro’s 2-0 defeat of Oxford at Ayresome back in January 1969 (so I’m told) however the first I can remember was the trip to Boothferry Park in 1971 where we put 3 past Hull only to lose 4-3. I was 7yrs old at the time.
OFB: Who was your favourite Boro player then and others that you watched at that time?
DR: Only ever one in this era, Jim Platt and I remind him of this every time I see him. I wanted to be a keeper because of Platty and at 5’ 9” I wasn’t tall, but I did make it to the Boro Juniors playing under the much-feared George Wardle, bless him.
OFB: How did you become involved with Boro?
DR: 2 things, first I was born in Boro and second, my mum was a mad keen Boro fan so there was only one way I was going to go. As a teenager she’d travel the length and breadth of the country to follow the lads and I was bitten by the same bug. She then helped set up the Boro Supporters Club and used to make the sarnies for all the coaches so away games became easy. At 13yrs old I started training with Boro Juniors and at 15yrs old I became the youngest committee member of any football supporters club. You could say Boro was my life!
OFB: What has been your most memorable game, your own individual performance in front of the camera and best experience with the fans?
DR: There’s more than one. Luton on the League Liner (train) in 1974. The 1-0 win courtesy of Millsies goal had clinched the 2nd Division title with 6 games to go and Stewie Boam chased me the full length of the train for being ‘cheeky’. Of course we had the great UEFA Cup comebacks and Eindhoven, just to be in the UEFA Cup Final was immense.
As for my own performance, not camera but three on radio – first trying to interview a naked Bruce Rioch in a Chelsea dressing room immediately after Boro had won promotion in the 1988 playoff final 2nd leg. Then the 1998 Coca Cola Cup Final for TFM. I had missed out on commentating on the ZDS Cup Final due to a change in staff after I had done the semi-final and then I had just left Century Radio before the 1997 League & FA Cup Final double, so to be at Wembley commentating on Boro in a major final was stuff of dreams. Then there was the Brian Lara 501 commentary for the BBC. To think I’m up there on the sporting archive shelf alongside the likes of Kenneth Wolstenholme is truly amazing.
I’ve had amazing times as a Boro fan, Man City last year with De Roon’s last gasp equalizer was terrific, Eindhoven was amazing as was sitting in the Old Trafford press box with Ali with us both wearing Brazil shirts to celebrate the signing of Juninho (we were fans on the radio not commentators). But THE best moments were the two UEFA Cup comeback nights at the Riverside. I was working in the USA for ESPN at the time and had to fly across the Atlantic for each game. Thanks to MFC they’d given me a place in the press box and when Massimo did his thing in the semi final comeback I went berserk. I was reduced to a babbling wreck, crying my eyes out as I jumped up and down on top of the press box bench like a true idiot.
OFB: Is your job as glamorous as it looks?
DR: I have to say it is. When you are on the ‘inside’ doing this type of work you don’t realise how lucky you are. I’ve been trusted to be at many ‘private’ events and can count many former Boro players and managers as personal friends. I’m fortunate enough to be able to pick up the phone and call the likes of Robbo or Steve McClaren, Juninho, Marco Branca. Higgy’s a great pal as is Robbie Mustoe. Even though I left SKY Sports over 13 years ago and stopped commentating on the Boro on radio longer ago than that, people on Teesside still recognise me as that Boro commentator bloke, glamourous yes, but it is truly humbling.
OFB: Is your job as exciting as it seems?
DR: I’ve been locked up by Syrian secret police, been driven towards Baghdad during the height of the Saddam Hussein troubles and given a good whacking from the Thailand Prime Ministers body guards, so I’m not sure exciting is the right word. The better moments have been reporting from pitch-side at FA Cup, Champions League and World Cup Finals and refereed games in front of 110,000 fans – all of this has happened as a result of the job. A lot of people have said they’d give their right arms to do this and I can see why.
OFB: What was your worst game or experience and why?
DR: Personally, Bristol Rovers when I was commentating for TFM. We lost the game and we were awful that night. I remember saying on-air that Parky was ‘Bristol’s best player’ and the whole team then blanked me. I had to ask Mogga what was going on and he set the record straight from the players points of view. It was a foolish thing to say and I had to apologise to Gary for the comment I’d made and that has stayed with me ever since. Professionally, there was Big Mal at Coventry in 1996. I’d only just convinced the Century Radio bosses to allow him back after his ‘colourful’ outbursts the season before. Then it came, as the referee blew for a free kick against Neil Cox near to the corner flag, Ali screamed ‘He played the ball!’ and Big Mal followed up with the same line with a couple of expletives added. My mobile phone rang, Mal looked at me with puppy dog eyes, I had to give him the finger across the throat sign and Mal disappeared to the bar for the remainder of the game and his radio career came to an end. It was an amazing 18 months working with Big Mal, I know Ali (god bless him) and myself had endless stories to tell over far too many beers. There is a book in it I’m sure.
OFB: Who was in your opinion the best manager that Boro have ever had and why?
DR: You can’t rule out Steve McClaren, he won us our first piece of serious silverware, took us to a european final and gave us tremendous moments along the way. Then there was Robbo, the catalyst for great Boro changes. The Little Fella, Rav, Emerson, Boksic and co, what wonderful memories and a truly amazing time to be a Boro fan. But I’m plumping for Big Jack. A true no nonsense man-manager, a man who would tell Boamie to stand on the foot of the centre forweard at corners because if you do he can’t jump for the header. The image of Big Jack collecting the training tops before kick-off stays with me and that promotion winning season of 73-74 followed up with being top of the old First Division coming into Christmas was special. Pity Jack didn’t buy Mariner when he had the chance, he was worth 220k Jack and I’m convinced that one signing would have won us the 1st Division title.
OFB: Who has been the greatest influence on your career and why?
DR: Commentating, the late Peter Jones who worked for 5 Live – he painted pictures in your mind. Refereeing, Pierre Luigi Collina (sorry Jeff) had the grace to apologise to Roy Hodgson for disallowing a goal due to a refereeing mistake. Radio presenting – Graham Robb, Mad After Midnight just got me hooked. Business, Richard Branson – he shows how if you put your mind to something you can make it happen.
OFB: Which opposing team and which player did you fear Boro playing against?
DR: Leeds – we just never got the rub of the green when we played them. Mind you the 4-1 drubbing with Cantona in the side was a joy to behold – that game also got me started with TV by me convincing Brian Barwick (then editor of Match of the Day) to let me do after match interviews, but that’s for another day. Hated playing against Dennis Wise, always chippy, nasty & dirty. Worked referees and was just not a nice human being.
OFB: Who is your current favourite Boro player and why?
DR: We all love Adama, the way he leaves opponents in his shadow is a thing of pure beauty. Then there’s Clayts, shoring up the midfield and you can’t not look at Randolph in goal, but I’ve surprised myself with this one. I have to go purely on form and say ‘One of Our Own’ Stewie Downing. I think he’s been tremendous over the past 3 or 4 months and by putting in shift after shift he’s even won over the boo boys. At the grand old age of 33, he’s a shining light of commitment at the moment to many of the younger stars.
OFB: How do you think the match day has changed from the time that you started watching and being involved with professional football to the present day?
DR: Money. Everything today is based on profit & loss and balance sheets. Clubs even charge kids to be a mascot – I think clubs have forgotten the fans and their importance to the community. If you were to suggest to chairmen today that clubs belong to the fans or that fans were a club’s biggest asset they’d laugh in your face. Sad though it is, that crucial link has been long chopped through.
OFB: If you could be a fly on the wall, is there any dressing room you would wish to eavesdrop on?
DR: Home dressing room at the Stadium of Light after a Boro season card holding referee had denied them a blatant penalty but stiffed them at the other end in the last minute by pointing to the spot for the away team.
OFB: Do you have any regrets in your career, or missed opportunities?
DR: I do regret not continuing my refereeing career in England. I was flying when I had to choose between staying or going to Singapore to be a football TV presenter. However, the experiences both my family and myself have had have been truly amazing, so I’ll settle on not following up with an idea I had before the internet kicked in. That was to list all cars that were for sale on a computer and set up a system where people looking to buy cars could log in to that computer from anywhere in the country to see what was available. It was all to be done on-computer connection – I think that might just have had legs, you could call it something like Tinternet perhaps. Nah, it’ll never catch on.
OFB: Who was the nicest person that you have interviewed and why?
DR: Gary Speed, a true gent. He would always say hello, stop and talk and genuinely ask if you were okay when you bumped into him. He also asked me for advice several times on all kinds of things, he was one amazingly nice human being. From a Boro perspective my old mate Robbie Mustoe, another genuine guy and I’m so pleased to have gotten him his first job on TV in America. Robbie is as genuine as they come and I’m delighted to see him as THE best summariser on US TV today.
OFB: Whereabouts do you live these days, what are you doing and what are your career ambitions?
DR: I’ve just moved from Yarm to Ingleby Barwick. We are renting for 6 months before buying a house. Having moved around the world for the best part of 15 years it’s time to put the roots firmly down again on Teesside.
Business wise I have my own broadcast production operation, we put outside broadcasts into sports events like Formula 1 tracks and football grounds. We make RedArmy.TV the weekly Boro fans TV show you can get on Freeview and Virgin Media. That’s a great story as it is staffed entirely by Boro fan volunteers who I’ve coached in TV production skills and some of the guys n gals are now flying. Unlike other online fan platforms we’re not about making money, no-one gets paid and I pay all the costs of running the show.
My business has just pitched to film every EFL game starting next season for the next 6yrs, we have been shortlisted and it’s off to London next month to present our case to try to win the long contract. If we get it it’ll be fantastic for Teesside as everything will be done from Middlesbrough and it’ll create several jobs. I’ve also been helping bring other jobs to the area and we’ve just landed a ‘super-ambulance’ manufacturing project to Stockton. This too will create jobs and we are hopeful this will be the start of a much larger project that could create up to 1,500 jobs, all badly needed for Teesside.
OFB: Whom have you made a lifelong friend through football?
DR: I like to think Higgy and Robbie Mustoe, both great guys who I know I can pick up the phone to any time. Neither come from Teesside but both have so much affinity with the area I’d be happy to claim them as our own. For those who’re about to point to Robbie being in the USA, yes he is, but you should hear how he talks about the area, he loves it!
OFB: Is it nice for you to think that you can act as an ambassador for Middlesbrough’s town, the Teesside area and its people?
DR: I’m passionate about the town and its people. I’ve been fortunate to live in some wonderful places around the world, but I’ve always missed home. Whether I was presenting World Cup Final programmes on ESPN, commentating on Champions League Finals or negotiating large corporate deals for Fox, I always, and without exception, managed to get a Boro reference into my work. It got so bad I was nicknamed ‘Mr Middlesbrough’ by Rodney Marsh when I worked with him presenting a daytime TV football show in London. I love my town, my club and the area and no-one will ever stop me from being an unofficial ambassador for it. Perhaps one day someone might allow me to be an ‘official’ one.
OFB: Do you think that Tony Pulis is the manager that we have been waiting for and needed to get us into the Premiership and stay there?
DR: Yes, we needed structure. I was a big supporter of the signing of Garry Monk however in the end he didn’t seem to know quite what to do and the squad size ballooned and players didn’t seem to be putting in a full shift. Pulis is old school, he’ll not take any prisoners, I’ve already heard he’s given ultimatums to some senior players and we’re starting to see discipline come to the surface. I still haven’t ruled out 2nd place, as I write we are 9pts adrift but that is nothing with just under half a season to go. I have money on us to go up automatically, under Monk there was every chance that dosh was lost, however I’m still confident the bet is still alive. Worst case, we’ll be in the play-off final and who doesn’t fancy a trip to Wembley with the Boro again.
OFB: Do you think we can still achieve promotion this year?
DR: Oh yes, as above, yes, and automatically too!
OFB: As a former referee, do you think the standard has declined in the Championship this season or is it that the game is so fast we need the modern technology to make a correct decision?
DR: No, I truly don’t think refereeing standards are falling. I just think I think there’s far more scrutiny of decisions as there’s more money in the Championship so decisions are becoming far more crucial and you just have far more importance riding on them. As for modern technology, you can burn VAR on the half way line before kick off for me. Goal line technology was as far as they should have gone – it is comical to think we might stop a game of football for 4 minutes just because a guy in a bedroom in Essex might have spotted something the referee has gotten wrong. Forget it, the faster it crashes and burns the better for me.
OFB: Finally, if you hadn’t had the career that you have had, what do you think you would have done as a profession?
DR: I started out as a footballer with the Boro juniors but did not have the commitment to see it through. I then became an electrician after school and even now in my spare time I bash walls as I renovate rundown houses, so I’m sure my Dad would have had me in the building game. Saying that though, when ESPN in Singapore came calling in 2003, I was flying with my refereeing and had to make a decision whether it was refereeing of TV, I chose TV but if I hadn’t perhaps I could have been a Boro season card holder who denied Sunderland a blatant penalty and stuffed them with a last-minute spot-kick at the other end. Now where is that time-machine?
OFB: A huge thank you Dave for taking the time to talk to Diasboro and all our readers, posters and bloggers.