The Bundesliga Fanatic’s Matt Karagich had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Kevin Hatchard, one of the world’s most recognizable English language voices during broadcasts of Bundesliga matches. Whether you live in Europe, the Americas, or elsewhere, chances are high that if you’ve ever watched an English-language Bundesliga broadcast, you’ve probably heard his voice.
Matthew Karagich (MK): Where did your passion for the Bundesliga begin?
Kevin Hatchard (KH): I was always fascinated with European football and the likes of Champions League, UEFA Cup and Cup Winners Cup, and seeing other European teams got me excited. One of the teams that caught my eye was the Dortmund team that won the Champions League. You know Karl-Heinz Reidle, Andreas Möller and those amazing baggy day-glow kits, so I was always interested in European football and that’s what got me to keep an eye on Dortmund.
Then an opportunity came up to write about the Bundesliga with BetFair and as soon as I started with them, I learned everything I could about the league and it grew from there. I was Premier League commentary with Talk Sport already and when they did a deal with the Bundesliga to broadcast live radio commentaries, it was the perfect fit and from that it led into the TV side of things.
MK: When did you get the call up to work for the World Feed TV broadcast for the Bundesliga?
KH: That opportunity came from Jon Hartley who is in charge of the TV side of things, and had listened to me through my work with talkSPORT. I’d done a few podcasts with Jon and he let me know that it was happening and to come down to the audition. I went over with a group of guys and luckily enough I was able to get the job. I’ve been doing it now for three seasons and it’s a lot of fun. It’s quite nice because I’m still doing the radio stuff and being able to cover the Bundesliga through TV, radio and as well as writing through my column.
MK: It’s a really competitive field isn’t it?
KH: It is and you can only really make it with persistence and building good relationships with people. When I think of my career, I started off making tea and helping out in studios. Beginning with the BBC, then they had a reporter spot which had opened up for a game they needed me to go to. A few weeks later they asked me if I had commentated before and from the age of 13,14 I knew this is what I wanted to do. I used to stand in front of the TV whenever there was a game on with a tape recorder and I would call the whole game. By the time they had asked me about doing a commentary, I had already done about 200 of them in front of the TV.
I then worked for ClubCall which seems ancient given the internet, there was a premium rate phone service which I used to write teletext and reports for them as well as commentating. Then I did radio reporting and commentary for IRN which is the national radio network and from that the talkSPORT opportunity came about. I knew Tom Rennie, who I’d done radio bulletins with for a company Sports Media. When I think about it, every opportunity that has come my way has been through forging good relationships with somebody along the line. Being persistent and being friendly– making friends in the industry.
MK: How would you describe your commentary style?
KH: I don’t think it has changed much if I’m honest, I think my style has always been about telling a story. I’m very interested in the news element of it. if I’m building up to a game, I will have a sheet of stats for each team but I will also have news headlines; like what the coaches have said and what has happened to the club during the week. Also interesting stories like when I did the Hannover v Wolfsburg derby at the weekend, Pirmin Schwegler had broken his nose a couple of weeks before but still played even without a mask. Then you think ‘what is this guy all about’ and you read more about him, you discover that he had Leukaemia as a kid. He battled through that, and to have come through something like that and become a professional footballer — wow.
Making over 200 Bundesliga appearances and going through so many major injuries, it tells you a lot about the man and I’m quite interested in that element. Funny stuff, whimsical stuff and weird things you wouldn’t generally think of. One I didn’t get to use on the weekend was about Bernd Hollerbach, the new Hamburg coach. His family have run a really successful sausage factory for 80 years. If the football hadn’t worked out for him he had something to fall back on. The great thing about commentary is that people have different styles — some colleagues of mine that are more stats-based whilst others just like to call the game itself. I think it’s a good thing that gives each of us a bit of individuality. I like to think there is a bit of humour about it, when there is a dual commentary I like to tease my co-commentator and have a bit of fun with them.
But that’s also about balance and choosing the moment to have that humour, if it’s a real tense part of the game you don’t want to bring up the fact that Emil Forsberg’s wife chooses all his clothes. It’s not something you would use with five minutes to go. That’s more whimsy for the first 20. I like to bring that stuff out because it’s football, it’s fun and you can’t make it too serious, but equally you can’t go too far the other way because you lose credibility. It’s all about that balance
MK: You spoke about dual commentary, what is the difference commentating with someone like a Paul Lambert or a Kevin McKenna compared to being by yourself?
KH: I think by nature, having two of you during commentary, that humour comes out a bit more and that conversational style. Having someone like a Paul Lambert or a Kevin McKenna, you’re trying to get their experiences, if a team is struggling away from home. If I have Paul with me I’ll ask him: “From a tactical point of view, as a coach what are you trying to do to change that and why that might be happening.”
If I have Moritz Volz with me, I’m very aware that he has a scouting mind. So I would ask Mortiz: “From a scouting stand point, what do you see in this particular player.” They are a great resource to have and you have to think about who you are with and what were their experiences because I never played nor scouted. That’s great for the listener. The biggest task for the co-commentator is to tell people at home what they don’t know or haven’t thought about. Yes, they can see what is happening on the screen but we want to provide the background, why is it happening and how it has led up to this.
If it is me on my own, you have to do that for yourself and add tactical analysis to it. I have no issue with that and quite enjoy that aspect of the game, on the weekend Bernd Hollerbach went to a back three I tried to explain what he has done, why he had done it and the changes he had made. This comes all back to do the research. Walace as an example — he was brought back into the team. Why is that important? Well he was pushing for a move back to Brazil because his wife is pregnant back home with a second child. Another big part of it is realising the players are more than just a player on the sheet, they are human. They all have things going on and they all have different circumstances. Walace comes back into the line-up and people at home go, oh all right, I wonder why he is coming back in. We can explain the training camp stuff in detail, all of those details interest me because its about telling stories rather than just commentating on the game itself.
MK: How do you prepare for each matchday?
KH: My week starts on the Monday and I begin by looking at any news lines that have come out that is relevant from the previous game that they have played. If I had time I would try to watch some of their previous matches but I don’t always have the time to do so, if I can I will. What I do in terms of the news prep and the off the wall stuff, I would accumulate that as the week goes on. I have a database of information where if I find something weird or interesting about a player I will put that in the database, once it has been used I will cross it off.
That will be my week and once the stat packs come out on the Thursday, I will put together my sheets for the matchday which has a set of statistics as well as stickers for each player. I like to get about three pieces of information on a player that I think is relevant. I try not to overload on stats as I’m looking for important pieces of information to use in my commentary. I think one of the most important things as a commentator is to pick out the most relevant stats.
The matchday itself, I like to have my script written prior to kick-off. A minute introduction and where the two teams are in the league. With the line ups, we receive them an hour before kick off and with my stickers I will place them in formation and work out the changes that have happened. I will work with the graphics operators so everything works to time. It’s quite hectic as we only have half an hour to get everything sorted. The final half hour is making sure everything is covered in terms of the referee in charge and having all the information I want about them. Making sure I have my kick-off line sorted in my head and how I want to open the game, the first minute is very important in terms of why is it important for people to tune in. When people are just tuning in, we want to let them know why they should watch this game.
If I have a co-commentator on, the first five minutes we will speak about what is important tactically, what does it mean and all that kind of stuff. The lead up to the game is about sorting all of that stuff out, making sure I have a big cup of warm water. As you realise when you get older the vocal side of it is very important, I make sure I have that cup of warm water as cold water constricts the vocal cords. I’ll have a vocal zone tablet an hour before kick-off, it’s something singers use. If I have a co-commentator, I’ll talk to him about what we will cover throughout the match and chat with them in general.
The more games you do with somebody the better you get to know them and building that relationship is very important. Once the game starts it tends to fly by really, I have communications with the coordinator throughout the match and they might give me some statistics or something that is interesting or perhaps something I may have missed. If it cuts away to somebody and I think I know who it is but am not absolutely sure, they might shout in my ears who it is.
That’s the matchday really, halftime is about scripting for highlights that we may use later on and making sure we have the right things in the edit. Preparation is an individual thing, if you have 10 commentators they will have 10 different ways to do it. For example; Derek Rae who I work with a lot or Dan O’Hagan will hand write everything, I think it’s mad but there’s no right or wrong way. The preparation is there in front of you but everything is in your head, it acts more as a guide. I find that with my database and the stickers, it cuts down the preparations time and allows me to concentrate on things I find more interesting.
MK: Is there a team that you enjoy commentating?
KH: No not really, I will look at a game with the belief that no match-up is bad before it starts. I don’t see myself as the kind of guy who looks at a game and thinks ‘good god, I’ve got them on the weekend. I believe there is a story everywhere with perhaps the exception of a ninth versus tenth on the final matchday, but even then their might be a farewell like players leaving or a coach’s final game in charge.
There is always something you can find to sell a game to your viewers and get them invested into the contest. Some games sell themselves like the clash I’m doing this weekend between Köln and Borussia Dortmund with the return of Peter Stöger. But sometimes games can surprise you, there was game I did last season between Mainz and Augsburg. From the outside you are thinking this might be an ok match-up but the game ended 3-3 and it was amazing thanks to Yoshinori Muto’s hat-trick.
I’ve done Der Klassiker which was great and it was huge fun being at the Allianz, but I arguably enjoyed the relegation play-off last season between Eintracht Braunschweig and Wolfsburg more.
(For more of our interview with Kevin Hatchard, stay tuned for part 2!)
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