Wednesday 17 January 2018

BBC's voice of football 'JAG' retires as illness takes its toll

James Alexander Gordon
James Alexander Gordon

Jim White

If he were making the announcement himself, we know exactly how James Alexander Gordon's retirement statement – "released yesterday – would go.

The great BBC Five Live stalwart, whose reading of the classified football results illuminated Saturday afternoons for four decades, would begin with his own name. And just the way he read its three words, concluding with that oh-so-familiar downward inflection, it would immediately signal that bad news lay ahead.

And bad news it is. For James Alexander Gordon (below) – " the man universally known among colleagues as JAG – is to retire from the airwaves immediately. Never again will words as apparently mundane as Oxford United 1 Accrington Stanley 3 be invested with quite the same dramatic rhythm.

It is a bitter irony that broadcasting's most magnificent voice has been obliged to step down after surgery for throat cancer concluded with him having his larynx removed. What a larynx it was. So rich and avuncular was his voice that people assumed it had been around forever.

In fact, he first read out the scores in 1973 and has done so every Saturday since, never missing once through illness. The moment he uttered the word Arsenal for the first time, he achieved a lifelong ambition.

Family legend has it that as a small boy he was listening to the results with his adoptive father at his home in Edinburgh, when the old man complained bitterly that they were being read too quickly for him to follow on his pools coupon. The young Gordon insisted that he would one day read the results and do it properly.

When he started, after a stint reading the weather forecast and news, he recalled his father's Saturday afternoon angst and decided that, while he was no football enthusiast himself, he wanted to sympathise vocally with the misery of the fan whose team had lost.

So he announced the name of a defeated team on a flattening downbeat. Likewise to the winning side he gave an upward flourish. While a draw would mean both names were read without rhythmic adornment.

Though he retired from his other BBC duties 10 years ago, Gordon maintained his Saturday afternoon sinecure. He told an interviewer last year that he would have to be removed from his station in his coffin. Sadly, his health intervened to make that ambition impossible.

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