When you think of Scottish football coverage, you think of Ian Crocker. The Weymouth-born Englishmen arrived in the Scottish game without any affinity for what it had to offer, and stands today as the voice that defines it. Renowned commentaries decades old still recited to him as he walks the streets of Glasgow, with the romanticism of tribal lines standing the test of time in a country that lives and breathes the game Crocker has adopted.
It was not always the Scottish game for Crocker. His humble, Dorset roots shaped the early stages of his career. In the age of Sports on 2, now BBC 5 Live, he would religiously take in the tones of Peter Jones’ commentary as much as he could.
“I used to go to non-league football at Weymouth and put my transistor radio on and have it blaring out to everyone in the crowd whether they liked it or not,” Crocker said.
This sort of hunger for living footballing commentary every waking second only continued to grow into the television sphere. The illustrious voices of Brian Moore, Jon Motson and Barry Davies accompanied each and every memory of Crocker’s footballing tutelage. And it was those influences that drew him into the career path that has served him so well.
“Growing up listening to all those guys was great because I literally wanted to get into newspaper journalism, but listening to them so often gave me the buzz to think ‘hey maybe I could go and do that’ without thinking I actually would,” Crocker said.
After the quiet lifestyle of Dorset, Crocker jumped straight into the hustle and bustle of London city life chasing his broadcasting dream. A move that he still offers disbelief towards to this day as to how he adapted so quickly. A job at his beloved West Ham as stadium announcer wet the palette to delve deeper into the realms of the world of football – a dive that took him to Capital radio.
“I met the guys at Capital and was privileged to work with a great team. The likes of Jonathan Pearce and Steve Wilson, who are both now with Match of the Day, helped me grow and improve,” Crocker said.
That appetite to grow brought with it a fearlessness to broaden his horizons, shown through the number of different roles Crocker has taken in his stride over the years. One of which was his successful role with BRMB radio in Birmingham as their lead commentator for local games, a role that spanned 20 years. His love for the area still shines through today.
“A great football patch and a great area. It was Big Ron Atkinson at Aston Villa and Barry Fry at Birmingham so there was never a dull moment,” Crocker said.
Big characters have surrounded Crocker as his experience grew, his ability to deal with them with ease was a huge asset in his success. Alongside Atkinson and Fry, his time in Scotland saw him grace the likes of Walter Smith and Martin O’Neill with his presence. And he pondered on the relationships he has had in the game and the trust that came with them.
“I’m lucky that I’ve been able to get on with a few managers. Commentators always try to get an early team shout off managers and some are quite happy to do it, some give you the trust, quiet a few don’t,” Crocker said.
“The best one to deal with was Walter (Smith), he was different class. When he was in charge of Rangers I used to ring him at 8:30am on a Sunday morning and he’d give me the team and we would just chat for half an hour about this, that and everything.”
Crocker was fortunate enough to have the trust of managers in the past like Walter Smith which would allow him to go about his work with a sense of relative ease. An ability to get a jumpstart on his competitors through these good relationships is something that may have stagnated over the years, but there is still those within the game who keep old customs.
“Quite a few in England still do it, out of all of them at the moment Steve Bruce at Newcastle is terrific. You can just ring him in the morning and he’ll give you the team and all the lines you need and little extras,” Crocker said.
“Alan Pardew was similar during his time at Reading, which is how I got to know him. He was more than happy to take calls from whoever was covering their game that day and treat everyone equally and that brings with it a sense of mutual respect.”
But it isn’t just pre-match build up that Crocker finds important in his work, he also found himself at the impending doom of post-match TV interviews. This part of the job, that Crocker does a lot less of these days, is something that he believes is the hardest to deal with. Raw emotion of a manager off the back of an important defeat or an important win can bring with it a variety of responses, you do not truly know what you are going to get.
“I always pick out Fergie (Alex Ferguson) as the best one to do purely because he always kept you on your toes and you had to be absolutely spot on with what you were asking, otherwise you knew he might just point it out to you,” Crocker said.
“Bobby Robson was the only manager I’ve only ever had to ask one question to in a post match interview. All I said was ‘what did you think of the game?’ a safe opening question. He actually went through every single point of the game. Whilst I was thinking of what my next question might be, he was answering it without needing to ask. He lasted about four minutes, he just kept going. If only it was always like that.”
And whilst these dealings have always been conveyed with whole-hearted respect and pleasure, managers had to ensure that the media were aware of their responsibilities. It was and is very much a two-way straight that the clubs and managers know what to expect from the media and likewise the media are to take the information with the knowledge of what is expected from them.
“I remember ringing David Moyes once for a team. Everton were playing West Ham in a league cup tie. He gave me the team but afterwards the way he said basically ‘keep that to yourself’ otherwise, you know, I could suffer a serious injury, I thought with the way he was talking,” Crocker said.
“They make it very clear, this is as far as it goes. It’s purely to help us get our stuff together before the game so we’re not rushing around. It’s an age old commentary thing to get an early shout of the team.”
These sorts of relations and the ability for the press to have a mutual partnership with managers to a close extent have waned in recent years. The move to a PR led game has brought with it more strict and measured dealings with the media from clubs through press officers. But Crocker is understanding of the everchanging landscape of the game.
“A lot of clubs used to be much more trusting of you and your dealings with their managers and players,” Crocker said.
“In football the stakes are so high now, everyone’s a bit paranoid to let their team out or to open up their ideas to the general public. There was an issue at Celtic where the team was getting leaked on social media and that certainly doesn’t help the cause.”
Within the game, particularly in Scotland, there is a microcosm on every action, every move a player or manager alike makes. It means so much to everyone involved and it is conveyed as such by moments of hot-headedness and general stupidity in flashes. One moment that stands out from Crocker’s career is his strong criticism of ex-Rangers player El Hadji-Diouf following his final whistle red card in an infamous Old Firm Scottish cup replay in 2011. I asked Crocker whether that are times he has to ‘hold his tongue’ in such heated moments.
“I’ve always thought as a commentator you should call it as it is. In all my years commentating I’ve never had a player come up to me, they’re honest, they know when they’ve had a bad game or done something they shouldn’t have,” Crocker said.
And as much as no player has questioned Crocker during his career, the same can’t be said for managers because of one individual.
“There’s only one manager I’ve had a fallout with and that was Gordan Strachan when he was at Celtic. We get on now after his stint with Scotland. Frankly, I would’ve been disappointed if I hadn’t fallen out with him at some stage given the nature of the guy,” Crocker said.
Looking at the moments Crocker has been apart of, it is clear he has seen the very best and very worst of football. He was there to witness Martin O’Neill’s first Old Firm victory in the 6-2 win at Celtic Park, whilst also being able to see the 2002 Scottish Cup final with Peter Lovenkrands late winner for Rangers. But it is the humble floodlights of Fir Park that played host to what Crocker believes is the best game he has witnessed.
“Motherwell 6-6 Hibernian was extraordinary. It taught me one thing that you have to treat every game with the same respect. Never go to a game thinking this is going to be grim, because we were at Fir Park that night thinking it’s an end of season game,” Crocker said.
“Jutkiewicz scored a Van Basten-type screamer in stoppage time, you know we may never see a game like that again.”
Crocker can’t help but see the Old Firm matches he has covered as the pinnacle of his career. He has seen it all when it comes to Glasgow’s big two and every tussle brings with it a new sense of surprise and intrigue, the likes of which is unmatched by anything else football has to offer.
“Martin O’Neill’s first Old Firm game was just magic. Regardless of other factors on that day I still suspect Henrik Larsson would’ve taken control,” Crocker said.
“Kindly Celtic fans still quote my ‘that is sensational’ commentary line after Larsson’s fine solo goal to this day. 20 years later I think maybe I should come up with a new line.
“The 2002 cup final with Lovenkrands’ late winner was another moment. Being totally selfish as McCann put the cross in I said ‘is there going to be a twist in the tale,’ which I’ve probably said a million times before and nothing has happened, but this time he stuck it in and I got away with it.”
And whilst Crocker has seen some phenomenal games over the years, in all types of arenas, there is one man in particular who stands out to him when he thinks of the best footballer he has witnessed.
“Henrik Larsson. He gave you everything,” Crocker said.
“Funnily enough when people ask who’s the best player you’ve seen they expect Messi. However, in the few games I commentated on with him against Celtic, he didn’t play that well.”
Looking to the future, Crocker’s eyes are firmly set on the upcoming Euros with Scotland qualifying for the first time since 1998.
“I think we appreciate what we have, we love our game. We got a whopping audience for Serbia vs Scotland so the interest is there,” Crocker said.
“Why shouldn’t we go there with a sense of optimism? We are in a great place right now and Steve Clarke has the team well organised. It will be tough but hopefully some fans will be able to travel and make a real go of it.”
It is clear from the passion that Crocker shows, Scotland has well and truly become his adopted homeland that is deep in his heart. The Weymouth boy who had no affinity to the Scottish game, now leads it as its voice into the biggest tournament for Scottish football in a generation.