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A Last Post.....
Posted by Bilko on September 20 2016 - 08:38

You know there is a guy on twitter (heíll know who he is) who has been telling me for four seasons that I shouldnít be on the radio. Iíve never played the game after all and Iím just ďMr Message Board ModeratorĒ as he put it the other week.

Well in four seasons Iíve been part of a Rugby League sports output that has won a Sony Radio Award (the radio equivalent of the BAFTAs), a IRN Radio Award, had a great written letter of appreciation and Iíve had over 100 messages expressing disappointment and sadness at my decision since I decided to step down from doing match commentaries. Thatís not bad Iíd say.

Thing is that guy isnít wrong. Iíve never played the game, so if his view is that I canít understand the ins and outs of the sport without having been on the field then I respect his opinion. I then get baffled when I point out ďalternatives are availableĒ, particularly with ex-players for summarisers, for radio commentary but he still chooses to listen to me who knows nothing. You canít win them all can you?

I think thatís actually been a reason why I ended up on the radio in the first place. I donít think Iím blinkered to my own clubs view and when someone else offers a differing opinion to me I listen to it and sometimes have my own view persuaded by that view.

How did ďBilkoĒ come about though? It may seem daft to some that Iím known as ďBilkoĒ but let me tell you itís even dafter to me. It was a very random message board name I decided to use way back in about 1999 and the way itís stuck over the 17 years has been baffling to me.

I started writing ďblogsĒ on Wigan in 2001 before the term blog was even reality. I grew my own website up from nothing since 2002 and I was early on to twitter. I mean in 2010 I was probably the first to use twitter as a way of updating fans at home with the score of a preseason game at Wakefield. Back then I had to do that by texting a certain number to update my twitter feed. Seems daft now when the world and his wife updates on twitter with simple easy of 4g internet.

In 2013 I was asked into Wish FM by Chris Milow who organises all the sports coverage to offer my opinion on how I thought they could improve the coverage. Theyíd been on air two years with Wigan commentaries at that point but I remember suggesting at the time that having the same commentary team every week breeds familiarity and that familiarity will see listeners returning.

The idea that Iíd be part of the commentary at that point never even entered my head and it wasnít until a few months later that I was even asked.

This was done by then Wigan commentator Mark Wilson. I think itís fair to say for all radio stations that finding summarisers isnít that easy. Budgets are not huge, even within some quarters of the BBC Iíd say, and a lot of it to me seems to be on an asking favours level.

I can only assume he was struggling for someone when he first asked me if Iíd like to do it. This was shortly before Wigan were due to play Leeds at Headingley in March 2013. Unfortunately, I was a few pints in when he asked (it was Cheltenham Gold Cup day in the afternoon) and well on the way to being pissed so it never happened that night and I was glad because Wigan lost 18-14.

Two weeks later on Easter Monday and Iím on a coach over to Hull KR and I deliberately didnít drink because I had a feeling he would ask me again if Iíd like to do it.

Around an hour before kick-off he asks and within about 30 minutes Iím speaking live on the radio. No training, no prep, no idea what Iím doing, just headset onÖ.off you go.

I could never have imagined that my first game on the radio would turn out to be Wiganís biggest ever league victory in their then 118-year history Ė 84-6 over Hull KR. I remember pointing out, completely off the top of my head, that Wigan had set a new record away victory (beating 72-6 at Wakefield in 1987) but sadly in all the drama I missed that Wigan had also set a new record for biggest league victory full stop (beating 78-6 v Workington in 1996).

To say that was a learning curve was an understatement. Games when the scoreboard runs away are actually the hardest to summarise because conversions mean a lot of time to fill and itís very difficult to not keep repeating yourself, especially when Wigan had scored 42 points in the final 20 minutes of that game.

After that match I was told that Wish FM had received record listening figures online (FM listening canít really be gauged that well) for Rugby League coverage. Three records in one first broadcast, not bad eh?

The second commentary I did was not quite as successful. We were blighted by a false start due to the line failing at Bradford but itís hard to get across to the frustrated listener at home that the fault was being suffered by BBC Leeds behind us as well. We did eventually get on air but about 15 minutes into the game.

Anyway, after that they decided to stick me on all away games and eventually after a couple of months the home games as well. The rest the say has been history.

But why the abrupt end with the season so close to ending?

Well the blunt truth is that my heart is not really in Rugby League at the moment. Giving up the commentary has been on my mind for a while because Iíve kind of realised that Iíve been going through the motions watching the sport in recent times. I honestly feel a lot of Wigan fans are in that same bracket. The Widnes match and the reaction to it was kind of a final nadir for me at the moment.

I find attending games tiring. The Rugby on display is poor and the fact most games are played on Thursdays and Fridays is becoming quite a chore. This is not a Wigan thing, I feel this is a thing with the sport. Even tv games are poor to watch.

The problem for the sport started in 2011 and 2012 in my eyes when Leeds won the title TWICE from 5th place in the table. This was lauded as a magnificent achievement by a great Leeds team that at that point had won Five Super League Titles in Six Seasons.

Frankly, and I said it at the time, I thought that was a load of shite. Warrington may have the rise taken out of them in the ďalways your yearĒ type sense but they were outstanding in 2011. Likewise, Wigan in 2012. Superb quality at the top of the table but yet neither of them even reached the Grand Final in the end whilst the Champions came from FIFTH PLACE! Absolutely garbage.

I donít blame Leeds. They won when it ultimately mattered but I feel those two achievements have set the sport back to the mediocrity it has become today. I feel since then that teams have kind of followed Leeds lead so to speak and that the regular season has just become a long drawn out qualifying tournament for the play offs.

Itís not just that though. Iíd also argue the moving of the Challenge Cup Final has played itís part in setting the sport back. It has totally ruined the play off race and at times even the play off campaign itself at times.

Wigan in 2013 won a magnificent double but they also lost six of their last eight league games in the regular season that year. I didnít think Saints were particularly good champions in 2014 either. Leeds to be fair bucked the trend a little in 2015 but even they ended the regular season poorly but for that one Ryan Hall try.

So instead of a huge bursting climax, we generally end the regular season with full impotence and this kills the mood towards Old Trafford. Warrington or Hull fans wonít care about that, because theyíve never won a Grand Final, but Warrington could still finish 1st, yet personally I donít think their current side has been anywhere near the quality of the side they had in 2011.

Wiganís attack has been amongst the lowest standards ever since the sport changed from three to four points for a try in 1982/83, but yet they can still be declared champions in three weeksí time.

I donít think that is great and Iím entirely honest on that. In fact, I declared after that Widnes game debacle three weeks ago that ďIíll be embarrassed if we win at Old Trafford. Awful, Awful, Awful SeasonĒ.

Victories over Hull and Warrington have made that seem a bit daft since but I still donít regret saying it. I have to point out that I was on the emotional side that day after hearing that my dadís cancer had returned. I also actually meant that from a league sense rather than a club sense to be honest but obviously context can easily be lost in 140 characters or less.

In the wake of that tweet three players came out to point out, one of them quoting me personally, that it hasnít been such awful a season, we are in the top 4 after all and still have a chance of winning at Old Trafford. Which is fair comment isnít it?

I donít actually disagree with that point of view. We have had tons of injuries and it has been tough to cope with at times. Maybe it is remarkable we have done so well and turning nine losing positions into victories is very commendable indeed but it also leaves an impression, from a fans point of view, that weíve actually been getting out of jail a lot. I suppose thatís one of those glass half full or empty mindsets though.

In a way though the reaction to that tweet actually confirmed what I feel. That it is a long drawn out qualifying tournament and as long as youíre in there, the fact the attack has been laborious doesnít matter until two games in the season remain. Thatís how much the mindset seems to have shifted and it is making for very stale rugby in my eyes. The Super 8s have been a total garbage spectacle apart from Wiganís dramatic comeback last Friday.

I suppose what Iím saying is that in the wake of that Widnes game I got to a point where the idea of me commentating towards a potential Old Trafford victory and declaring it a great season wasnít sitting well with me. I think itís been fairly average at best. I say that with nothing against anyone at Wigan but more about the sport in general. I think the standard has become mediocre.

I take heart though in the number of people that have appreciated that Iíve commentated with total fairness and honesty throughout my time on the radio. You may not realise but Iíve actually tried over the years to keep my profile as low as possible and I found it a bit weird that profile had risen to such an extent that I was having myself quoted by a player in the press.

Some might think, Iíve been a bit too honest, or harsh, but I canít help how I feel about the sport at the moment. I hope Wigan win the Grand Final by all means but if Iím comparing this at the moment to the rugby I grew up watching then itís like comparing Jennifer Aniston to Ann Widdecombe. I find the academy level pretty disappointing as well since they reduced that to one level of Under 19s.

I know someone said recently to me that ďah youíre a Wigan fan, you just expect to turn up and win everythingĒ Ö.but I donít. My top 3 favourite seasons watching Wigan were 2000, 2003 and 2006 seasons in which we won bugger all. I do expect a high standard though and making the top 4 such be a bare minimum standard for a club like Wigan.

In reflecting, I want you to know that the majority of my opinions have always been weighted towards being from a fans point of view because at the end of the day, coaches come and go at sporting clubs, players come and go at sporting clubs, owners come and go at sporting clubs, sponsors come and go at sporting clubs. The only constant within a sporting club is the fans.

Even though Iíve been ďin the mediaĒ for four seasons, I still look at myself as a supporter rather than a journalist. Mainly because Iíve done the radio stuff totally voluntarily. Fair enough having a media pass entitles you to get into games for free but I havenít been paid a single penny for helping out Wish FM whose commentaries are also used quite significantly by Wigan TV.

Recently Iíve been supplying dvds to Wigan TV to put a weekly old ďretro matchĒ online. Again nothing in it for me but I have done that out of the goodness of my heart for supporters to enjoy and if the club want me to keep doing that Iíll be happy to do so.

Iíve been doing cherryandwhite.co.uk for 15 seasons and radio for 4 seasons. Thatís a big chunk of my life, my feelings, watching Wigan being recorded in writing on in audio. But all good things come to an end. Frankly Iíve had enough. Life is changing, so much that this week my dad is having quite a major operation in regards to his cancer.

Rugby League in its current form is not the love that it once was. Iím tired. Tired of watching dull games being played mainly on Thursdays and Fridays when itís an absolute chore to attend. Maybe Iíll get reinvigorated one day. Maybe I just need a good stiff drink. But for now that is my honest opinion and Iím actually not sad about it. Iím relieved. Strange perhaps but thatís my frame of mind.

Finally, Iíd just like to take the opportunity to thank a few people.

Without Chris Milowís drive and commitment, on top of presenting the breakfast show twenty hours a week, I doubt sport would even get covered on Wish FM. On top of covering Wigan the station also covers Saints and Latics whilst sister stations Wire and Tower FM also cover Warrington, Widnes and Bolton Wanderers with full match commentary. To bring all that together, particularly at this time of the year when seasons overlap, canít be easy and I tip my hat off to him. In commercial radio to have six teams all covered with full commentary is pretty unheard of and you are damn lucky to have a superb service from a radio station that still is local for most of the day.

I only ended up doing a few games with Mark Wilson in the end before he moved on to build up coverage of a new station Radio Yorkshire from 2014, and then on to TalkSPORT this year. I could claim that he went on to better things off the back of working with me but having listened to his efforts on Wish since 2011 he was always Ö..

Obviously the majority of my time with Wish FM will be remembered for the commentaries spent with Joe Mills as part of ďMilkoĒ has he ended up branding us.  Before I first worked with Joe someone told me that he was ďthe most disorganised personĒ going and I quickly learned that wasnít wrong. ;-)

I sat with him often with full incredulity at some of the quirks he came out with, especially that damn moose impression, but although I appreciate his style isnít to everyoneís cup of tea he deserves a hell of a lot of credit for building up the ďfamilyĒ of listeners that now regularly tune in.

The amount of interaction we have had on our commentaries says an awful lot.  Even when games are on Sky now it is huge. Joe has created that. Not me. He has had a great knack of making a huge amount of solo individual listeners as much as part of the commentary as I was or he is. Thatís pretty special and he should be hugely proud of that. He has a great heart for the listeners that join him and I hope that will continue.

Another big person to thank is Ste Crook. He is our regular producer back at Wish FM. You never get to hear him on air but he is the one who presses the buttons to play out all the pre match clips and also the one to blame for the song choices that end up airing whilst we take breaks at half time.

Others to thank include our regular Saints commentators Chris Price, Dave Lyon and Mike Bennett and our Warrington team of Matt Horton and Rob Croston. Obviously we spend most of our time at different places covering our own individual teams but yet to me itís always felt like weíve been together every week. Strange that but I shall miss the interaction.

Iíd also like to thank anyone else whoís been involved, i.e sub commentators etc, and also a mention for Chris Kirk a producer from the early days.

Final thank you has to go to every listener who has tuned in. Iím proud that a very large chunk of you tuned in every week, especially with so many games televised. I shall miss that.

Eventually, I will look forward to returning to the terraces. I have missed that dearly in recent years. When that will be though, who knows but mine will be a lager!


jules1914 on September 21 2016 - 16:14
Sorry to see you go Bilko old lad! All the best for the future and for your dads op!
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