Without being certain about any of this, I think there is a system. The clock on the screen says “when”, the shirt numbers reveal “who”, the moving pictures tell us “what” and even “how”, and we have a story. It is the job of the commentator to be an audio aid in its telling, a narrator careful not to smother the visuals.
That leaves the big one. The “why”. Science can do “when”, “who”, “what” and “how”, but “why” we have to leave to the philosophers and clerics and others that wrestle with the infinity of the abstract. And to Brian Moore. It is the little darling’s role to shed light on the mysteries of dear old rugby union.
Why did the defence falter there? Why did the front rows collapse (yet again)? Why, oh why does the referee tolerate a crooked feed into the scrum? Cue the pontiff of the put-in.
We nearly discussed what we did once. It was a hot summer’s night in 2003 and England had just played against France in the old Vélodrome stadium in Marseille, as part of their preparations for the World Cup they would win a few months later in Australia. England had lost, 17–16, and were no doubt reflecting soberly on the only Test they would lose that year.
Brian and I, meanwhile, seemed to be working our way through a minibar (I suspect it was not his) in our hotel and were in danger of lurching towards an analysis of our roles.
Now, debriefings and feedback are very important, but in the nick of time and at the same moment, we both stopped and agreed that this conversation should go no further. And we have not discussed how we do it – and certainly not why – ever since.
Brian, left to his own travel plans, does not take to his seat early. The stress of making kick-off as a co-commentator seems to have replaced the prematch rituals of the changing room he once prowled as hooker in one of the great England packs. To see him forcing his way, slimmer now but still bristling, flustered and scowling, through the crowd as the band struck up the first notes of the anthems was to know that all was well and that he was in the mood.
But his late arrival times did not soothe everyone. His prematch interviews with John Inverdale or Gabby Logan are, I believe, a means to have him in situ and at a time that does not require medication, so he can be at the ready in the BBC broadcasting truck.
I fear punctuality has mellowed him – or maybe it was the 17th final warning he received for turning his “Because…” into a tirade against the French. Whom he adores, by the way. In a Brian sort of way.
I am constantly asked what Brian is like. I would never tell him, but I love him to bits. We will probably go down fighting, a Statler and a Waldorf spilling out of their box.
“Why, Brian, why?”
“Because… Who needs a reason?”