An interview with Bruce McAvaney
Ever since I was a kid growing up in the suburbs of Melbourne, I've been obsessed with footy.
I'd spend my nights after school kicking the footy around the backyard, commentating the play to myself. The one person I always looked up to, and tried to emulate, was Bruce McAvaney.
The most widely recognised football commentator in the country was my hero growing up. Not only did he describe what was happening, making you feel like you were there, but he made it entertaining.
Meeting Mr McAvaney
When I was told I had the chance to interview him I was slightly reluctant at first, not knowing what it would be like to have the opportunity to talk to my hero. I called Channel 7 to get through to him, and I was on hold, shaking with nervous anticipation before I heard that familiar voice say, "Hi Joel, how are you?"
I had planned to start off with a question about how he grew up, but Bruce fired the first few questions at me. He asked where I was from, what I was studying and took a genuine interest in my answers. That's what struck me first: how intent he was on listening to not only what I asked about him, but what I had to say about myself.
Born in the suburbs of Adelaide, Bruce wasn't born into a sports-focused family by his own admission, but he always knew he wanted to commentate. "Dad was a keen footballer and a league goal umpire and Mum was a good netballer, but overly sporting? No."
"I always knew I wanted to be a commentator," Bruce says. "I wanted to be a race caller and call the Melbourne Cup. That was my ambition from a very young age."
"Racing was probably the sport I was closest to and the caller I looked up to most was Bill Collins, a famous race caller," he says, adding that "there were a lot of other commentators in various sports, but Bill Collins was my most influential."
A magnificent opportunity
When I ask Bruce about how he got started he says it came about almost by chance. "I got friendly with a guy who was calling trotting trials and he asked whether I could give him a hand. Then a radio station came to him and asked him to call a meet and he said, 'Why don't you give this young fella a try?'"
"It was a magnificent opportunity, then one thing led to another and they offered me a full-time job about six months later."
From there, McAvaney moved on to call South Australian National Football League (SANFL) games. He remembers his first experience fairly vividly. "I called the reserves first, that was live, and then we called the seniors on a delay, so it was a long day. I was very nervous, even when I first started calling the trotting trials before I got on radio."
About his expectations of himself starting out, Bruce says, "I always tried to do my best. I had fairly high confidence in my ability, but I didn't so much set goals for myself."
Going about it the right way
From a young age, McAvaney was highly motivated to go about it the right way. "The one thing that mattered to me, and still matters to me, is how I called. Not because if I did a really good job I might get offered a job in Melbourne, but because I wanted to walk away this afternoon and feel like I'd done a really good job."
Bruce moved to Melbourne to work with Channel 10 in 1983, solely motivated by the prospect of working at the Olympic Games. He then moved to Channel 7 to stay with the Olympic coverage in 1988. Since then has called AFL Grand Finals and his cherished Melbourne Cup, which he rates as the best experience of his career on a personal level.
When I ask what sporting moment stuck out in his head the most, he eventually comes to the decision that it was Cathy Freeman's win at the 2000 Olympics, a night he describes as "amazing".
When I ask if there was anything he hadn't called that he would like to, McAvaney gives a fairly simple answer. "I've probably been doing my favourite sports and the ones that I love in Athletics, Horse Racing and AFL. But if I had to say one it would be the (soccer) World Cup."
What makes a good commentator?
To finish up, I question Bruce about what he thinks makes a good commentator. "There are a lot of good callers, but not everyone can be famous and a pioneer," he says, before adding, "I think a lot of it is hard work, preparation and you have to be educating and entertaining at the same time."
"The advice I would give is be the best caller that you can be. Don't be the next Dennis Cometti or Brian Taylor, be the best that you can be, and just keep working at it."
While I won't be the next Bruce McAvaney, he's a person I will always look up to and credit with being the inspiration behind my commentating career. Not only is he a great caller, he's a great person.
I was nervous about talking to Bruce, worrying that maybe he wouldn't live up to the expectations I held for him. He did more than that - he exceeded them.
Articles Written by Joel
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