Saturday 29 June 2019, 19:38

Commentator Oatley comes full circle in France

  • Oatley is commentating for the Host Broadcast Services from Rennes

  • Was first female voice to commentate in English Premier League in 2007

  • Broadcaster says its brilliant there are so many more women commentating

In 2007, Jacqui Oatley made headlines in England when she became the first woman to commentate on a men’s Premier League match – but unfortunately few of those headlines were positive.

Having a woman commentate was new, it was different, and it wasn’t welcomed by a number of vocal armchair fans. It would have been easy for Oatley to have taken the criticism to heart and walked away from the game but, instead, she used it as an opportunity to prove the doubters wrong.

Twelve years on, and the Wolverhampton-born broadcaster has indeed silenced those critics by carving out a successful career in the UK as a football and darts presenter. Having covered the FIFA World Cup in Russia last year for UK television, she has been back in the role of commentator at France 2019, overseeing the seven matches in Rennes. That made Germany’s quarter-final against Sweden last night her final assignment.

“It’s been brilliant, it doesn’t feel like I have been away (from the commentary box),” she said. “I think having seven games in three weeks has helped because you get into a rhythm, although this has been quite different because I am commentating on my own with no summariser.

“But it’s been really enjoyable because I am a lot more involved with the football than when I’m presenting, and I absolutely love that.”

Life as a commentator is all about preparation, especially for those, like Oatley, who are broadcasting alone. Statistics and facts such as number of caps, goals in previous World Cups and even information like players’ jobs outside of football, are all things that the commentator equips herself with to keep the audience informed.

With the introduction of VAR this summer, Oatley has also reviewed the Laws of the Game from cover to cover to ensure she can explain to the watching audience why a decision may have been made by the referee, rather than simply offering her own opinion.

As she said: “I’ve tried to analyse the laws and allow people to make their own minds up.”

Having commentated and presented on both radio and television, Oatley admits she is more relaxed now than when she first started broadcasting and felt that she had “the weight of the world” on her shoulders. Part of that is down to the increasing number of female commentators in the game.

Jacqui Oatley commentates for the BBC

But what does an average day look like for Jacqui in France? “Well, the Host Broadcaster Service team will arrive about five hours before kick-off and I’ll go up to my commentary position, which has been the same throughout the competition,” she explained.

“I have my own documents that I produced before the tournament, which contain things like the law of the games, and I have a couple of clip boards with squad lists, as well as a commentary template that I fill in with shows stats and information on the two teams.

“We’ll then do sound checks, before I head into the media centre to speak to journalists from the respective countries to learn any more information. I find the human interest side really interesting, so any other nuggets I can get is really important.

“Then, after a couple of hours more preparation, before you know it, I have the producer in my ear saying we’re going on air.”

Of course, commentators have to be prepared for the unexpected at times, and for Oatley and her team, that came in the form of a lightening delay during the Sweden-Chile group match, when the players were taken off the field for safety precautions. With no summariser, it was left to her to fill some of the time.

“I quite enjoy it when the unexpected happens - that’s something I relish because it means you click into action,” she said.

“When that happened, we were not expecting it at all, so I just explained that with it being an electrical storm, that the referee had no choice but to take the players off and that they wouldn’t be back for a minimum of 30 minutes.

“After filling some of the time, I made it known that the audience would get a break from me and that we’d be back as soon as the players were.”

Oatley is not alone in France as being a female voice, with women coming from areas as far afield as Vanuatu and Fiji to add their commentary to this World Cup. Having faced so much backlash when she first took to the airwaves in 2007, this is something she is particularly proud of.

“It’s absolutely brilliant and I just love it,” she said.“It’s not just great that they are here, but it’s great that they are accepted and so great at what they do.

“They are established and are doing this every week back at home. It just fills my heart with happiness that this is the norm now in some countries. I really do think we’re heading in the right direction.”