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Farewell to Gerald Sinstadt – a consummate professional who set the benchmark for commentators

Farewell to Gerald Sinstadt – consummate professional who set the benchmark for commentators – ITV/SHUTTERSTOCK

Gerald Sinstadt, who has died aged 91, was a doyen of the great age of television commentary. Covering some of the grandest – and darkest – days of sporting action, he was never less than clean, clear and coherent.

“He never wasted a word,” said Martin Tyler, the Sky commentator who worked with him at ITV. “There used to be an expression about television commentary: talk little but say a lot. And Gerald was the master of that.”

No more so than when he commentated for ITV’s Big Match on West Bromwich Albion’s 5-3 victory over Manchester United at Old Trafford in December 1978. This was in the days when black players were routinely subject to racial abuse. And the United crowd were in full spewing throttle as the Albion team, led by Cyrille Regis, Laurie Cunningham and Brendon Batson, produced a masterclass of attacking football.

At the time, and for several years afterwards, commentators preferred to ignore the filth cascading from the terraces. But when Cunningham received the ball and was loudly verbally assaulted, Sinstadt was not about to remain silent.

His anger is evident to this day on the commentary. “The booing of the black players…” he begins, clearly about to lambast the racist bile, only for Cunningham to find a colleague with a perfect, defence-splitting pass. As the goal is scored, Sinstadt does not miss a beat, “…is repaid there by Tony Brown.”

Born in Folkestone, Sinstadt began his commentary career working alongside a certain 2nd Lt Barry Davies in the British Forces Broadcasting Service. When he was demobbed, Davies helped him land a job with BBC Radio.

From there he went to Anglia TV, and in 1966 made his television debut, commentating on a game between Grimsby Town and Leyton Orient. He headed north to Granada in 1969 and found himself reporting from the very epicentre of the English game. Granada, too, was an innovative broadcaster, and he started a pioneering weekly football magazine show called Kick Off.

Fronting in the studio or up in the commentary box, he was always in control. “He was a man of great calmness and economy,” said Tyler. “If he was told he had 30 seconds for his report, he would deliver 29.9 seconds that perfectly summed things up.”

Indeed, he came up with many a memorable line, not least his “and Denis has done it” when Denis Law back-heeled a goal for City in the 1974 Manchester derby, thus helping to condemn his former side United to relegation.

Tyler recalls Sinstadt was a master craftsman too, always able to think on his feet. “At the 1978 World Cup he was doing the game between Hungary and Argentina from the most awful of commentary positions at the River Plate Stadium,” he said.

“From up there you really couldn’t work out the numbers on the players’ shirts. Yet somehow, when Hungary scored, he correctly identified who had put the ball in the net.

“He told me afterwards, he’d done it by lip-reading from the monitor one of the Hungary coaches. Apparently the chap had shouted out the scorer’s name. That’s what you call improvisation.”

Sinstadt left Granada in 1981, initially to pursue work voicing videos of operas. “He was a very sophisticated man,” Tyler said. “We commentators generally don’t have much of a cultural side, but he had a proper hinterland.”

The lure of sport, however, was too much. And he returned to commentary with the BBC. Not just of football, but of the Olympic Games – he voiced the first four of Steve Redgrave’s gold medals – and he always enjoyed, too, the annual Boat Race. Though it was not always good news he delivered.

He was the BBC’s pitchside reporter at the 1989 FA Cup semi-final at Hillsborough, where his calmness in the face of unfolding horror enabled him to deliver the most exemplary of reporting. Colleagues at the BBC were in awe of his ability to write the most perfect of summaries.

He became known, in his latter days, as the king of the round-up: nobody could master the tricky task of summarising, say, 10 FA Cup ties in two minutes, with his skill and application. He was also a telling obituarist, able in a few moments of television to deliver the salient points of a career.

He kept working well into his senior years, even when he found driving exhausting he would get to games by public transport.

Always cheerful, always with a friendly word, he was a hugely admired presence in the media lounge. And whatever he did, he did it with elegance and sparkle. That was Gerald Sinstadt: the consummate professional.

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