In my lifetime, I’ve been blessed that BBC Radio Nottingham’s coverage of Forest has been pretty much exceptional for the past 30 years or so. Andrew James and Martin Fisher were the voices synonymous with Forests success in the early 90’s and left big boots to fill. Unfortunately, Forest haven’t returned to the Premier League since Chippers arrival in 1999 but you can only play the cards you’ve been dealt! To Chippers credit, he’s been an integral part of the teams continued outstanding coverage. The bar has been certainly been raised for his successor.
It was an absolute pleasure to catch up with Chippers before he leaves the BCC Radio Nottingham studios for the final time on Friday.
Southend have always been Chippers’ team, being his local club and the one he followed despite his Dad and Granddad supporting Arsenal. He first started going along to Roots Hall in the late 70’s/early 80’s era when they were languishing in the bottom of the old Division 4. Not quite a diehard supporter, he would still often go and see The Shrimpers maybe 7/8 times a season but his description of the football on offer was hardly complimentary.
Stan Collymore, with 18 goals in 33 appearances, is Chippers’ favourite Southend player of all time. ‘Watching him on the terraces, Collymore almost single handedly kept Southend up that season and would get goals out of nowhere in games’. Chippers recalled desperately watching transfer window activity on CEEFAX back in the early 90’s- ironically hoping that his move to Forest wouldn’t go through. Steve Tilson was another favourite; ‘voted Southend’s greatest ever player. He always gave 100% (Chris Cohen type) and later went onto to become caretaker manager before being promoted to the top job. Tilson took Southend from the bottom league 2 and won successive promotions back to the Championship’. Graham Gooch, the Essex and England cricketer was another sporting hero. Chippers had fond memories of watching Gooch when Essex would play at Southend as part of the yearly festival.
A break into the media came through an ad in the local paper at local Hospital Radio that was pointed out to him by family. Following a stint on there, Chippers got wind of an opportunity at BBC Radio Essex (with Mark Pougatch Sports Editor at the time). Chippers first game covering Southend United was on Boxing Day, 1995 in a 4-2 win over Charlton, with Peter Taylor taking charge of Southend after Barry Fry had left for Birmingham City. From April 1996, Chippers was commentating each week and a permanent fixture on the team covering both Southend and Colchester. A sliding doors moment occurred during that summer as there was a concrete option of a 4 year International Relations degree in place for Chippers to move onto (with him sourcing accommodation at the time). A huge dilemma presented itself as he got a greater foot in the door at BBC Radio Essex, leaving him with a difficult decision to make. ‘4 years at University or pursuing a dream in Sports Radio broadcasting?’ Chippers went with the dream and within 3 years, he’d obtained a full time role at the station.
THE ROAD TO NOTTINGHAM
Having fulfilled the dream; the perils of reporting on your local club began to take their toll. Chippers recalled knowing ‘too much about the goings on at the club (Southend)’ and as a fan too; that was difficult to manage. Southend had gone from top end of The Championship to bottom of League 2 in successive seasons and with the ‘crap’ in the background, it was becoming increasingly difficult. Not seeing eye to eye with the Station Editor (‘who didn’t understand the importance of sport’); the time had come to find pastures new, hoping for a move to a City where sport was fully understood. Seemingly, the difficult experience at Southend would actually stand Chippers in good stead for what was about to come over the next 20 years…
Working for the BBC during their coverage of the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur, Chippers had met with Andrew James (Radio Nottingham) as part of the local BBC commentating teams. They kept in touch over the years and Chippers was alerted to a role coming up at the BBC Radio Nottingham Sports Team. By his own admission, he ‘knew little of Nottingham at the time’. Both of his previous visits to the City were not the happiest of times either as a Southend fan. A 2-0 defeat to Forest at the City Ground in 1993 was followed up by a heart breaking penalty shootout defeat to Notts County in the Anglo-Italian English Final at Meadow Lane. Victory would have seen Southend go onto Wembley if they’d been successful and some achievement for The Shrimpers. Alas, it wasn’t to be and Nottingham was hardly a happy hunting ground for a younger Chippers.
Opportunity of interview had come up at Radio Nottingham in the June of 1999. Staying at a hotel on Radcliffe Road the night before, he recalled ‘psyching himself up beforehand by walking around the Trent Bridge area to take in the sites of Notts County Cricket, Meadow Lane and The City Ground’. As he got down to the gates of the club car park, he was struck immediately by a huge billboard of Martin Fisher and Colin Fray; advertising the local radio team on the back of the stand. ‘This is huge; what am I coming to? This really matters here’ were initial thoughts. It was exactly what hes was looking for in terms of searching for a city where sport was important.
Following a successful interview, Chippers joined the team in the summer of 1999, effectively replacing Martin Fisher (Fish) who was leaving for television work. Fisher’s departure was tinged with a little disappointment; a lost opportunity for the potentially named ‘Fish and Chips’ sports presentation team on a Saturday afternoon.
FOREST – THE BEGINNING
Although there’s always been a story at Forest, from the very outset it, the magnitude of expectation on Trent side was not lost on Chippers. ‘It was a different world’ from what he had been used. His first encounter with the newly appointed Forest manager David Platt was at a restaurant for a meet the manager lunch. Having previously been ‘used to a maximum of two local journalists speaking with a Southend manager, it was a different world to witnessing Platt holding court to both local and national press. There was certainly never any lunch provided at Southend.’
‘Forest had spent a lot of money that summer; Ricky Scimeca (£2.5m was a still considered a lot of money at the time) and with England golden boy David Platt at the helm, it was thought that Forest will do what they always do – they’ll come back down and will go back up.’
Chippers first game covering Forest was at Portman Road, Ipswich on the opening day of the 1999/2000 campaign. ‘Forest had brought a lot of fans for the season opener (a lot for a Southend fan anyways), the expectation was huge leading up to it and unfortunately, Forest got battered. It wasn’t expected and wasn’t in the script.’ Welcome to Nottingham Forest.
Despite his doubts (as things rarely improved under Platt going into the New Year) Chippers was assured ‘its ok – Frank Clark had this’. Sadly for Forest, things didn’t get any better. From an inside perspective, Chippers found Platt to be almost above the local press interviews and wasn’t quite getting that you had to ‘muck in’ when living life in The Championship. ‘What Forest needed at the time was a Dave Basset type’ (who had ironically been sacked the season before).