Jim Rosenthal has spent 32 years presenting and commentating for ITV. That’s eight football world cups and three for rugby. It’s also 150 F1 races and several world title boxing fights.
He’s got no plans to stop either, recently signing up as part of the pundit team for Amazon Prime’s Premier League line-up. So, what advice would the two-times RTS Sports Presenter of the Year give to budding sports journos?
With more than half a century’s worth of experience in the industry, veteran sports presenter Jim Rosenthal spoke to Journo Resources about local football, poor poker skills, and why sports journalism can never clock off on a Friday…
How I spent my days as a trainee on the Oxford Mail…
That’s going back a very long way. We’re talking the late sixties here. The day had to start quite early at the Oxford Mail – very often I’d done a sporting event the night before and the copy had to be in for about 7:30am–8:00am.
So I would wake up at 6am, bash out the copy, and drop it off at the offices. Then I’d head to the local covered market for what would have been seen as a very unhealthy breakfast.
My typical day now looks like…
Now, there’s no stock day. A few days ago, I had to go to Riga, Latvia, to do the World Boxing Super Series semi-finals. My day started at 5 o’clock when I got up and had to drive to Gatwick These days, I’m a freelancer, so I go where the work takes me.
I am enjoying my life hugely, choosing and picking the events I do. Just to give you an indication, last season I did twenty games for MUTV, Manchester United’s TV station and five days of Crufts, and now I’m doing some boxing and corporate work.
If you’re trying to nail me down on a rigid daily routine, it just doesn’t exist. Unlike other people, I don’t have to clock in and out at a specific time. That’s the freedom I really enjoy.
When I was young, I always thought I’d be…
I was very fortunate because I did know, from my early teens, that I wanted to go into journalism. I wrote a report for the school tennis match at Wimbledon when I was about 13 or 14.
I came from an academic background. My dad was an antiquarian bookseller and a very erudite man and my mother was highly educated as well, and I very much chose my own path – I was the black sheep of the family.
I knew I just wanted to see how far I could go. I started off on £13 a week on the Oxford Mail, and took it from there to local radio, to national radio and into national television.
Interested in knowing more about sports journalism? We’ve previously spoken to ITV’s Pit Lane Reporter Louise Goodman about breaking into the industry, as well as Chloe Pizzey from Charlton Athletic Community Trust.
I got the job…
After a million applications, if I’m honest, and knocking on the door. We had a little Sunday morning football team called Wolvercote Wanderers, and we played in the National Association of Boys Clubs’ Under-19 League. I would always do a very short report after our games and it always used to get in the paper.
When I went to work, I could see why. In those days it was a letter press, so you would get all these columns and there would be a gap at the bottom. If you had a little story that you could put in that gap, they were like gold dust. My two paragraphs about how the Wolvercote Wanderers fared on a Sunday morning always got in.
So I peppered them with these, and I kept saying, is there a job, is there a job, is there a job? No, no, no, no, no – and then finally, they opened it up and I joined their training scheme. They paid me nothing for four years, but they did train me very well.
The thing I’m proudest of…
I’m proud that through the work I’ve done, I never lost sight of the fact that the event I’m cover is always more important than me. I think some people forget that the audience aren’t actually tuning in to watch them – they’re tuning in to watch the event.
The path that I took went in four-year chunks, from local paper to local radio in Birmingham. That was one of the most harrowing times – covering the Birmingham pub bombings for hours and hours that night.
Then going down to London, I did four years on national radio, and then a big 32-year chunk at ITV.
I am proud of the Formula One coverage we did there. I came to it at about five weeks’ notice, from absolutely nothing. People were saying that we would crash and burn, and the whole F1 would collapse because it went to ITV – that didn’t happen. In the end, our coverage was accepted as very decent.
I have had so much fun with the MUTV stuff as well – they haven’t been great years for Manchester United but I’ve loved doing that.
A standout event was the rugby World Cup win in 2003, when 83 per cent of the available television audience watched England beat Australia on a Saturday morning. It was hard because you just wanted to celebrate as a fan afterwards, but you had to keep the show on the road. There was mayhem around me.
Looking back, I could have been more excited, but I’m a believer in doing things the best way you can and celebrating afterwards.
Since leaving ITV, I’ve enjoyed working in Dubai – I did two rugby World Cups there for a company called OSN, along with some cricket.
The thing that excites me about my job…
I’ve been doing it long enough that I don’t get surprised by too much. There’s a seven in front of my age now, so I’m entitled to not get as excited about stuff as I used to.
But I always said that the day I get in my car and don’t feel the buzz is the day I stop doing what I do. I’m very fortunate that that excitement remains there.
I’m also very aware of the privilege of doing it, which you tend to take for granted when you’re younger. You are amazingly privileged to have the best seat in the house, to be able to bring the great events to the country and to get a few shillings for it. It is a privilege to have done what I have done for so many years.
If I was starting again, I would do this differently…
I’m a great believer in never looking back and or having regrets. That said, I’ve had one or two fall outs with bosses that I could have handled a bit differently. I have had one or two bosses who I told exactly what I thought of them, and as a long-term career move that might have not been the best thing. I probably wouldn’t be a great poker player because if I’m unhappy, my face shows it
But I have always thought that you need to have an input in what you’re doing. If people don’t agree with it, it’s their final call, but I would always have an input. But I don’t toss and turn at night and wonder what I could have done differently – that’s not in my nature.
At the moment, my greatest pleasure is watching my son Tom’s career – he’s a very bright boy and he’s got two big TV series running: Plebs and Friday Night Dinner. He’s a stand-up comedian as well, taking a show to Edinburgh. Seeing him do what he has done without any help from me whatsoever is incredible.
I’m lucky that my hobbies and work all blur into one – if I’m not working, I will watch a game of football. I would love to be able to say that I collect rare birds or antique whatevers, but it’s all one big happy world for me.
If you want to do a nine to five, this isn’t the business for you anyway. Weekends? I’ve forgotten about them. When they say what are you doing this weekend, I say, I don’t know what you mean.
The concept of stopping work on a Friday at 5pm does not exist. If you don’t like that, don’t go into sports journalism because it would be a waste of time. My whole world is sport, and I’m not fanatical about, it but I love watching sport whether I’m getting paid for it or not.