Capital Gold Sportstime (Capital Gold, 1988-2002)
This is a radio show that I came across by chance one day, and I was grateful that I did, as it has a rather interesting story. In 1988, Capital launched a new spin-off station on Medium Wave called Capital Gold, which would play “golden oldies” that were essentially the biggest hits of the 60s (most of which were about 25 years old even then), and lots of famous figures were hired including Tony Blackburn and Kenny Everett to play all of these poptastic songs and bring back lots of memories. The ratings for this were very impressive, especially as this was a station at the more crackly end of the dial that couldn’t be heard in stereo or anything.
There was another element to the station though, which was the sport coverage. London is rather spoilt for high-profile football clubs, with five or six usually in the top-flight whatever season it is. Although I had watched a little TV coverage when I was younger (although as I have said before I never supported one particular club), I heard rarely listened to any radio coverage, apart from maybe a match or two on the recently relaunched BBC Radio 5 Live.
And then one day in 1994 when I was visiting some relatives, they had the radio on Capital Gold, which had coverage of the FA Cup Final between Chelsea and Manchester United. This was the first time that I remember listing to football coverage on this station, and I was rather struck by it, because it was much more rowdy than anything I’d ever heard on the BBC. I had no idea who the commentator was, but I definitely did notice their enthusiasm, so when the next season launched, I decided that I might have another listen.
I later discovered that Capital Gold Sportstime had been going since the 1988/89 season, usually on Saturday afternoons, and the presenter and commentator was Jonathan Pearce. It seems that he had already covered a few memorable moments, and as they were repeated so many times over the years I did eventually hear them. These included Arsenal winning the league for the first time in 18 years in 1989, and there was much delight that a London club had won in their first season on air, “The Tears Of Turin” when England were beaten on penalties at the World Cup in Italy in 1990, Arsenal’s cup double in 1993, and England famously going behind to a goal from hapless San Marino in less than ten seconds also in 1993.
By the mid-90s, Pearce was beginning to be increasingly well-known, and lent his voice to several football-related adverts, from cereals to computer games. Capital Gold was covering a huge amount of football around this time, and along with Premier League matches, also featuring were the FA Cup and League Cup, and even the Champions League, UEFA Cup, and Cup Winners’ Cup. There were also interviews, phone-ins, and competitions. And in all honesty, because I had no particular affiliation to any club, I took the chance to listen to as many matches as possible, because I never ceased to be surprised by how worked up he became about everything, and he always defended this by simply saying he was a fan with a microphone who was fond of the game.
To pick one match as an example that I remember, in 1997 there was an FA Cup match where Chelsea came from behind to score four goals and knock Liverpool out, which was rather exciting. His profile rose even further following his coverage of England matches when football came home (for a short while) at Euro ’96, and he even gained a newspaper column called “Radio Blah Blah” which only ran for about two weeks.
In 1997, when Channel 5 had an England World Cup qualifier as their first-ever live match, Pearce was hired to commentate, seemingly only because they thought he might start yelling if there was a goal, and indeed he obliged (and famously informed us that this was “the channel that brings you England goals!”). In 1998, Pearce had more TV work as the commentator on BBC2’s Robot Wars. And I remember when Chelsea won the Cup Winners’ Cup and were declared “knockout kings of Europe” (maybe a slight exaggeration there).
Later in 1998, there was much anticipation for his coverage of the World Cup in France. And indeed, hearing Michael Owen’s goal (he was only 18 at the time you know) against Argentina live was a remarkable moment. I also remember Euro 2000, a rare tournament where England didn’t get knocked out on penalties (because they didn’t even get past the group stage), and the big win against Germany in a World Cup qualifier in 2001.
By this point, there were rumours that Pearce might join the BBC, and I remember articles wondering if their listeners were ready for his style and if he would fit in. Pearce’s final match for Capital Gold was the 2002 FA Cup Final (won by Arsenal). After this, the football coverage was much reduced, before vanishing altogether about a year later. Of course, there were plenty of other enjoyable presenters and commentators at the station, but Pearce was the big name. Pearce remains a commentator on football for the BBC, mostly on TV now, to this day. Absolutely magnificent!