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Kings of Anglia Issue 8 Magazine Offer

Being Brenner! How the boy from Berwick-upon-Tweed became the voice of Ipswich Town on Radio Suffolk

28 February, 2018 - 12:00
BBC Radio Suffolk football commentator Brenner Woolley pictured before the Ipswich Town v Bolton Wanderers (Sky Bet Championship) match.    PICTURE: STEVE WALLER    WWW.STEPHENWALLER.COM

BBC Radio Suffolk football commentator Brenner Woolley pictured before the Ipswich Town v Bolton Wanderers (Sky Bet Championship) match. PICTURE: STEVE WALLER WWW.STEPHENWALLER.COM

© Copyright Stephen Waller

Stuart Watson, EADT chief football writer, caught up with BRENNER WOOLLEY, to speak to him about his journey to the microphone at Portman Road in a feature first produced in Kings of Anglia

Former Ipswich Town boss Roy Keane, left, and Brenner Woolley in conversation.Former Ipswich Town boss Roy Keane, left, and Brenner Woolley in conversation.

Paris, popstars, criminal psychology and 9/11 all feature in Brenner Woolley’s far from linear journey to the Portman Road commentary box.

It’s a fantastic tale about following your dreams and pushing comfort zones, but one he needed convincing to tell. Primarily, because he is not one for the limelight, but also because he is used to being the one asking the questions.

And in the early days he had to ask questions of himself...

Berwick-upon-Tweed. You literally can’t get any further north in England; five miles from the Scottish border; equidistant between Edinburgh and Newcastle. That’s where Brenner was born and raised. It was where the ‘enthusiastic left-back’ developed his love of all sports.

It didn’t dawn on him to pursue that career path though. Instead, he headed off to Liverpool University to study French and Psychology. French ‘because I was good at it’ and psychology because he was interested in the criminal element (still is and recently did a course at Suffolk New College on the subject).

A year teaching English in a less than salubrious area of Paris – ‘I slept on sofas and the classes had nine or 10 different nationalities’ – led to the decision to study for a post-graduate degree in journalism at Cosham, just outside Portsmouth.

“I started off freelancing for Radio City back in Liverpool, but I had to get another job subsidising that,” he explains. “I sold mobile telephones for a day, but handed in my notice on day two. Then I got a job selling tickets in a cinema, they kept promoting me and I ended up manager.

Bersant Celina celebrates scoring against Sunderland as Town win 5-2 at Portman Road earlier this season.Bersant Celina celebrates scoring against Sunderland as Town win 5-2 at Portman Road earlier this season.

“My girlfriend at the time had gone into radio and so I had to give myself a kick up the backside. I took a pay hit to take a job at a little station on the Wirral called ‘The Buzz’. I was part of a two-person team that did all the news and sport and those 18 months were such a great grounding.

“Then I went to Hallam FM in Sheffield, again another commercial job, and we did all sorts of silly stuff there. It was really good fun and never felt like work. I had to get people like Steps, Westlife and S Club 7 to record daft jingles. I’d always wanted to work for the BBC though.”

And so, in 2001, Brenner arrives in Ipswich as a broadcast journalist at BBC Radio Suffolk, initially doing bulletins and producing shows.

“Not that long after I started a commentary course came up in Bristol – I remember the date because it was on 9/11 in 2001,” he recalls.

“My boss at the time said ‘Brenner should go on that’, but I just didn’t want to do it. I’d had no thoughts of commentary whatsoever and it scared the life out of me.

“But I went to this course, we spent most of the day gathered around the TV watching those dreadful world events unfold, then a few weeks later they decided it was time for me to try out my new skill!

“There was an international break and AFC Sudbury were at home in the Vase. I remember almost crashing my car on the way there because I was so scared. I hadn’t had a minute’s sleep. I did the game though, it went alright, and, without sounding cheesy, it was like having an epiphany. I was like ‘I want more of this’.

BBC Radio Suffolk football commentator Brenner Woolley (left) with former player and summariser Mick Mills.    Photo: STEVE WALLER    WWW.STEPHENWALLER.COMBBC Radio Suffolk football commentator Brenner Woolley (left) with former player and summariser Mick Mills. Photo: STEVE WALLER WWW.STEPHENWALLER.COM

“I did a handful more non-league games, then poor Bryan Knights, who by this stage had taken over from Terry Baxter to do the Ipswich commentary, fell ill at the start of January 2003.

“Ipswich’s next game was at Bradford and it was like ‘you’ve done your course and done it before, get yourself up to Valley Parade’.

“Again, it was so scary. For the Sudbury game I could tell myself ‘no-one is listening’, but this was Ipswich Town. I remember it snowed that day and I couldn’t eat anything. I knew how popular Terry and Bryan had been and I was the new kid on the block. And I didn’t want anyone to think I was shafting Bryan in any way, which wasn’t the case at all.

“My first-ever Portman Road commentary was, incredibly, the game which Joe Royle says was his favourite game in charge of Ipswich Town – that 3-2 win against Sheffield United. Town were 2-0 down, (Pablo) Counago was sent off, then the two Darrens – Bent and Ambrose – ran riot.”

It’s at this point we should address the elephant in the room. Relegated the year after he rocked up in Suffolk, Town have been stuck in the second-tier ever since.

“There’s a lad in the office who is convinced I’m the curse,” he laughs. “I think he’s got a placard that says ‘Woolley Out’. I guess in 2018 it should be a hashtag. Ipswich would probably get promoted the very next year if I ever left!”

Mick McCarthy, the current Town boss, speaking to Brenner Woolley and the rest of the media at a press day.Mick McCarthy, the current Town boss, speaking to Brenner Woolley and the rest of the media at a press day.

ORDER THE NEW EDITION OF KINGS OF ANGLIA HERE

Or why not some previous editions

Highways chiefs are monitoring gusts and wind speeds as Storm Ali makes its way to Suffolk.

A man who was racially abusive to a Suffolk bus driver after he was asked to stop drinking alcohol from a bottle has been jailed for 70 weeks.

A tree brought down in today’s high winds is has blocked part of the B1067 near Bramford.

A prisoner has absconded while on leave from an Ipswich medical facility.

Ipswich is finally getting a brand new buffet restaurant in the town centre after two years of planning and development.

Broadcaster, author, explorer and geographer Nicholas Crane will be speaking on the challenges facing Suffolk’s coastline at a conference in the county next month.

A fallen tree is blocking the railway tracks at Needham Market causing severe disruption to passengers.

A traditional pub in Suffolk has become the first in Britain to go cashless, its landlord has said.

We have been all over Ipswich visiting primary schools to take pictures of your children in their new classes - find out when you can pick up your copy.

The site of a former fertiliser factory in Ipswich which has stood derelict for 30 years is set to be developed for homes – despite concerns over contaminated land, noise and lack of affordable homes.

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