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The 'voice of rugby' Ray French aims to go out on a World Cup high
AFTER a career which has seen him commentate on more than 1,000 televised rugby league matches, this year’s World Cup will mark the swansong of one of broadcasting’s true characters.
Ray French will sign off from BBC TV at the semi-final at Wembley after more than 32 years, including 18 months alongside the inimitable Eddie Waring.
The 73-year-old from Windle said: “I feel a quiet satisfaction about the whole thing because this is my decision in conjunction with the Beeb.
“I’m doing only half a dozen games a year since Dave Woods took over in 2008, and he’s doing a good job. Now it’s time to move on.
“If you are doing just six matches a year it’s difficult to get a roll on with work.
“There are a lot of demands on you on TV, and I don’t think you can come up to scratch if you are doing this number of games.
“The time is right for the BBC to move on. I wanted to bow out at the World Cup.
“I have played in them and remember watching my aunty’s nine-inch TV in Pocket Nook in 1954.
“So I will be commenting on the Wales versus Italy game [this Saturday] and then the semi-final.”
Ray, a dual code rugby international, admitted his final game on screen will be tinged with sadness.
He said: “I started in 1979 with Eddie Waring before taking over in 1981.
“It was very difficult at the time. Eddie was such a famous person.
“For eight or nine years I was known as the bloke who took over from Eddie Waring until I was able to establish myself.
“Cliff Morgan, who was head of sport at the time and a lovely man, said we don’t want another Eddie Waring, we want you to be Ray French.
“For quite a while I didn’t listen to any other rugby league commentator because you can pick up mannerisms.
“But you need to have a broad back and good sense of humour.
“Cliff once said 50 per cent of people will love you and 50 per cent will hate you and that’s before they turn the TV on.
“Through this job I have been all over the world, covering World Cups and massive games and here the Challenge Cups, 27 in total.”
He joked: “I’m quite pleased I beat Eddie, because he did 24.”
Ray recounted one early event during his first Challenge Cup final commentary between Widnes and Hull.
He said: “It was the 81/82 season and the day British troops landed at Goose Green in the Falkland Islands.
“I could hear the producer in my right ear say, Ray you have to hand over to Jan Leeming in five minutes.
“I thought to myself this is a historic occasion and could be shown in 200 years’ time. I couldn’t concentrate on the game.”
During his commentating career Ray said the player who stands out is Martin Offiah.
He said:“I had great admiration for him, in particular the try he scored at Wembley when he ran 95 metres for Wigan against Leeds.
“Also Jonathan Davies who has worked with me a lot.
“I once did a commentary when he scored two tries against Halifax in really bad weather and it was the only time I have likened anyone to Tom Van Vollenhoven.
“Plus there are the great ones at Saints, Chris Joynt, Sean Long and Paul Sculthorpe.”
Ray, who was a teacher at Cowley for 32 years, will not be severing his ties with either code of rugby.
Honorary president of Liverpool St Helens, his love of the sport remains undimmed.
He added: “I’ll never step away. I will still be on the radio and doing one or two articles but I will be around the game. It’s part and parcel of my life.”
As for predictions for the World Cup, he said Fiji boast a team of top class players, but it is difficult to look beyond Australia.
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