Earlier this week I had the pleasure of interviewing Serie A commentator Max Patrick. Max works Serie A games on the international feed which is heard every weekend on The Score, TLN and Fox Sports World here in Canada, as well as on FSC and FS+ in the United States. You may have recently heard him call Internazionale-Napoli yesterday on The Score.
Max was born in Sheffield, England in 1975. As you will learn, he strangely didn’t like Sheffield Wednesday or Sheffield United, but in fact enjoyed watching Aberdeen play. He is also a musician who plays drums and guitar (among other instruments) and has toured around the world.
Canadian Sports Fan: When you were young, did you grow up wanting to be a professional footballer or commentator, or did you not expect to go into the sports business at all?
Max Patrick: I’m still young, in my heart at least :) I remember being fascinated by the different teams first. The locations, the different kits and the different players. My friends at school in England were Man Utd, Liverpool, Sheffield Wednesday but I never really stuck with one team growing up. I used to collect the panini stickers and loved swopping them with my mates. I found that I had a real knack for remembering names/teams/facts about players from all the divisions in England and Scotland. At one point I remember being mad keen on Aberdeen. They had a certain Alex Ferguson in charge! I was keen on them after following them on the T.V. in their massive cup winners cup win over Real Madrid. My Mum wrote to the club and I remember getting some photos and autographs through the post.
I’d have liked to have played in that team. But, looking back, all of those hours spent enjoying football ‘stuff’ was ideal preparation for the work that I do now. I never entertained the idea of becoming a commentator…it’s more like when the offer came it was a completely natural thing to do.
CSF: How does someone from Sheffield, England end up in Milan covering Serie A games for an audience around the world?
MP: I was drawn to Italy. Irresistably. It’s hard to explain. I first came to Italy in 1997 with the England team. I was playing in the band down in Rome. It was the night of ‘The Great Escape’ with the Sheffield Wednesday band, of which I’d joined as a drummer (I actually play the drums to a professional level!) It was a remarkable experience. Other things happened in life and eventually I emigrated to Milan. After a couple of years of playing football, talking about football, performing music and so on, a friend of mine suggested I contact a guy called Richard Whittle about a football project. From that meeting, the football project has gone from strength to strength.
CSF: I understand that Serie A commentators are actually in the broadcast booth at the stadium as opposed to calling the game off monitor from a studio. I’ve noticed this works well because sometimes you or another commentator will notice an injury or card while the video feed is showing a replay. Other than this, what are other advantages to actually being at the stadium?
MP: We can do either; either from the stadium or from a studio. For me there is no comparison as the stadium provides a greater amount of colour in which to see and hear. When you’re at the stadium the whole thing; the journey in, the position that you commentate from, the noise etc all add to the occasion and the feeling and this is what I try to convey.
CSF: On the flip side, have you ever called games off monitor and what challenges does this present?
MP: Yes I’ve done this and the challenges are things like the line-ups. When you’re at the game you get a list of the I-XI and you can start to organsise yourself. When you’re in a studio, you don’t get that, so you have to use your ‘nous’ and prepare accordingly.
CSF: I’ve noticed that the Serie A uses co-commentators for some of the biggest games now. For example you and Paul Visca worked Inter-Napoli together on Thursday evening. What adjustments do you have to make when you go from calling a game by yourself to calling a game with someone else?
MP: Paul and I began at the same time 7 years ago. When we began we didn’t know to what extent the thing would take off. We both spent time ‘learning the ropes’. We kept coming into the studio for about 4 months to practice on past games. We’d see each other; knowing that maybe there was only work for one of us. We’d take CD’s home and listen to them to improve so, I guess, we sort of grew into the job together. Working with Paul is great; it’s like going to the game with your buddy y’know? When we do a duo ‘gig’ (that’s my music heritage!) we take it in turns to be commentator or analyst. For the game that you mentioned (Inter-Napoli) I was the commentator last night, but for the next game we do I’ll be the match analyst.
CSF: What is your favourite Italian stadium to call a game from? I have always thought that the stadiums of both teams who played Thursday evening (the San Siro in Milan and San Paolo in Naples) come across as two of the best atmospheres on TV.
MP: The San Siro. It always strikes me as a stadium of World importance everytime I walk to it. I also remember times when I’d go to watch Inter or Milan as a fan.
CSF: I’ve been dying to ask this question of someone more familiar with Serie A than myself. I notice that stadiums appear more empty than they are on TV because fans tend to sit in the upper levels instead of close to the pitch. Do you know why this is?
MP: Generally the ticket prices close to the pitch are vastly more expensive than the higher tiers. You could pay 130 euro for a first ring ticket compared with 15 euro for a third ring ticket.
CSF: With the Serie A season at the halfway point, what team has surprised you most so far? What team do you think has had the most disappointing season so far? Also, who do you think is the favourite to win the league?
MP: AC Milan must be favourites to win the league now. They are the Winter Champions, they have Ibra (who is a title talisman) and they have a strong squad. Fiorentina have been a massive disappointment this season and the surprise team for me would be Napoli. Despite last nights defeat, Cavani has been a revelation.
CSF: Internazionale recently competed in the Club World Cup. Some see this as a pointless tournament with a couple good teams, and a bunch of others that couldn’t even play in the second league in most European countries. Do you think this is a worthwhile competition or does it just interrupt the European champs season too much?
MP: In these times of wealth, it’s an inevitable luxury. I think it worked better though when it was simply your Champions League Winners versus their South American equivalent. Ok, the African team beat the Brazilian team this time, but the extra games do cause a disruption.
CSF: Sampdoria recently agreed to loan Federico Macheda from the team I support, Manchester United. Of course I’m excited to get to see him play more. Do you see him being able to replace Antonio Cassano for the remainder of the season?
MP: No, I don’t think he can replace the Cassano of last year because Cassano last season was a major player who helped to guide Samp to 4th spot. Cassano last season was a sublime player at his peak and Macheda is only 19 years old and still learning. He’s in Italy for 6 months and he’s very much looking at returning to United having learned a lot in order to force himself into Alex Ferguson’s best 11. Macheda will, no doubt, provide a lot of energy and desire for Sampdoria but I don’t see him becoming the ‘new Cassano’. I’ll see him in action on Sunday!
CSF: What game will you be calling on Sunday? Will you be working by yourself or with a co-commentator?
MP: Ah! I’m on my lonesome for two games on Sunday. They are (drumroll)
12:30 Sampdoria Vs AS Roma (6:30am ET on Fox Sports World here)
15:00 Lazio Vs Lecce (tape delayed at 11:00am ET on The Score here)
I would like to thank Max for his time, it is greatly appreciated. If you are a Serie A fan, then you should follow Max on Twitter. He is a great commentator and will take the time to interact with those who listen to him and have any comments or questions.
Interviews with various people who work in the sports media business are something that I want to make a regular feature in 2011. If you have any ideas of who you would like to see a Canadian Sports Fan blog interview with in 2011, then just let me know and I’ll try to work something out.