“It’s inconceivably painful to know that we’ll never again share a press box with him, or more importantly, an after match pint”
By DAVE WOODS
David Oates was funny, loveably grumpy, stoicly Northern, a loyal friend and without the hint of an ego.
But it’s as a family man and Blackpool fan that he would probably rather you remember him.
Oatesy, the former BBC Radio football and rugby league commentator, died, aged 50, after a short illness in early February. The outpouring of tributes since would have left him gob-smacked, but are a measure of how he was equally respected and well-loved.
It’s inconceivably painful to know that we’ll never again share a press box with him, or more importantly, an after match pint. And there’ll be no more trips or tours, or late night laughs and chuckles.
Which makes the memories of so many funny moments and shared experiences even more special.
He was my best mate, but there’s no exclusivity in that. So many would have put him in that ‘best mate’ category.
Professionally, he was excellent. He was almost exclusive as a broadcaster, in that as dedicated as he was to the job he did, and he was dedicated; as thorough his research was for every event he covered, and it was thorough; and as outstanding his commentaries and reports might have been, and they often were outstanding, it was never about him.
In all the years I knew him, all the games I’ve sat alongside him, however good he might have been, he never once came off air fishing for compliments.
He knew himself whether he done well or not, he didn’t need anyone else to tell him. All he was concerned about when the job was done was whether we still had time to get to the pub.
Yet he would never hesitate to compliment a colleague if he thought they’d done a good job. It was typical to receive a text from him with a “well done” message.
His love of football began when he was at school; he had a passion for his hometown club Blackpool that, if anything, got stronger and stronger with every passing year. He never saw orange, only tangerine.
He would never let a conversation end without reference to the daily events at Bloomfield Road.
His professional career began when he studied journalism at Falmouth. The decision to go there was in itself a reflection of the man we knew and loved. Having finished his initial studies in Manchester he decided that he was enjoying the social side of being a student so much, he wouldn’t mind another year of it, so off to Falmouth he went and a career in broadcasting was born.
He then became a BBC trainee, which involved moving from station to station as far apart as Cornwall and Humberside before getting a full time job at BBC Radio Manchester, becoming the dedicated Manchester United commentator.
His appointment coincided with the early ‘Fergie’ years, and David developed an enduring relationship with the manager, to the extent that, 20 years later, Sir Alex filmed a tribute that was played at Oatesy’s funeral.
One of my favourite Oatesy/Fergie stories came just after Sir Alex decided he wasn’t going to speak to the BBC anymore.
Oatesy had been sent by 5 Live to cover a game at Old Trafford and stuck his mic under the manager’s nose at the end of the game. With his famous Glaswegian gruffness, Fergy barked: “No. I’m not speaking to you.” Then, when he realized it was Oatesy holding the mic, added, in a more gentle manner: “ Sorry David, it’s nothing personal. I just don’t like some of the people you work with.”
“Don’t worry,” said Oatesy, “ There’s one or two I’m not keen on either.”
After several years in Manchester, David moved full time to BBC Radio Sport at Broadcasting House in London.
It was there that he met his future wife, BBC Radio’s football producer Charlotte Nicol. The sparks first flew on May 1st 1997, at a party to watch the General Election results come in. And as Labour swept back into power, Lotty and Oatesy were in the early stages of sweeping each other off their feet. He was certainly smitten that night.
Having spent many a quiet moment with him, in many a far off place over the years, I know how lucky he felt to have Lotty in his life. And how proud he was of, and how much he loved, his two girls, Imogen and Kate.
Job and friends were important to him, but family was unfailingly first.
We have lots of reasons be proud of his career. So many great commentaries in football and rugby league and, of course, latterly, his commentary on Peter Wilson’s gold medal performance in the shooting at the Olympics.
He was really chuffed to have done that, and be involved in the Paralympic coverage as well. But again, you had to be close to him to know that because there was no trumpet blowing by Oatesy.
Late last year he’d been made redundant by the BBC as part of the cost cutting measures at the corporation, but was more recently enjoying a return to the 5 Live airwaves as a freelancer. He had also begun building up a healthy portfolio of work with other broadcasters.
His final professional engagement was covering the QPR v MK Dons FA Cup tie; the last football match he attended was Brentford v Chelsea a day later.
Being at that game sums him up. He was there with all his loving family, Charlotte and his girls Immy and Kate. And he loved knowing that his girls were growing up developing a loyalty for their local Brentford club.