For The Glory Of The City
Join Date: Sep 2002
Location: Kansas City
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Lengthy interview with Cal one of the play by play guys. Mostly fluff but some interesting tidbits from his perspective as an outside who has become a part of the organization.
We announced over eight months ago that Callum Williams would be joining the Sporting Kansas City broadcast team. After an outstanding first season on the call for Sporting KC, we spoke to Cal to get his thoughts on year one in the United States.
Let's start at the beginning, maybe even before you arrived. What were your impressions of MLS in terms of quality, initially? You don't need to compare it to any other league or anything but how did those impressions juxtapose to what you actually saw when you got here and experienced the game live for yourself?
I think to be honest in terms of the standard of the league, it was fairly similar to what I thought it was going to be. I'd watched a little bit of MLS before I came here, obviously. People have asked me before about when I took an interest in MLS, and like most people it was when David Beckham came over. That was a huge, worldwide, phenomenal story, and everyone in the world took interest in MLS, if only for that year, but MLS was still very much a part of national and international interest after that. I always was aware that it was a good standard, although I'm still pretty sure a lot of people don't understand that which is frustrating and annoying.
To be honest, I always said it was on par with the Championship, but having watched it now for the season, I would defiitely say it's at the higher end of the Championship and I think it would be really interesting if you got somebody like an LA Galaxy, to play a Wolves or a Blackburn or someone like that. I think they'd give them a really good game, and they might even beat them.
You've commented about how you're always involved in some sort of chase, whether it's a relegation scrap, or a fight for promotion and obviously this year's playoff run. I suppose that's good luck from a broadcasting point of view, can you comment on the amount of drama you've been around in such a short time?
Oh, it's been crazy (laughs). It's been mental. My previous playoff chasing exploits were a lot of fun. They really, really were. My very first season with the BBC, the team I was covering extensively, Chesterfield, just missed out on the playoffs but they were very much involved and at one stage were looking to win the league and everything. Previous to that, the two teams I covered when I was in local radio, Shrewsbury Town and AFC Telford, they were both got to their respective playoff finals, and covering a game at Wembley was fantastic.
But I knew obviously this is very different to the Football League setup, this is Major League Soccer, this is completely different. And it was different, covering it was different. Actually it was funny, I remember, I think it was after the Real Salt Lake game, or a game around that time. I remember saying "Sporting KC move themselves closer to the promotion...I mean playoffs."
Arlo White did that as well, I believe...
And Arlo White did that as well, yeah! And we actually shared an email about it which was quite funny. But yeah, just one of those things. Obviously MLS hasn't got promotion, doesn't need it. It was just different, but it was a lot of fun, a real lot of fun.
Like any foreign signing, there's always an adjustment period when you arrive in a new country. Personally, what sort of things stick out to you that you'll always remember about moving to the States?
The first two weeks, I must be honest, I got knocked on my backside because of the time change, it really did knock me about. I was actually quite surprised, and I'll be totally honest mate, the first game against Chivas USA, I had no idea where I was, I was just so tired it was ridiculous. I come from the UK time zone, come to the central time zone. I'm really feeling that, so what do we do to cure it? Head to another time zone in LA! That was really, really difficult.
I didn't know what to expect when I came here. There was a lot of people telling me before I arrived that there was nothing here and I thought, 'Well let's go and see it first.' Obviously I came into this with a blindfold on, if you like, but as soon as I saw Main Street with the lights glowing I kinda thought 'Well, I thought they said there was nothing here?"
Kansas City's been fantastic, I love it here, I really do.
What about in the workplace, which in your case is in the commentary booth. A lot was made about you having multiple broadcast partners, is there anything else that sticks out? I would imagine that you worked with plenty of producers and directors that maybe don't know the game as well as what you're used to back home...
In terms of directors and producers, I've been very lucky this year because Chris Wyche, who knows the game very well, he's the director for the away broadcasts. But the home guys, Brad and Rudy, are absolutely excellent, they're fantastic. I think they would both admit that they're learning the game, they're learning the sport, and I haven't got a problem with that. I think that kind of puts me and [Color analyst Jake Yadrich], I don't want to say in charge of the whole broadcast, but it allows us to make shots. If there's an opportunity, Jake will call down and say 'Hey guys, let's keep that for the halftime' or something like that, it allows us that freedom to control the whole show a bit more, which is good, we both enjoy that.
In terms of working with the other announcers, it was a difficult time for us because Sash, quite rightly, wanted to spend time with his family. I haven't got kids, but I can only imagine what he was going through. But I think we dealt with it fairly well, I think we did what we could, some of the guys were better than others, and it certainly kept me on my toes.
Let's go there now, must have been crazy...
It helped me develop myself as an announcer. It certainly helped me learn the League a lot more because different people were giving me different thoughts, and they were obviously from each city so the guy in Seattle knew more about the Sounders, the guy in New York knew more about the Red Bulls, so I got a lot of inside knowledge. To be honest, I think it really, really helped me establish myself as the voice, because there was a different person alongside me every week. We travel with so many bodies and you forget that all the people see at home is what's in front of the camera, and that's me and the person alongside me, so as I said I think it helped develop my voice.
You brought up Jake, and that was my next question. I think it as the match away to Philadelphia when he first joined you. For those that might not understand, try to explain how much easier it is working with a permanent partner.
I think people should never underestimate how important it is to work with someone on a regular basis, even though I did enjoy the challenge! With Jake, he brings such a calming influence to the broadcast and because we know each other and we work with each other day-by-day, we've become really good mates and when he was first announced to come in for the rest of the season, I thought it was a great idea. He's fantastic, knows the game. From my point of view, it's good to know that if I ask Jake a question, I know he's going to answer in 10-15 seconds whereas with the other guys, I had no idea.
I remember one example, my partner at the time, lovely guy, I remember asking him a question, and Chris was in my ear 'Out in 20 seconds'. So I asked him a quick question, 'Briefly..', and 40 seconds later he's still talking!
It's pretty obvious that you've made a great impression with all the fans here, which was interesting because before you arrived a lot of fans were just very curious about who were going to be, and I have a feeling you heard a bit about what some people were saying. What were your emotions about how you might be received , and can you also comment on the support you were given after you arrived?
Look, as a commentator, as an announcer, as a host, you've just got to accept that you're not always gonna please everyone. The one thing that frustrated me when I was read some comments about not being up to a certain standard. It just frustrated me that people didn't give me the opportunity to show them what I could do. But as you said, the fans have been absolutely exceptional.
It's nice now because it's gotten to the stage where people always come up to me and want to talk about Sporting KC. The fans are, I've said it before, we've seen Portland, we've seen Seattle and everything, I think there's a real argument that they are the best fans in MLS. They're certainly the most loyal.
Let's talk about the players for a bit. For you, who's the best interview on the team?
Best interview, ha! I have to say, I don't know if anybody heard, but the 610 show I did with Davy Arnaud and Jimmy Nielsen, that was...interesting. If you're after a serious interview in a short space of time, don't ask Davy or Jimmy!
Speaking of radio, the semifinal against Houston was carried on national television, so you called the match on Sports Radio 810. I know a lot of people have different opinions on that match and why Houston won, but what were your thoughts on the performance?
I think, we were all guilty of going into that thinking 'We're going to win this.' And I think a lot of people were very complacent, because we'd beaten Houston three-nil already during the season...
When you say people, who do you mean?
I think everyone associated with the club, not just fans, I'm talking about all of us in the front office as well, I think we were all very guilty of being far too complacent. I don't know if any of that rubbed off on the players or not, I don't know, I can't imagine it would have. Watching that performance, things just didn't seem to click.
Having said that, I do believe that defensive display from the Houston backline was the most astute and most impressive I've seen all season in Major League Soccer. I mean, Andre Hainault was just impeccable that day. I don't think I've seen a better defensive performance from an individual, since I've got here, and we just couldn't break them down. Houston knew how we played, they'd obviously done their homework, Dominic Kinnear is a fantastic tactician. Especially in the middle of the park, we couldn't seem to grab the ball, whatsoever.
As I said before, though, I think we need to concentrate on the fact that it's been a fantastic year. Who'd have ever thought we'd have even been playing in that game?! It was just a great achievement, it really was.
Okay, so let's do that. And I hate to put you on the spot, because there were a lot of good moments, but for you, the best moment of 2011?
Goodness, me...I think, the opening of LIVESTRONG Sporting Park was spectacular. I've covered new stadiums being opened before in England, and the opening days have been brilliant, but they were nothing compared to the display that the operations boys put on here, it was nothing short of impeccable, unbelievable.
And I remember actually being on the call on the radio, and I remember seeing Davy leading the side out, and I could literally see the emotion coming over him. I've said this before, it's amazing how quickly you get attached to this club, and when I saw Davy as we started the broadcast with the national anthem, I had this lump in my throat looking around at everyone, hand on heart, everyone was so proud that soccer had finally arrived in Kansas City after all these years. And you could see someone like Davy was just so excited and so, so happy. Having known Davy and some of the players for the short time I have, as I said, I got quite emotional, and I didn't think that would happen.
And I wanna ask you about another moment because a lot of people talk about Bravo's equalizing goal against Chivas USA as not only a great moment on the field, but also a landmark moment for you in the booth, with your call on that goal. Can you talk a bit about the build-up, as well as your reaction when it was scored?
I think when I saw the ball hit the net, I felt nothing but joy, it was a fantastic moment. I just remember us being 1-0 down, and at that time we'd not lost at LSP and with all due respect to Chivas USA, we did not want our first defeat at LSP in MLS to be against Chivas USA.
And I remember Besler just hoisting this long, desperate ball forward, and Kei Kamara then challenged I think it was Valentin, in midflight and the ball just eventually going towards the back post. And if you remember as well Dan Kennedy had a fantastic game that day, he looked unbeatable.
I just remember seeing Bravo leap up into the air, like a salmon he was just flying in midair, and just executed this great header. And Kennedy had a really good effort as well he dove up and did all he could but, you know I just remember seeing the ball hit the net and...I've seen a lot of last-minute goals, a lot of last-minute winning goals in my short career, and I dont think I've ever seen a stadium erupt the way LIVESTRONG Sporting Park did that night, that was incredible, it was a fascinating moment.
That goal helped soccer in Kansas City as well because that game was on KCTV5. I think we had the highest rating in local television that weekend, and it wouldn't surprise me if it as one of our highest rated games all season. It was just a phenomenal moment and I could just feel the passion around the stadium, and I just felt the passion as well and obviously I just went mad. I try to keep myself composed when I'm on the call, I really do, but I lost my voice actually I remember feeling the muscles tingling in my throat. It was a great moment.
You touched on Peter Vermes a little bit. Peter is a guy that people don't really see a lot of, but you're part of a small circle that gets to see and speak with him on a daily basis either at training, or press conferences or other interviews. Can you describe him and his style and his personality in the context of other managers you've had the chance to work with in your career?
Peter is, without a shadow of a doubt, the most committed manager I've ever seen, whether it's staying after to work on tactics if he's really frustrated something hasn't worked. And he works very, very well alongside his staff. I think, um, he's just a perfectionist, and that comes across in the way Sporting have developed their style of play. He's an exceptional coach, and I was actually really disappointed he didn't win Coach of the Year.
Now there's a little bit of bias in there, I thought Bruce Arena was very good, I thought Sigi Schmid had a great year, but with all due respect, what Pete had to work with, especially with the ten game road stretch, the way he turned that around, we were bottom of the East for so long, we were bottom of Major League Soccer for so long, to finish at the top of the Eastern Conference? You know, are you kidding? Just a really great guy and a really fantastic manager.
With the offseason kicked off, the focus has shifted fully to 2012 and what changes are going to occur.
What sort of potential do you see for the club next season?
If I'm honest, I don't think much needs to change. Because everybody, right from the very depths of this club right up to the high ends of Robb [Heineman] and Cliff Illig and everybody, everybody has got it absolutely right this year, it has been almost perfect. Had we won the MLS Cup it would have been a perfect season, but you can argue our season's been 95% out of 100%. It's obvious as well that soccer is becoming an attraction in Kansas City.
I remember the game against New York when we qualified for the playoffs, and I remember going out for a couple of drinks after the game in the Brookside/Waldo area. I looked around the bar, and 90% of the people had Sporting jerseys on. It was just a see of blue and I remember thinking to myself 'Well, soccer's arrived' because we all know it's not number one in this country, and that's a crying shame because it's the best game in the world. And I think next year we'll see a lot more people taking interest, and I think the key for the interest is A) the success of the team, but B) the stadium.
The stadium has made everything change and I never got to see CommunityAmerica Ballpark, but I've heard the stories and I've done a number of League Two games and I can imagine what it was like. But LIVESTRONG Sporting Park, is the best stadium I've ever worked in, and I can only see it getting better from here.
Maybe not many people know this yet, but you'll be leaving for a large part of t
he offseason, going back to the UK. What do you have planned, what will you be up to?
Well I've got to keep the throat ticking, so I'll be doing work on some games over there, as well. I'm gonna keep myself busy, but at the same time, I'm looking forward to just giving it a bit of a break. I've got a week booked in Spain with the girlfriend and the parents, so I'm looking forward to chilling out and sitting on a beach and drinking a silly drink or a silly cocktail with a silly umbrella in it!
But also, more than anything, I'm looking forward to going home, and seeing my mom and dad and friends and other family. It's a long time to spend away from home, and I'd never moved away before this year, so I'm really looking forward to it. More than anything I'm looking forward to seeing my girlfriend, haven't seen her for eight months, we've been together for just over four years and it's been tough, it's been really tough. But I will say, the complete and utter madness of this season has helped me get along with things and remember me why I'm here. As I say, though, I'm looking forward to going home but I can't wait to come back in 2012.
I'm so excited, I am so excited for next season.