Top stars of British sport have spent the weekend paying tribute to broadcaster David Coleman, who died on Saturday aged 87.
Coleman’s distinctive voice was synonymous with so many of the iconic sporting moments of the second half of the 20th century. The renowned athletics commentator worked for the BBC for 46 years, covering 11 summer Olympic Games, his final one in Sydney in 2000, and he also covered six football World Cups.
England’s all-time record goalscorer and one of the country’s 1966 World Cup heroes, Sir Bobby Charlton, told BBC Radio 5 Live’s Sportsweek programme yesterday morning that he had built up a personal friendship with Coleman.
“He was a very nice man and very dedicated to his job, he loved being a reporter and did his homework. I was really sad when he died,” Charlton said.
“I was fortunate enough to travel with him when we played in Argentina. We spent a lot of time with each other because we couldn’t think of anything better to do than talk about football.
“When we were coming back we just talked for hours and hours. He was a really marvellous man and I was happy to work with him.”
Former Manchester United star Charlton was also on the pitch for one of Coleman’s most memorable pieces of commentary, Gordon Banks’ fantastic save from Pele during the 1970 World Cup.
“He was spot on, he knew what he was doing,” Charlton added.
“Pele headed the ball and Gordon Banks somehow or other got his little finger on the ball and pushed it over the bar, he just kept talking about it – he couldn’t believe it.
“The players trusted David to be absolutely correct on certain things on the football field, he was a charming man – I couldn’t tell you anyone else who was better.”
Coleman also commentated on the 1974 FA Cup final, again producing a line that would stand the test of time as he declared: “Goals pay the rent, Keegan does his share” after Kevin Keegan had given Liverpool the lead on their way to a 3-0 success.
Former England international Keegan revealed the phrase is still repeated to him to this day and hailed Coleman as a “master”.
“Wherever I go now people quote ‘pay the rent’ and I didn’t know what they were on about,” he said.
“I didn’t get to hear it first hand as the cup final was the only live game and I was playing. It has got a place in history.
“Sometimes you can tell when people are out of their depth, but he had them all covered. You just felt he was a master of what he was covering and he knew everything about it, and he probably did. He just had that voice – he is a true legend.”
The battle for supremacy between British middle-distance runners Steve Ovett and Sebastian Coe was given an enduring soundtrack by Coleman, with the former praising the commentator’s ability to spice up any event.
“I think David was a unique person – he had a unique gift of saying the right thing at the right time,” said Ovett.
“I think that is the difference between a commentator and someone who enhances what you are seeing. That is the difference between an average commentator and someone as good as David, who could colour a drab picture.”
Lord Coe simply hailed Coleman as the best commentator of all time and said that his commitment to his craft was something to behold.
“He was just incomparably the best and the best in any generation,” he said.
“It wasn’t just that he carefully choreographed intro pieces but he could always capture the moment. He liked being in the company of athletes, he would spend time with athletes and sit talking to them. He could read a race as well as anybody and really did understand the dynamics and strategy of the race.”
Coleman was lead commentator on Match of the Day through the 1970s and the show paid tribute at the start of Saturday night’s edition. Presenter and former England captain Gary Lineker said he was “a giant of sports broadcasting”, describing him as “brilliant, gifted, precise and concise”.
The 1984 Olympic silver-medallist Steve Cram, now a BBC athletics commentator, added: “When I first came into the British team, I would watch back my races and I could tell from his commentaries that he knew what he was talking about. He had a reputation within broadcasting for being tough and demanding, but I always found him an incredibly generous bloke.”
Cram’s fellow athlete-turned-commentator Brendan Foster, the 1976 Olympic 10,000m bronze medallist, added: “David Coleman was the greatest sports broadcaster that ever lived, welcomed in every home in the country.
“He enriched so many lives and that was down to his brilliant commentary and presentation at all the major sporting events of the world.
“He was a giant of sports broadcasting. It was a privilege to know him and it was a privilege to have him commentating on races during my career. It was also a privilege to work with David and to call him a friend.”
As well as major sporting events, Coleman was known for presenting Grandstand, Sportsnight, A Question of Sport and the Sports Personality of the Year show.