01.06.23 Geoff Twentyman Interview

*This article first appeared in our matchday programme v Bolton Wanderers on 07/05/23.

Rovers legend GEOFF TWENTYMAN recently announced that he is to hang up his microphone after dominating the local airwaves for the best part of thirty years.

To mark the occasion, it was Geoff’s turn to be asked the questions for once, as he sat down with ANDY DOWNIE to discuss his time as a player, assistant manager and becoming the instantly recognisable voice of sport in Bristol.

“Overwhelmed is the word,” begins Geoff, when asked about his initial thoughts in the days after announcing his departure from BBC Radio Bristol.

“I’m not a massive Twitter user, but I put the news out on there and it ran away with itself. So much so, that I stopped looking at the comments for 24 hours because it was so overwhelming that, after initially thinking I was going to reply to every comment, it soon became apparent that it was going to take me forever!”

Scrolling through the responses, it was immediately evident that there is an equal mix of famous faces – Bobby Gould, Nigel Martyn and Jeremy Guscott to name just a few – and loyal listeners, who are all saddened to hear the news, amid the realisation that the voice that delivered and dissected their team’s results for three decades was going to be muted.

“I’m totally humbled by it; there were so many lovely comments, and it was people from far and distant places who you wouldn't expect. On the way into The Mem today, a white van driver just stopped, jumped out and wanted to personally thank me for the sport I've brought him.”

And how does that sort of reaction make him feel? “Very proud, to be honest, really proud. Thirty years is a long time and being able to stay in the job for that long; well, I guess it shows that you're doing something right.”

But how did the BBC journey all begin for Geoff?  

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“So, it’s 1992. I was the PFA representative here at Rovers and, at the start of every season, you beat a drum to the lads, saying ‘listen, no one plays forever, get yourself a secondary career, go and get some qualifications, but so many of the lads I played with thought they'd play forever and think, yeah, I'll do that next year, Geoff. As I was captain at Rovers, a lot of the time I was interviewed by the BBC and GWR and one day I just wondered what it would be like to be on the other side of the microphone, so just curiosity started it all.”

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Then, a large slice of bad luck intervened that turned Geoff the player into Geoff the pundit.

“Or good luck, depending how you look at it,” carries on the man from Merseyside.

“Rovers played Plymouth at Twerton Park in the FA Cup and I went up for a header with Dave Regis. And… well he hasn't done me in the air as such, he’s nudged me mid-air and I came down on my left ankle and I felt a searing crunch. I ended up in the Royal United Hospital (RUH) at Bath and in the space of five minutes the consultant showed me the X-Ray that confirmed I’d broken my ankle. Then the draw was made for the next round of the FA Cup - Rovers would play the winners of Crewe and Liverpool! Of course, Liverpool overcame Crewe and the pain at missing a game against ‘my team’ was worse than the ankle!

He calls the Reds his team, and he is clearly proud of his dad who not only played for his hometown team, but was later chief scout at Anfield, unearthing such talent as Alan Hansen, Phil Neal and Ian Rush for legendary managers Bill Shankly and Bob Paisley. So, is there a tinge of regret that he didn’t also pull on the famous jersey?

“No, honestly not. It was harder for me in some aspects, as I had to be even better than a normal intake as I was known as ‘Geoff’s lad, the son of the Liverpool scout’ etc in the papers and so there was a level of expectation from others.

“On a Wednesday night. I'd be playing at Anfield for Liverpool reserves, then next day I’m in school doing my A-Levels. It’s 1977, the first team is operating at an elite level domestically and in Europe and I didn’t quite make the grade, but I had a wonderful time and it made me determined to forge a career for myself.”

“I'm fairly pragmatic and there was a spell working in a bank and playing non-league football and thoughts of whether I was going to make it, but eventually I had a moment when I took a long, hard look at myself and applied myself and was picked up by Preston North End (PNE) in 1983.”

A 6ft 1in, left-sided centre-half, Geoff would play for PNE for three years, before Bobby Gould came calling in 1986 to take him to Eastville. Kind of…

“I signed for Rovers, for Bobby, and during the summer I was chatting to a friend, and he asked where I was going and he said ‘oh, the ones in blue and white quarters who are moving to Bath?’ and that was news to me! I phoned Bobby, and he said: “Didn’t I mention it?”

“Funnily enough, no he didn’t! He then told me how it’s one of the best non-league grounds in the country, so I had this image of it being a new-build, state-of-the-art and then when I saw the rain pouring out of the gutters…  I’m thinking ‘I've moved my family down for this…’

“But you know what? It was the best thing I ever did. The great thing about the Rovers is it's my type of place; it’s just proper people, aiming to be the best they can possibly be.”

Thankfully for Rovers, the Bath move wasn’t a deal-breaker and Twentyman would go on to play 252 games for the Gas, scoring six goals, in seven years, often wearing the number 3 shirt, normally reserved for left-backs. “It was a mistake!” remembers Geoff. “The programme printed it wrong, we won, and the boss said ‘that’s your lucky number’. Had I been playing nowadays, no doubt I would have to be number 20, but it was 1 to 11 back then, with 12 for the sub, then 14 when we had two subs.”

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Had he been playing in the modern day, the 64-year-old readily admits he might have to modify his playing style. “I was what you would call a robust centre-half, who liked to attack the ball in the air. And kick people and, you know, pick them up and pat them down, and kick them again,” he laughs.

Then, of course, there was the iconic moustache. “The ’tache? I was born with it! Seriously, it was somewhere for me to rub Vicks into and I just kept it throughout my playing days. Gary Penrice tried to copy it but failed miserably.”

Moving back to 1993, Geoff recalls being asked to be a match commentator as he was out injured, and getting a real buzz from it. “I loved it, so I enrolled on a radio journalism course at the University of the West of England (UWE), which was then known as Bristol Polytechnic, helped with a bit of funding from the Professional Footballers Association (PFA). I’m there a couple of afternoons a week for an academic year to get the qualification and, before I knew it, my football career had ended and I’m on BBC Radio Bristol reporting live from pitchside.”

Geoff would soon make waves, credited with the invention of the on-pitch half-time chat with the manager years before it became commonplace, and progressing to sports editor.

Until, after three years in the role, the phone rang…

“It was Ollie (Ian Holloway), the Gas legend and former team-mate of mine. He’d followed Gerry Francis to QPR but had been offered the chance to be player-manager back at Rovers. Gerry, incidentally, was the sixth manager I had played for, but the first to teach me how to play football.

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“Anyway, I told Ollie to take the job, as you never know when you’ll get another opportunity like it, and there was an awkward silence, before Ollie said he needed someone experienced to be his assistant…. Once he got to the point, I accepted. I loved radio but I loved football and I felt that, together, we could do great things at the Gas.”

It didn’t turn out to be a long stay at the club for various reasons, and Geoff knew he wanted to return to the media. “Luckily, my replacement at the BBC was also moving on so, 12 months later, I was back in my old role and the rest is history.”

From 1997 to the present day, Twentyman presented various programmes, including Drivetime, Saturday Sport, The Sound of the City, The Scrum and, of course, Having a Gas at 6pm on a Thursday with Geoff Two-Zero Man!

“It’s been a privilege. I’ve had two amazing careers. When I signed for Rovers in 1986, the club legend Harold Jarman said to me ‘you’ll never leave here you know.’ And he was right. I fell in love with Bristol and I can always say I understand what it means to Gasheads to beat City in a derby game because I’ve done it.

“I’m proud to have captained the side and been assistant manager. I’m a Liverpool fan, so I understand what rivalry means. City fans respect that I’m a Rovers fan – and it’s a good job they’ve been so understanding because I played in 11 derbies before I was on the losing side.

“I played with unbelievable talents like Gary Penrice and Nigel Martyn, I got to work alongside a true friend in Ollie and I’ve broadcast into people’s homes in Bristol. I’ve lived here for years; it’s my adopted home.”

In return, Geoff is undoubtedly the adopted son of the City of Bristol, whose career has been watched with pride as his journey has progressed. He won’t just be missed as a part of people’s lives, he will no doubt prove to be irreplaceable.

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