National Volunteers Week: Tom Fowles, Soccer Sight Volunteer

To celebrate National Volunteers Week 2017, we’ll be featuring just a small number of our volunteers on our website.  We’ve asked them to describe the roles they undertake, what they enjoy and what they would say to encourage others to get involved.

In the second of our features on Grecian volunteers, we spoke to Tom Fowles, one of the Club’s Soccer Sight volunteers, about Soccer Sight, what it means to be involved and his favourite moments commentating on ECFC matches.  

Tom Fowles, left, with fellow Soccer Sight volunteer Daniel Clark

Tom Fowles, left, with fellow Soccer Sight volunteer Daniel Clark

Tom, a 28 year old History graduate from the University of Birmingham, returned to Exeter to do a Masters and now works in the Development Office at the University of Exeter.  He explained how he got involved with Soccer Sight.

How and when did you first get involved?

I first got involved with Soccer Sight in October 2013 when the guys that had been running the service went off to university and the service was suddenly commentator-less. My first game was a 3-0 defeat to Hartlepool so not exactly the dream debut and it was also Daniel, one of my fellow commentators, first game too so we did wonder whether we might in fact be bad luck charms!

What does being a Soccer Sight volunteer involve?

Soccer Sight provides a live commentary service from within St James Park for visually impaired supporters attending the game.  We commentate from the top of the Old Grandstand via a radio transmitter to all four parts of the ground, so it’s a service that can be accessed by away supporters too. It is similar to a normally radio commentary but with much more emphasis on description, i.e. more precise description of where the ball is and what’s actually happening rather than the “colour” commentary you might get on TV where they talk about things unrelated to the game. We work as a two or three-man team, with one person always commentating and then the other summarising and filing when the ball is out of play or something notable has happened.

We normally arrive at about 2.15 and spend some time working out the formations and who is playing where to aid us with the commentary (Paul Tisdale likes to keep us guessing) and we’ll normally have done some research in the build up to the match so that we have some useful facts, figures and info to provide as we go along.

The hope is that it inspires somebody who wouldn’t otherwise come along to watch live football or improves the match day experience of visually impaired fans already at St James Park.

Why volunteer?

Exeter City is a club very proud of doing things differently and as somebody that believes in the Trust model and believes, most importantly, in football being as inclusive as possible it felt like a very small thing to do to assist in enabling that. It is worth doing if it encourage or improves the experience of just one fan in attending an Exeter game. I think football still has a way to go to make football accessible for everybody and unfortunately not all football league clubs provide the Soccer Sight service to fans.

More generally I think it is important for everybody in society to volunteer to help others where and when they can. I find it personally satisfying and I believe the basis of a good society is the willingness to aid other people without “getting” something from it.

Has it changed your match day experience?

It took a while to get to grips with having to constantly be following the action, knowing who was on the ball and who was running where and trying to anticipate what was going to happen next. I think it has changed the way I watch a game of football – constantly assessing what is actually happening on the pitch rather than just enjoying exciting moments as they happen. I’ve also had to learn to watch my language which has probably been a good skill to have gained!

Favourite Moment?

EWe are obviously supposed to be impartial, and for the most part we are (!), but as Exeter City fans ourselves it is occasionally hard not to get excited and our recent 3-2 win over Carlisle was one of those moments. It was nearly impossible to maintain a calm and composed voice when Jack Stacey fired home the winner.

 

A favourite non-footballing moment was the very generous donation of an individual who gave us £400 to help upgrade some of the equipment that is now 10 years old and showing significant signs of wear and tear.

Worst Moment?

We were about 20 minutes into a commentary a couple of seasons ago and the battery went dead so we spent about five minutes commentating to ourselves until a steward raced half way across the ground to give us some spare batteries. That was a lesson in lack of preparation and we always carry a spare transmitter just in case now! It also took about four months for me to commentate on a win!

How has volunteering benefited the commentators?

Although the service itself is all about providing a better match day experience for our listeners it has also aided the careers of a number of our commentators. Matt Cotton, the very first commentator, is now a journalist for The Times and several of our other commentators have gone on to either journalist/broadcasting degrees at university or local journalist jobs.

How can somebody listen?

We hope it is really easy to access this service – headsets are provided at reception free of charge on match days for people to take and then return at the end of the game. All you need to do is turn it on and you’re away. If you know anybody that you think would be interested in the service, please do tell them and don’t hesitate to get in touch with me if you have any questions.

Getting Involved?

We’ve run trials for new commentators a couple of times before and I’m sure we will do so again so keep a look out on the Club website if you’re interested.

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You can read more about Soccer Sight on the Club’s website http://www.exetercityfc.co.uk/fans/soccer-sight/

and watch the video on the Club’s YouTube channel:

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