Sunday, 15 March 2015


Professor Mwizenge Tembo
As an example of a ‘live’ radio soccer commentary, wind back the hands of time and picture yourself at Dag Hammerskjoeld stadium   when Zambia played Uganda in a regional qualifying match in the 70s. Below is an actual part of the ‘live’ commentary by Dennis Liwewe. Thanks to Professor Mwizenge Tembo of Bridgewater College in Virginia for posting it on You Tube.
“Here comes Mwape (Kenny). Mwape again to his captain Musenge Ackim) Musenga back again to Mwape. Mwape picks up the ball again and he takes a long, long shot past the center circle position in a 1-0 situation and then intercepted far away from here…..again it was a foul to Zambia. Ten meters inside, taken very quickly to Jani Simulambo…..a long, long beautiful shot over to Bernard Chanda. Chanda you have got the the ball, shoot! You are missing it again……I never believe! 1-0 Uganda in the lead. Mwape has the ball. He takes a long, long shot past the center circle. He is looking for Mugala (Burton) Mugala has got the ball….all the way to Chola (Alex)…….it’s a Goal!.. ……. 1-1 to Chola. Chola makes it 1-1 in 27 minutes.”  At full time, Zambia had beaten Uganda by 4-2.
Dennis Liwewe, was a personality who moved Zambia and its neighbouring countries, Africa and the  world at large with his lively commentaries and critique. His respected voice during ‘live’ soccer commentaries. He was the voice of Zambia’s football that earned him an award of Distinguished Service by First Republican President Dr. Kenneth Kaunda in 1977. Without doubt, Dennis had a way of keeping a soccer match ‘live and alive’ on radio. Determination, self-discipline, constant practice and the eagerness to want to do a good job was the only way of getting best results in any soccer match. Appearing on the British Broadcasting Corporation”s Fast Track programme presented by Farayi Mungazi, Dennis put across his thoughts on what makes a good, exciting ‘live’ soccer commentary. Below are some excerpts I picked from the full interview
Farayi Mungazi :Why is football such a great game to you?
Liwewe: Football is a great game to me personally because I showed the world that I never played the game in my life, I never knew the game at school because I wanted to get Grade A in English Language so while my colleagues were on the pitch playing I was reading. I was very brilliant - I can assure you. But I decided to take on a new challenge in broadcasting and that was it. I used to record football commentaries from the BBC and then go to the bush to study it and took my own style of broadcasting - the African style of excitement particularly on the radio. I did try television commentary but people said it was a disaster. That is not my style. Mine was radio commentary. The problem I had was that most of the people including the then president of Zambia, Dr Kenneth Kaunda, when they were going to matches at the stadium carried their radio sets to watch matches when I was doing commentary. So one was I aware that all these people were listening and watching at the same time so one couldn't afford to do mistakes. So preparations had to be very very thorough. So it made me do the job perfectly well.
David Owen : What preparation did you go through before games. What tricks did you have for remembering player names and positions?
Liwewe: Those days it was difficult because the opposing teams were only seen on match days and you had the team sheets one hour before the game. There were no names at the back of the jerseys too so it was tough. But with determination, self-discipline and the eagerness to want to do a good job helped me. I practiced in the shower early in the morning. The constant practice on imaginary matches helped a lot.
Liwewe’s son Ponga, also a well known sports commentator on Supersport says much as radio commentaries are different compared to those carried out on television, preparations are almost the same except on radio “you have to be more imaginative” in order for the listener to appreciate what you are talking about.
 On a quick ten minutes telephone conversation with him from South Africa last week, Ponga said, “I have worked in commentary on both radio and television and the two styles are totally different. On radio you have to be much more descriptive as you have to create a picture in the mind of the listener since they are not able to see the pictures. You have to inform them where on the pitch the ball is, give them an indication where the receiving player is and the movement of other players. When the ball is crossed into the box, listeners need to know from where it is coming from, whether it is near the by-line or further down field, which means the quality and significance of the cross differs. It’s not enough to just say the ball is being played into the box.”
He added that for television commentary, everyone sees what is happening and the role of a commentator is more to be more analytical, and hence the creation of the role of a co-commentator who talks tactics, potential scenarios and gives a more in-depth perspective. Ponga said on TV the commentator does not need to mention each and every player who is on the ball, and at times even a pause helps as the viewers can see what is happening.
Concluded Ponga, “The key to success in both radio and television commentary is preparation. You have slit seconds to give details and little time to refer to notes so you have to know your subject. You also have to know the players, not only by name but by the way they run, walk, their physical profiles so that even when you can’t see clearly, you can tell who it is.
I once emceed an event which was the Africa Cup of Nations trophy tour in South Africa and was able to recite the history of the tournament from 1959 to 2010, looking at the key moments of each of the 26 tournament’s that had taken place up to that point in time. It would not have been possible to store this information in a short period of time, but because I had constantly read and been to many tournaments it was not too difficult to refresh my memory and to read where I was lacking in information.”
With the given explanations above, it is clear that becoming a professional “live” soccer commentator requires a lot of work and a lot of practice if one has to be noticed. My advice is “be yourself and develop a different style from all other commentators. Always remember that there can only be one Dennis Liwewe!

Ben Kangwa is a broadcast journalist and media consultant based in Lusaka.

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