David Coleman, the veteran broadcaster who covered some of the greatest sporting events of all time, has died
David Coleman – widely acknowledged as the definitive voice of British sport – has died at the age of 87 after a short illness.
The commentator and presenter worked at the BBC for 50 years, covering some of the greatest sporting events of the 20th century, including the 1968 Mexico Olympics, the ill-fated Munich Olympics – where he broadcast for 30 hours during the siege by Palestinian terrorists – and numerous FA Cup and World Cup finals.
As well as being admired for his wide-ranging knowledge of sport and his ability convey its thrill and drama to the audience at home, he was also affectionately known for his on-air gaffes and non sequiturs, or ‘Colemanballs’, as he himself described them.
Among his most famous were: “If that had gone in, it would have been a goal”, “The front wheel crosses the finish line, closely followed by the back wheel” and “Forest have now lost six matches without winning.”
In a statement his family said: “We regret to announce the death of David Coleman OBE. After a short illness he died peacefully with his family at his bedside.”
Fellow commentator Brendan Foster, the former Olympic 10,000 metres bronze medallist, hailed Coleman as the “greatest sports broadcaster that ever lived”.
Writing on the BBC Sport website: “David enriched so many lives and that was down to his brilliant commentary and presentation at all the major sporting events of the world. In my view, everybody had a David Coleman quote they could use. It could have been about Pele, Charlton, Toshack or Keegan, or just ‘one-nil’.
“It was a privilege to know him, to have him commentating on races during my career, to work with him and to call him a friend.”
Steve Cram, another athlete turned BBC broadcaster, credited Coleman with helping him in the early stages of his career.
He said: “When I met him at major championships, such as the Olympics in Moscow in 1980, he would say things that turned out to be incredible helpful, such as advice on travel and how to deal with the media. He had a reputation within broadcasting for being tough and demanding, but I always found him an incredibly generous bloke.”
Tony Hall, BBC Director-General said: “David Coleman was one of this country’s greatest and most respected broadcasters. Generations grew up listening to his distinctive and knowledgeable commentary. Whether presenting, commentating or offering analysis, he set the standard for all today’s sports broadcasters. Our thoughts are with his family and many friends.”
Barbara Slater, the BBC’s Director of Sport: added: “David Coleman was a giant in the sports broadcasting world. His was one of broadcasting’s most authoritative and identifiable voices that graced so many pinnacle sporting moments.”
Coleman was born of Irish parents from County Cork and attended grammar school in Cheshire, where he showed his talent as a middle distance runner, before getting his first job as a reporter, on the Stockton Express.
After doing his National Service he joined the BBC and made his first television appearance on Sportsview on the day that Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile in November 1955.
In October 1958, the BBC recruited Coleman to be the presenter of the new Saturday afternoon sports programme Grandstand.
He continued as its regular presenter until 1968. He also presented the BBC’s Sports Review of the Year from 1961, and Sportsnight with Coleman (1968–1972) – which included an interview with Edward Heath, the then Conservative Party leader, on his triumph in the Sydney to Hobart yacht race.
Coleman went on to present and commentate on 11 Olympic Games, from Rome 1960 to Sydney 2000, as well as eight Commonwealth Games. He also covered six World Cups as a commentator, including the finals of 1974 and 1978 and a seventh as a presenter, in 1982.
Coleman was also famous for his role as host of the sports quiz show A Question Of Sport for 18 years, from 1979 to 1997, during which his on-air rapport with team captains such as Emlyn Hughes, Ian Botham, Willie Carson and Bill Beaumont made it compulsive viewing for sports fans.
The most famous Colemanball of all was not of his making however. It was Coleman’s colleagure Ron Pickering who, while commentating at the 1976 Montreal Olympics, said of the 400 and 800m gold medallist Alberto Juantorena: “The big Cuban opened his legs and showed his class.'”
In the 1992 New Year’s Honours List, Coleman was awarded the OBE for services to broadcasting. He was also given the Judges’ Award For Sport in the 1996 Royal Television Society Awards.
Coleman retired from broadcasting after the 2000 Summer Olympics. At his own request there was no tribute or recognition from the BBC, though it later broadcast The Quite Remarkable David Coleman to celebrate his life, aired just after his 85th birthday in May 2011.
British Athletics chairman Ed Warner said: “David has been the voice of some our most memorable moments over the years. A truly iconic broadcaster.”
Coleman is survived by his wife Barbara, and their six children, Anne – a British ladies show jumping champion – Dean, David, Mandy, Michael and Samantha ,RIP Coleman “