A FORMER school teacher from Britain with silver hair and a fatherly voice had to endure marathon days in the 27th Fiba-Asia championships, having to do both the running and color commentary of every single basketball game on his own since the tournament started on August 1.
Not that he's complaining.
Roy Birch, a television commentator for the past 25 years, is on call and on duty for the live coverage of every single game of the 11-day tournament at the Mall of Asia Arena for the international television broadcast, which incidentally is also being carried on local cable channel Basketball TV (BTV).
Amazingly, the 66-year-old, a first-time Manila visitor, has been up to speed covering up to six straight matches of every game day for an audience spanning several continents.
Not too many people may know Birch here, but he is more familiar to fans of basketball leagues featured by giant European sport channel Eurosport and Fiba-sanctioned events, notably the 1992 Barcelona Olympics that starred the legendary United States ‘Dream Team.'
The Englishman said it wasn’t the original plan for him to do commentary of all the games on his own.
“My colleague, who I have worked with for the last 10 years, had a domestic emergency at home that is unavoidable. We didn’t find out that he couldn’t make it until the day before we came. So we had no option,” Birch explained.
After doing every commentary of (at last count) 18 straight games, the 66-year old Birch said he doesn’t feel tired.
“I had to pace myself. But what I found was because it was so engrossing, it went just like that. Eighteen games went so quickly,” said the veteran broadcaster.
Actually, Birch said that doing six games a day is easier compared to giving voiceovers for a magazine program of the Euroleague.
He considers the six games per day coverage as “easy," noting that, "(The Euroleague program) is hard because if I make a mistake in the commentary, that’s done. In the Euroleague show, if I make a mistake, I have to repeat it."
He said the showdown between the Philippines and Chinese-Taipei, where the Taiwanese mounted a big comeback to take an 84-79 victory, is the match of the tournament so far.
Birch said he enjoyed doing the commentary for that game, “It’s not hard work if it’s very exciting. It’s hard work if it’s a blowout. It was so easy to do and enjoyable."
The London-based commentator admitted that at first, he doubted the Philippines’ chances of winning the championship following its lackluster debut against Saudi Arabia.
But after seeing the team’s performance against Taipei, he said the Gilas team may have a chance of at least getting one of the three berths for the world championships in Spain next year.
“You have (Marcus) Douthit inside and when he is covered, they go for the guards. It’s like a cat-and-mouse and that’s the basketball I want," said Birch.
The commentator said he is impressed with national coach Chot Reyes despite being on the losing end of its game against Taipei where the shots just kept falling for the Taiwanese.
“He knows what he is doing. He had a couple of mistakes in the rotation against Chinese-Taipei but then again, you can never legislate a game-changer. For me, the off-the-glass three-pointer by Tseng Wen-ting was the game-changer. But he didn’t say that, 'I will bank it in.'"
Surprisingly, some Filipino basketball purists choose to watch the international broadcast on Basketball TV than the free television coverage on a local channel.
“I can’t believe that, basically,” said Birch, when asked about some of the local viewers’ preference of his commentary.
“Maybe it’s the novelty factor. I do tend to speak the Queen’s English. I’m a former teacher and I like to speak to children and not use slang. I don’t use the expressions like ‘downtown,'" quipped Birch.