Gerald Sinstadt – Sports commentator
Born February 19, 1930; died November 10, 2021
Gerald Sinstadt, who has died aged 91, was a sports commentator who rose to prominence in what now looks like a golden age, both of British football and regional independent television. As lead football voice for Granada TV in north west England during the 1970s, Sinstadt saw out many a Saturday afternoon either in Liverpool or Manchester, helming the matches by each of the city’s big teams. He also covered some of the smaller domestic fixtures, as well as international matches, and commentated at four World Cups.
In an era predating the wall- to-wall TV coverage football receives today, Sinstadt stood out, both for his impeccable reporting and for his distinctive and distinguished appearance. As seen in his on camera post match reports, his spectacles, moustache and decidedly non-northern accent gave him the unflappably old school air of a football-obsessed wing commander. He laced his commentaries with an authority and understated intelligence that captured a game’s incident and colour with enthusiasm and insight peppered with occasional baroque flourishes.
With a background as both a thriller novelist and an opera buff, Sinstadt became an eloquent chorus for the on pitch dramas he witnessed, capturing their heroic narratives in a way that caught TV viewers’ imaginations. When former Manchester United star Denis Law scored for Manchester City in 1974 against his old club at Old Trafford, securing their relegation with a cheeky back heel, Sinstadt recognised that victory was bittersweet for Law. Sinstadt saw too that the pitch invasion that followed may have been a people’s uprising, but was an unnecessary folly.
Sinstadt rose to the occasion too for Liverpool player David Fairclough, who had a habit of coming on for his team in the last few minutes of a game and scoring the winning goal. When Fairclough did this in a crucial 1977 European Cup quarter final that saw St Etienne beaten at Anfield, Sinstadt let the Kop crowd roar their approval for a few seconds before immortalising the moment for headline writers and football fans alike with the words “Supersub strikes again.”
Sinstadt was one of the few high profile voices of his era to call out racism in football, when he highlighted what he called “unsavoury barracking” aimed at the three black West Bromwich Albion players – Cyrille Regis, Laurie Cunningham and Brendan Batson – pivotal to their team’s 1978 victory over Manchester United.
A decade later, Sinstadt was on duty for the BBC at the fateful game in 1989 at Hillsborough that resulted in the deaths of 97 Liverpool fans. Sinstadt reported calmly and succinctly as the tragedy unfolded, and later appeared in Jimmy McGovern’s 1996 TV drama documentary drawn from events on the day.
Gerald Morris Sinstadt was born in Folkstone, Kent, to Jim and Win Sinstadt, who lived above their grocery shop, before being killed during the Second World War while their son was evacuated to north Wales. Sinstadt attended St Mary’s primary school and The Harvey Grammar School, and following his parents deaths was raised by his aunt, Rosa Paine.
His first forays into broadcasting came during national service, when in 1949 he joined the British Forces Broadcasting Service while stationed in Italy and Germany. While with BFBS, Sinstadt met a young second lieutenant called Barry Davies, who was keen to move into sports broadcasting. On their return to the UK, Sinstadt helped Davies get on board with the BBC. Sinstadt’s own career saw him become deputy head of sport with BBC Radio, and in 1959 he took over David Coleman’s seat as sports commentator for BBC Birmingham
In the mid 1960s Sinstadt joined Anglia Television, ITV’s Norwich based East of England station, where his commentating debut was a Grimsby Town v Leyton Orient game. In 1969, he moved to Granada, taking over from his former army buddy Davies, who had moved back to the BBC.
By this time, Sinstadt had already published three novels, The Fidelio Score (1965), Ship of Spies (1967) and Whisper in a Lonely Place (1968). Given his facility for words onscreen, one can only speculate how his talents as a fiction writer might have developed further.
As well as commentating on the big games involving Liverpool, Everton, Manchester United and Manchester City, Sinstadt presented Granada’s Friday teatime football magazine show, Kick Off, and, from 1975, The Kick Off Match. He left Granada in 1981, initially to develop opera programmes and videos, but also freelancing for ITV’s southern English station, TVS.
As ITV centralised its coverage, Sinstadt commentated on golf for Channel Four before rejoining the BBC during the 1980s. He commentated on rowing at the 1984 Olympic Games, and took over from Harry Carpenter on the Oxford v Cambridge boat race. His voice could be heard too on coverage of canoeing, cross-country skiing, ice hockey and greyhound racing. Sinstadt also managed a youth Sunday League team, and qualified as a referee for youth games. Latterly, he lived in Stoke-on-Trent in Staffordshire, where he wrote a weekly column for The Sentinel newspaper.
Despite such diversions, it is Sinstadt’s football commentary that defined him. He became a regular on the BBC’s Football Focus, and phoned in match reports for the station’s Final Score programme, as his instantly recognisable dulcet tones brought a game’s highlights to life with lucidity and journalistic flair.
He is survived by his wife, Margaret Moran Smith.
The Herald, December 3rd 2021