Being Brenner! How the boy from Berwick-upon-Tweed became the voice of Ipswich Town on Radio Suffolk
© Copyright Stephen Waller
Stuart Watson, EADT chief football writer, caught up with BRENNER WOOLLEY, to speak to him about his journey to the microphone at Portman Road in a feature first produced in Kings of Anglia
Paris, popstars, criminal psychology and 9/11 all feature in Brenner Woolley’s far from linear journey to the Portman Road commentary box.
It’s a fantastic tale about following your dreams and pushing comfort zones, but one he needed convincing to tell. Primarily, because he is not one for the limelight, but also because he is used to being the one asking the questions.
And in the early days he had to ask questions of himself...
Berwick-upon-Tweed. You literally can’t get any further north in England; five miles from the Scottish border; equidistant between Edinburgh and Newcastle. That’s where Brenner was born and raised. It was where the ‘enthusiastic left-back’ developed his love of all sports.
It didn’t dawn on him to pursue that career path though. Instead, he headed off to Liverpool University to study French and Psychology. French ‘because I was good at it’ and psychology because he was interested in the criminal element (still is and recently did a course at Suffolk New College on the subject).
A year teaching English in a less than salubrious area of Paris – ‘I slept on sofas and the classes had nine or 10 different nationalities’ – led to the decision to study for a post-graduate degree in journalism at Cosham, just outside Portsmouth.
“I started off freelancing for Radio City back in Liverpool, but I had to get another job subsidising that,” he explains. “I sold mobile telephones for a day, but handed in my notice on day two. Then I got a job selling tickets in a cinema, they kept promoting me and I ended up manager.
“My girlfriend at the time had gone into radio and so I had to give myself a kick up the backside. I took a pay hit to take a job at a little station on the Wirral called ‘The Buzz’. I was part of a two-person team that did all the news and sport and those 18 months were such a great grounding.
“Then I went to Hallam FM in Sheffield, again another commercial job, and we did all sorts of silly stuff there. It was really good fun and never felt like work. I had to get people like Steps, Westlife and S Club 7 to record daft jingles. I’d always wanted to work for the BBC though.”
And so, in 2001, Brenner arrives in Ipswich as a broadcast journalist at BBC Radio Suffolk, initially doing bulletins and producing shows.
“Not that long after I started a commentary course came up in Bristol – I remember the date because it was on 9/11 in 2001,” he recalls.
“My boss at the time said ‘Brenner should go on that’, but I just didn’t want to do it. I’d had no thoughts of commentary whatsoever and it scared the life out of me.
“But I went to this course, we spent most of the day gathered around the TV watching those dreadful world events unfold, then a few weeks later they decided it was time for me to try out my new skill!
“There was an international break and AFC Sudbury were at home in the Vase. I remember almost crashing my car on the way there because I was so scared. I hadn’t had a minute’s sleep. I did the game though, it went alright, and, without sounding cheesy, it was like having an epiphany. I was like ‘I want more of this’.
“I did a handful more non-league games, then poor Bryan Knights, who by this stage had taken over from Terry Baxter to do the Ipswich commentary, fell ill at the start of January 2003.
“Ipswich’s next game was at Bradford and it was like ‘you’ve done your course and done it before, get yourself up to Valley Parade’.
“Again, it was so scary. For the Sudbury game I could tell myself ‘no-one is listening’, but this was Ipswich Town. I remember it snowed that day and I couldn’t eat anything. I knew how popular Terry and Bryan had been and I was the new kid on the block. And I didn’t want anyone to think I was shafting Bryan in any way, which wasn’t the case at all.
“My first-ever Portman Road commentary was, incredibly, the game which Joe Royle says was his favourite game in charge of Ipswich Town – that 3-2 win against Sheffield United. Town were 2-0 down, (Pablo) Counago was sent off, then the two Darrens – Bent and Ambrose – ran riot.”
It’s at this point we should address the elephant in the room. Relegated the year after he rocked up in Suffolk, Town have been stuck in the second-tier ever since.
“There’s a lad in the office who is convinced I’m the curse,” he laughs. “I think he’s got a placard that says ‘Woolley Out’. I guess in 2018 it should be a hashtag. Ipswich would probably get promoted the very next year if I ever left!”
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