PETER DRURY is the most celebrated name in football commentary. Behind the microphone, the 55-year-old is a commentating poet whose rich vocabulary and endearing broadcasting style has earned him millions of adoring fans globally.
But the Kent-born journalist is private person who lives an ordinary life when he is not in the broadcast booth, writes Mark Namanya. Finding Drury for this interview was a bit like marking Lionel Messi.
The famed lead commentator is not on social media. To get to him, I had to go through one or two English journalist friends to inquire if he would be open to an interview with The Observer. To which they responded that they had to first seek him out before getting back to me.
The process took a couple of days. But when we finally met, after I contacted him via WhatsApp, it was worth the wait. We sat down on the bench outside the Stadium Media Centre of Al Bayt in Al Khor city north of Doha the day France played Morocco in the semi-finals. The man himself is a simple, down-to-earth lad who is humble to a fault.
Drury is evidently flattered when I call him the ‘Messi of Commentary’, preferring to label himself as ‘just another guy who is going about his every day job.’
“It makes feel very humbled when you say that. But I don’t accept it, in the most gracious way, because nobody; and I repeat nobody turns on the television for the commentator,” says the acclaimed broadcast journalist.
“They turn on the television for the football match and for the superstars who play the game particularly at a World Cup like this. And some of us are lucky -and you are and I am - to be given privileged seats to sit and watch it and to express ourselves around it. And that is what you do and that is what I do. We are not the centre of attention.”
Drury is a big hit in the commentary world. Today he works for NBC sports as the lead main commentator for its premier league coverage. He was also the lead main commentator for the English language world feed of the just concluded 2022 Fifa World Cup in Doha.
“We are the story tellers and they, the players who are the centre of action, are the story,” he reiterates.
Drury’s epic moment, for many a football enthusiast, was the AS Roma’s surprise elimination of FC Barcelona when he delivered a masterpiece for the ages befitting of Roma’s comeback advancement in 2018.
‘Roma have risen from their ruins! Manolas, the Greek God in Rome! The unthinkable unfolds before our yes! This was not meant to happen. This is happening. It’s a Greek FROM Mount Olympus who has come to the seven hills of Rome and pulled off a miracle!’
Drury evoked emotions of football followers all over the world, then, but he insists that there is no kind of preparation whatsoever for such moments.
“The most important thing is to feel a moment very genuinely, to be authentic and not to pretend to be anybody else,” he notes. “If you can get into that sort of head space of imagining how to be the player in the moment, say imaging if I was Messi, you can feel, relate and sort of touch the moment.
“But I also sit and try to feel and imagine how I would be if I went to a match as a paying spectator. And my emotions if I was supporting a team. And how I would feel if my team scores. Or when my team concedes a goal.
“And also, how I would feel when the match is in the balance. And that incredible, almost chemical feeling inside of you when the ball goes in and if you can somehow articulate all of that in the moment, then I suppose it feels real. You are not sort of making it up. It is a genuine sense of how the moment feels.”
The typically modest Drury, whose conversation is riddled with British humour, is quick to make the observation that he is human after all, citing how he has made mistakes.
“Sometimes I never feel as though I have cracked it. I haven’t done the perfect game. And I probably make several mistakes in every game. But so do players. You watch a player and you think, wow.....that has been great but probably over the course of the game he has given away the ball or misplaced the pass or whatever a couple of times. I know that in any given game I have said the wrong word, named the wrong player or all of those things. So, it is unlikely that I have ever done a perfect game.
“In fact it is certain that I have never done the perfect game. But there are games where you tell yourself, ‘I don’t think I made an error’. And that is the basic requirement. But always, when I am at the home in the UK I get into the car afterwards and have a little regrets. I wish I had said that, I wish I hadn’t said that.”
Drury attributes that to the fear of doing a sub-standard job.
“Like a lot of people I live not out of expecting myself to be outstanding. Rather, I live in fear of failure. I live in fear of getting it wrong. I never for one moment feel like I am on top of the game.”
In Doha, Drury’s towering figure and fame were evident in the stadium media centre and media tribune inside stadiums. He has received multiple requests for interviews and photos from several African journalists, and he has always politely obliged. However, he is at pains to remind everyone how lucky he is to be doing what he does.
“I am just excited about life and know that I am a very lucky guy and I do a job that a lot of people would love to be doing. I have an acute sense of my good fortune. That is the quality I would like to stick on myself. I like to think that I know how lucky I am and I am very, very lucky.”
Born in 1967, he was brought up in the South East of England in a place called Kent. His father was a vicar in the Church of England.
“I always loved sport,” he quips. Drury prefers not to mention which club he supports.
“When you are commentating you don’t think about who you support. It is a different part of your brain,” he remarks.
Ironically Drury didn’t watch football growing up.
“But I played it; I played football and cricket, I loved cricket. I went to University of Hull in the north east of England and had a lovely time there where I played football – I was a goalkeeper. I was a very, very bad goalkeeper.
“When I graduated from University, I was an accountant for one month. Then I decided to pursue a dream that has sort of become my way of life.”
Drury, who started his broadcast career on the radio with the BBC, made his World Cup debut in 1998 and has not looked back since. Asked how he occupies himself when not doing commentary, Drury is always at his home in Hertfordshire north of London.
“I like my food, I like my good old English fish and chips. When not doing commentary, I am sitting at home with my wife and family around the table talking. I have three adult sons, Adam, Daniel and Joe.”
However, he occasionally does take holidays, the few times he is not at home and work.
“My house is my favourite destination. My favourite place to be is my home. I love home. But if you asked me where I would like to go on holiday, it would be like for most Englishmen to the south of Europe where there is a nice swimming pool and the sunshine.
Drury meanwhile will forever be in awe of Qatar 2022.
“The narrative of this World Cup, the story has been absolutely compelling. We have had so much sporting joy out of this World Cup because of the surprise results. Because of Cameroon, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia and Morocco. And Japan and South Korea. All of that has been fantastic.
“But in addition to all of that, the really big stars have shone. We had Mbappe shine, we have had Messi shine. In a sense if you a neutral – I’m sad because I am English and England haven’t won it, you look at this World Cup and you think it has had everything. And I said earlier, you and I are both story tellers and we have a beautiful story to tell. The narrative throughout every day, every day of football in Qatar has had something that has kept us excited.”
The game of football has given Drury so much. But Drury would rather the attention is directed elsewhere and not on him.
“I can’t allow that adulation, real or perceived, to impact on me. I hope I am not sounding rude or arrogant. Because honestly, I love my job. I love what I do. I am very lucky. But I don’t seek that sort of thing. I don’t want it. I appreciate it. But I don’t feed of it. I don’t do social media. I just love doing my job and when I’m done, I love to go home to my wife and family. All the other stuff that comes with my job is not stuff that motivates me at all. I love football and I love the chance to use words and I’m very fortunate.”
As we wrap up, I ask him what goes through his mind when he sees the word Uganda. His response is one of honesty and compassion.
“I know very little about Uganda., honestly. Funnily enough, when I was a young boy, and remember I told you my father was a priest, I remember being visited by a Bishop from Uganda. And I had a family friend who was a missionary in Uganda in the early 1970s. So when I think of Uganda, that is what I think of.”
The name Peter Drury has gained cult hero-like status among lobves of the beautiful for how he commentates and churns out a wide variety of feelings, which has a significant and good effect on his audience.
The man himself is a family man who prefers to enjoy a quiet life free of social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. But the wordsmith’s clips go viral on social media sites all year round. It is not wrong to say football would be worse without Drury.