On Wednesday, the Rapids announced that veteran journalist Richard Fleming would be coming on board as the club’s new Director of Broadcasting, where he’ll be the new play-by-play voice for the Rapids on Altitude TV, and also contribute content to www.ColoradoRapids.com. In this Q&A, Fleming speaks on his decision to leave his native England, his vast experience in the sport of soccer, and his knowledge of the sport in North America.
After working in the UK for many years, you’ve made the jump to America. What led you to this decision?
Major League Soccer. It’s on the up, expanding, and in as strong a state as any soccer league around the world. It’s a pretty good time to be involved in MLS. The opportunity that came along with the Rapids was one that afforded me the chance to head in a direction that I’ve been looking to go in for a number of years. To work for an organization like the Rapids, and with Altitude TV, it was too good an opportunity to turn down.
What do you know about the Rapids specifically that made this job appealing?
It’s a club that has had success, and also a very family orientated club, very much community focused. It seems also to be in an element of transition, but going in a good direction, with fresh ideas and fresh enthusiasm, so it’s a good time to be on board. The job also affords me the opportunity to use all of the skills that I’ve acquired over almost 25 years of writing and broadcasting. I’m absolutely delighted and really, really excited about getting started.
When did you first think about making this kind of change?
It’s been something I’ve thought about for the last couple years. I was at the BBC for 16 years, which sort of came to a natural conclusion, and I knew it would have to be something very, very special to make us leave our family and friends in the UK. The switch to MLS, the Rapids and Altitude TV, in the beautiful state of Colorado – the exciting project that lays before me – was too good an opportunity to turn down. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity both for me and for my family.
You’ll be the new play-by-play voice of Rapids broadcasts on Altitude. What is your experience in that role?
The BBC gave me huge opportunities to do play-by-play. I did World Cups, including South Africa, as well as five Africa Cup of Nations, starting with Mali in 2002 and finishing with Angola in 2010. I’ve done pretty much every level of club football play-by-play in England, from non-league all the way through to League Two, League One, Championship and up to EPL, and with Arsenal in more recent times. I’ve covered soccer all around the world, seen and talked on a lot of different styles of the game. This is another new challenge that I’m looking to fully embrace.
Your partner in the broadcast booth will be Marcelo Balboa – are you excited to work alongside him?
It’ll be fantastic. I can’t wait to meet Marcelo, to work with him, to hear his thoughts and feed off his experience. He’s a guy that’s has lived MLS, been a big part of Colorado and the US National side, and he knows Major League Soccer inside and out. So if anybody is going to introduce me to MLS and its finer points, then who better than Marcelo Balboa. My only previous experience with him came in the MLS Media Cup in 2005, and he won’t recall it but I remember nicking the ball off the end of his foot and drilling a goal from… well, the distance has expanded over the years, as it’s gone down in my folklore. It was probably only about six yards out but in my mind it’s about 35 yards out.
You’ve had recent experience working with the Rapids’ partner club, Arsenal. What was your position with them?
I did play-by-play for Arsenal, and I was also the presenter of their matchday program, which involved a pregame show, the halftime and the post-game, so very similar to Altitude and the Rapids this coming season. I got to work with a lot of former Arsenal players, former international players, where I pose the questions and let the players’ knowledge and experience give the answers. Arsenal are a wonderfully successful club and I’ve been able to work with a lot of big names, and to hear their stories and get their take on soccer has been just magical.
Have you always been involved in the sport of soccer?
Well, I’ll be 42 in April, and I’ve been playing soccer since the age of six. I played at a reasonable level, semi-professional, and had trials with lower league club before my journalism career kicked in. At the age of 18, I was straight from college and into journalism and it was just very, very difficult to mix work and the play. But I love the sport, and I love listening to former players and coaches, getting their take on the game. They just make it sound very, very simple – which of course it is. It’s a very simple game when you break it down. I’m a great student of the game, and I’ve been heavily involved in all aspects of it for 30-odd years.
What has your previous experience with American soccer been?
I got the chance to come over and cover three MLS Cups in a row in 2004, 2005 and 2006, and ever since then I’ve always had an interest, and shared an interest with colleagues in the UK. I was intrigued by the history, of the USA’s flirtation with soccer in the 60’s, 70’s and early 80’s with the NASL and all the big players, and how soccer had developed and then fallen away. It just gripped me that this massive nation had never fully embraced and engaged the global game, and yet now, MLS seems to be doing it right, and taken it slowly. So I’ve certainly had an eye on it, and now with expansion and more teams than there ever have been, there’s more and more interest, both from supporters but also from businesses that want to get involved. It just shows how strong a brand Major League Soccer is.
How much time have you spent in the North America? What about Denver?
I’ve been in the US quite extensively, at MLS Cups in LA and Frisco, to Ohio, Indiana, New York and Florida, even Canada to do some Major League Soccer in Montreal last year. In terms of Denver, well, my first experience will be the few days leading up to the opening game on March 2! I’ve never been to Denver before. Everyone I’ve spoken to, without exception, has said great things about the state and about the city. As a family we love the outdoors and a lot of people have said that this is a lovely, lovely area to raise a family, and we should thoroughly enjoy ourselves. We are really looking forward to it.