The day I did a “Murray Walker”…In Malta…

I know that in recent blog posts from myself I have written about various memories and thoughts on Touring Car racing from my many years of watching motor sport.

Well this one is about my love of Formula One and the time I got to do a “Murray Walker.” In other words, the time I commentated on a Formulla One Grand Prix. The 2002 French Grand Prix to be exact…

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In Malta.

Yes, I said Malta.

Now, pop the kettle on because this one will need a bit of explaining…

Back in 2002, my mother got married for the second time in her life. It turns out her in laws lived in the beautiful land of Malta and the wedding ceremony was to take place in Malta’s capital city Valetta.

Now I should point out that I had never been abroad before, so this gave me the oppurtunity to apply for my passport for the first time and prepare for my first visit to a hot country. Now at the time I shared a 5th floor flat in Bedford with my friend Colin. It was “The Odd Couple” all over again to our friends with myself being toted as Jack Lemmon and Colin being tagged with being Walther Matthau.

He was 45 and I was 24. We were both nuts on SciFi and he enjoyed watching The Discovery Channel.

Trust me, that will make sense in a minute…

Anyway, Mum invited Colin and I out to Malta for a week to celebrate in the week after the wedding and meet the new additions to the family. So we booked a weeks holiday through a travel agent, setting up a hotel and all the arrangements. Our flight would be on an Airbus A320, at the time the most sophisticated airline jet out there.

It had a PC Gaming Joystick as a control stick…not good…

Now I have never been good on planes. I have only flown to 3 countries abroad and each flight was eventful in different ways. But I wont bore you with the details. So, one evening in the run up to the holiday Colin is watching a documentary on The Discovery Channel about Airbus A320’s that had problems. One A320 overrode the pilot at a german airshow on a preview flight and landed itself in a forrest at the end of the runway…and not on the runway.

Another model in the same class did a loop-the-loop with full passenger compliment on board. A 3rd Airbus again over-rode its pilot and crashed in the Alps…

There’s a pattern forming here…

So, Phil, in his infinite wisdom decides to check the plane tickets to see what plane we were getting on…

An Airbus A320.

It took Colin 7 hours and 5 pints of Cider in The Flowerpot pub to convince me that I was still going on holiday…and watching the Cleveland Indycar Grand Prix the weekend before helped. For those that dont know, the Indycar race used to be run on the runways of Burke Lakefront Airport.

Anyway, we flew out to Malta and got acclimated to the local area and high dry temperature. We both stood out like sore thumbs each time we went out though, dressed in T-Shirt, Shorts, Cap and BumBags.

We screamed TOURIST and that almost got us both stuck in a timeshare scam (Colin broke the nose of the little shit that tried to sign us up…after 3 days of being hounded round the Island by him…he drove away in a brand new Vauxhall Astra too…) However what made the holiday even better for us both were the vintage 1970’s and 1980’s cars parked on the side of each road.

With such high temperatures, little or no rain and no snow, it was heaven seeing so many Ford Cortina’s, Sierra’s and Fiesta’s along with many Vauxhall Viva’s, Cavalier’s, Nova’s and plenty of Austin Allegro’s, Princesses and many more british cars you can think of beimg driven up and down the many roads in the local area. However the lack of a highway code was another matter…

Anyway, I have digressed and I apologise. I have so many good memories from the holiday and they are topped by the best memory of all…

My mother’s In-laws were scottish and were very traditional. They wanted to meet me and Colin and thanks to good old mum, her Father in Law explained he was a big fan of Formula One and was very happy to hear of my enthusiasm and love of Motorsport. In Malta at the time there was no English TV Feed for F1. Spanish and Italian TV Channels showed all of the practice sessions, qualifying and the race but no english commentary from ITV or Sky.

A problem I would soon rectify.

So I was asked if we’d like to watch the 2002 French GP at their place. The fact that they sweetened the request with the offer of Cheese & Pickle sandwiches and plenty of Ice Cold Coca-Cola was perfect…but the condition to us agreeing was that I would commentate to the household during the race.

The answer was yes naturally.

So in the year that Michael Schumacher won his 5th F1 title with 6 races left to run in the 17 race season (another of his many records) I happily and energetically commentated on the whole race. Juan Pablo Montoya started the race on Pole Position in his Williams-BMW with Schumacher on the front row with him. It wasn’t the most exciting race but with my enthusiastic and exciting commentary, I livened it up. Schumacher won the race in the end from the McLaren drivers of David Coulthard and Kimi Raikonnen and won the World Title.

Since I was a kid Murray Walker commentated on all the F1 races until his retirement in 2001. I met the man himself at the 1992 Birmingham Motor Show and all I wanted to do was commentate on motor racing, making it as exciting and enthralling as he did.

Well, in an air conditioned apartment in Malta on 21st July 2002, I got my chance…and my family and friends loved every minute of it. I loved every minute of it and to this day I cant help but fall into that habit and commentate away whether its Formula One, WTCC or BTCC.

I did something similar in 2008 for The Monaco GP at a different flat in Bedford for my mum and my best mate “Wallace.” On that day Lewis Hamilton won that race and then we went to see the 4th Indiana Jones film at the cinema. Another great memory where plenty of coffee upped the ante and I made an exciting race even better.

So in a way, I acheived my dream of doing a “Murray Walker”.

The best part is…I did it really well…

Anyway, you’ve earned that cup of tea after this post as it was quite a long but cherished memory.

This weekend the World Touring Car Championship races at the Salzburgring in Austria. Last year they had 2 awesome races there and I’m hoping this year will be no exception.

Cheers

Phil.

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