IT is a football commentator’s nightmare – unable to identify a single player from an unfamiliar foreign side because they are virtually all the same height, with identical hair… and every man Jack of them is wearing white boots.
Not only that but Ashley Morrison was supposed to provide an insightful 30-minute live preview of the forthcoming match about a team he knew absolutely nothing about.
There was probably more sweat in the commentary box than on the pitch.
“You just get on with it though, don’t you,” says Ashley, from Purton, who has fashioned a remarkable career for himself as a top sports commentator and pundit in Australia.
The game in question was Indonesia under 23s versus Western Australia in the steaming humidity of the country’s second city, Surabaya.
“It’s the worst experience I’ve ever had commentating,” he recalls.
“The local expert, who was meant to help me out with the Indonesian team, didn’t turn up. It was really hard for me to learn and identify their players. They were all short with black hair.
“To make matters worse I was located at ground level at a far end of the pitch. I could hardly see a thing.”
But he wouldn’t, as they say, have swapped it for the world. A keen and talented sportsman, Ashley for years played football, cricket and hockey in and around Swindon.
After a string of largely unpromising jobs in the UK he went to Australia and somehow found himself “living the dream” by commentating on top matches, hosting a sports radio show, writing books and making documentaries on sport-related subjects. As a radio and TV commentator Perth-based Ashley has covered cricket, football and rugby World Cup matches.
His recent film No Apologies has just been lauded by a leading British sports magazine as “one of the five football documentaries to see before you die”.
He even managed to beat testicular cancer and wrote an acclaimed book about the experience – Please Sir, Can I Have My Ball Back.
Ashley, 48, whose father Malcolm still lives in Purton while mother Ann Cleverley and sister Phrynette Morrison reside in Royal Wootton Bassett, is – to borrow the old football cliché – over-the-moon!
Having moved to Purton from Salisbury aged two, Ashley – an avid Swindon Town fan who saw his first game at seven – became well known on the local sports scene.
He played cricket for both Swindon and Swindon British Rail (later Swindon GWR) and also represented Wiltshire. He played hockey for North Wilts and Sunday league football for the Gas Club and Swindon Butchers before a spell in goal for The Dolphin.
“Their ’keeper broke his ankle and I was asked to take his place. I didn’t want to play on a Saturday because I’d miss watching Swindon. But they offered me a Swindon Town season ticket if I became their stand-in goalie – and that clinched it.
“We made the semi-final of the Wiltshire Cup, losing 1-0 in the last minute of extra time thanks to a deflected shot. The final was at the County Ground. But my one chance of playing there disappeared.”
Job-wise Ashley was flitting from pillar to post, doing bar work, selling kitchens and working for the likes of British Home Stores and TV Rentals. At one stage he sold advertising space for this newspaper, and got his first taste of radio work at GWR, doing voice-overs and being paid with records.
After his hopes of playing professional cricket for Hampshire were dashed – “I wasn’t good enough,” he shrugs – he went to Australia in 1987 and ended up in the air cargo trade.
During the early 1990s he got his big media break.
“I was interviewed on the radio on behalf of a fundraiser at the local football club. They liked my voice and said I sounded like I had a brain!
“They asked me to do a two-minute match report of a local game by phone. The score was 4-3 with two players sent off and a missed penalty. I asked for an extra minute so I could get all the action in – and on that my radio career was launched.”
He went on to host a weekly football radio show on one of the Perth stations and for the past seven years has presented Not the Footy Show, focusing on a variety of sports, on another Western Australia station.
Ashley’s career as a TV and radio commentator, meanwhile, has seen him travel the world – from India to Uruguay, Malaysia to South Africa and to the UK for the Paralympics this year – covering major football, cricket, rugby, hockey and other events.
Particularly memorable was a trip to the Solomon Islands which hosted the Aussie national team – the Socceroos – in a World Cup qualifier.
“They put us literally on top of the roof of the main stand. The heat was incredible but what an experience.”
When Ashley won his aforementioned battle with testicular cancer during the 1990s he went walkabout “to get my head together”.
He says: “A friend of mine was teaching in an Aboriginal community about 170 kilometres from the nearest town in North Western Australia.
“I stayed with him and it was one of the best experiences of my life. We would go off into the bush to swim at a waterhole or find Boab nuts to carve.
“The children were so free and happy and the landscape amazing. The sky at night is without doubt one of the most spectacular sights I have ever seen.”
He turned his attention to filming documentaries during the 2010 FIFA World Cup, travelling across Africa – from Nigeria to Nairobi – to make Standing in the Touchlines which captures the continent’s joy at hosting the tournament for the first time.
“It was an experience that will live with me forever,” he says.
This year Ashley produced and directed the uplifting No Apologies which focuses on two Aboriginal girls from different backgrounds, Kyah Simon and Lydia Williams who became the first indigenous footballers to represent Australia in the World Cup.
The UK’s FourFourTwo magazine described the documentary as a must-see film that is both “fascinating and humbling”.
Ashley is currently working on two books, a biography of one-time World Boxing Champion Azumah Nelson, and the life story of Swindon Town’s former Australian international striker Dave Mitchell.
It still bugs him that he missed his chance to play at the County Ground.
But Ashley, who is married to digital marketing manager Quie Ying did at least keep goal in the Johannesburg stadium that three years later hosted the 2010 World Cup Final.
He says: “I played for South African Airways, again in goal, against the Kaiser Chiefs Legends in front of 50,000 people. I was the only white player on the pitch. It was incredible – a wonderful opportunity. We lost 7-3, which wasn’t bad.”
l Further information on his latest documentary film, No Apologies, including how to buy a copy, is available at: www.noapologiesrequired.com