Already the most prominent name on people’s minds when it comes to live TV boxing commentary, Ian Darke has now become a household name with Sky Sports’ live football coverage. Among the group of Sky’s main football commentators – Martin Tyler, Alan Parry and Rob Hawthorne – he is arguably more well-known for commentating on Sky’s Big Fight Nights, including the recent World Welterweight title fight between Floyd Mayweather and Ricky Hatton.
Although his undoubted strength lies in boxing commentary, he has undoubtedly worked his way up the ranks to become one of Sky’s leading football commentators, often heading Ford Super Sundays by commentating on the 4pm kick-off with Andy Gray. It is even argued that, in recent years, he has taken away some of Tyler’s dominance.
I’ve never met the man, but he’s a top, top boxing commentator who also does great football work on Sky. He’s versatile which is what I like to be. – Nigel Pearson, talkSPORT, Sky Sports & ITV Sport
When the Premier League was formed in 1992, Darke moved to Sky Sports, having spent almost ten years working for BBC radio. He had commentated on boxing, athletics and football for the BBC, and his ability to work within a variety of different sports is epitomised by his commentating experience in both boxing and football, two very different sports.
Despite being below Martin Tyler in the pecking order at Sky, Darke was the main commentator for Monday Night Football, another innovation brought in by Sky to coincide with the introduction of the modern Premier League. Similar to Tyler, Darke was upbeat, emotional and colourful, a style of commentary suited to Sky’s lively, dramatic coverage of the Premier League.
In 1995, boxing coverage on terrestrial television all but vanished. Subsequently, this led to a notable rise in Sky’s boxing output. Darke made the permanent transfer to Sky’s boxing department, becoming the lead commentator. As a result, Rob Hawthorne took over as the main man on Monday Night Football.
Brief Spell with talkSPORT
For a brief period in mid-January 2000, Darke worked for talkSPORT, the UK’s first national commercial sports radio station, after Talk Radio moved its emphasis to sport. This saw the introduction of the UK’s first Sports Breakfast show. To begin with, this show rotated a core group of presenters, including Darke, the others being Alan Brazil, Gary Newbon, Brough Scott, Geoffrey Boycott and sports newsreader Adrian Durham.
Sky’s the Limit
Within ten years of moving away from the Sky football scene, Darke had become Sky’s top commentator on the boxing front. However, in 2005, promoter Frank Warren took the decision to transfer his fighters to ITV. Sky was forced to cut down its boxing coverage considerably, opening the door for Darke for a more permanent return to live football.
Darke hadn’t been out of the football loop completely, though. During his time as top boxing commentator, he had continued his football work as much as possible. Not only had he been heard commentating on matches for an international audience, he was also needed for Champions League matches. In 2003, Sky expanded their coverage of the competition significantly, gaining the rights to show 14 out of the 16 group stage matches in a Champions League week, with ITV showing the other two, a move that would clearly require a much higher number of commentators.
This opportunity for Darke came at the same time that Sky started to rotate their main four commentators. In seasons gone by, the Martin Tyler and Andy Gray combination that covered all the ‘big’ games was virtually fixed and inseparable, but in recent years it has not been uncommon to see Darke being given an increasing number of high-magnitude matches. He was behind the mic as Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira exchanged heated words in the infamous Highbury tunnel incident in February ’05, a thrilling game which saw United run out 4-2 winners. He was also given the 2005 Liverpool v Chelsea Champions League Semi-Final 2nd Leg at Anfield, with Luis Garcia’s controversial over the line? goal that is still contested to this day, showing he has what it takes to commentate on the most important games.
Tyler has perhaps reclaimed his proverbial top dog status within the Sky hierarchy over the past couple of seasons, although the continued rotation of Tyler, Hawthorne, Parry and Darke has given him plenty of opportunity to show his worth. While he continues behind the mic at all the big boxing bouts, he has gone from strength to strength in the football department, with regular commentary on games in the Premier League, Champions League and Football League. At the end of the 2006-07 season, he was rewarded with both the League One and League Two Play-Off Finals, highlighting his importance and long-term value within the Sky Sports operation.
Brief Uncertainty – Setanta
The start of the 2007-08 season brought with it a slight degree of doubt about Darke’s future with Sky, as new and upcoming sports broadcaster, Setanta, added to its existing coverage of the Scottish Premier League by securing the rights to air live coverage of 46 Premier League games. Predictably, this caused widespread rumour about the future destination of a number of well-known commentators, with Darke’s name cropping up time and time again. Instead, former ITV commentator, Jon Champion, switched to Setanta, killing any uncertainty about Darke’s position within Sky.
Work Outside Sky
Although the vast majority of his work lies with Sky, Darke is also employed by Transworld International (TWI) and the Premier League itself, a product broadcast all over the world. Premier League coverage spans the globe, with his voice being heard in countries such as China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Greece and Australia, where English club football is hugely popular. Not only that, but Darke, an avid Portsmouth fan, writes a weekly column in Portsmouth’s local paper, The News, called The Darke Side.
Future Voice of Sky Sports
Ford Super Sunday will run until at least the end of the 2009-10 season. Sky are widely expected to renew the deal at that stage, and have successfully managed to retain the rights to all 4pm kick-offs. Darke will no doubt remain one of the key cogs in the Sky Sports machine.
With top-class commentators a rare commodity, Sky are certain to retain Darke’s services for many more seasons. He is sure to become synonymous with Sky Sports’ live Premier League coverage, remaining one of Sky’s leading football voices and continuing to be heard at the biggest games for years to come.