There was a time, particularly in their younger years, when my two boys spent more time listening to Jim Beglin and Jon Champion than they did me or their mother. Welcome to the world of Pro Evolution Soccer, or PES for short.

Second only to the FIFA franchise in terms of popularity, and still very much on the market, PES remains an annual best-seller and for four years Beglin and Champion were the English-speaking commentator and co-commentator, extending their TV partnership to invade gamers‘ bedrooms across the globe. Beglin is still in his role, now alongside Peter Drury, another long-time colleague.

The 27-year real-life partnership with Champion also came to an end, for now, last weekend when the pair covered Fulham‘s defeat to Tottenham together in Champion‘s last game for Premier League Productions, who provide worldwide live matches, before he moves to America.

Beglin insists there were no tears but to the millions of regular viewers in Sydney, San Francisco or Singapore, it was an emotional day. The pair are the voice of the Premier League to the world. Beglin took a “very expensive” bottle of Dom Perignon to Craven Cottage, while Champion reciprocated with a copy of photographer Stuart Clarke‘s lovely Homes of Football album.

After spells with radio, Match of the Day, ITV, BT Sport, ESPN, PLP, you name it, Champion has earned his own big move abroad and will be ESPN‘s MLS lead commentator for the next five seasons. His first game next month is Wayne Rooney‘s DC United versus champions Atlanta United.

Beglin and Champion first met as the former Liverpool and Ireland star was trying to rebuild his life after the devastating broken leg suffered in a Merseyside derby. It ended a promising career for Bob Paisley‘s last signing at Anfield.

Champion, who will be with former Ireland international Kevin Kilbane for his last PLP commentary at Newcastle United versus Manchester City on Tuesday night, is looking forward to a less punishing and more rewarding schedule in the United States.

He admitted: “I have been covering five games a week and you get to that level where you are spending more time on the road than you ever can preparing for games and it can be hard to pay due care and attention – to the roads and the games.

“I will do 38 games in 2019, which is a fifth of the number here, so I will have time to research the clubs, watch the teams train, spend some time with the managers and get original information and do the job the way we used to do it.”

Champion‘s departure has reminded Beglin of the significant role the esteemed Yorkshire journalist played in his development into RTé‘s leading co-commentator with George Hamilton for more than 20 years.

Beglin said: “I did some local radio when I was at Leeds. If a player was injured, he could do co-comm and I was still trying to keep my career ticking along but Howard Wilkinson (then Leeds manager) had heard me and said I should give it a go. Which made me think, because I was all set up for the coaching route.

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“I did Italia ‘90 for RTé and kept it ticking along and it developed from there. I knew I had to increase my vocabulary and get more savvy, and meeting Jon made me realise that. He is a real wordsmith and sometimes he used to go off on one, and I would say to him, ‘What are you talking about?‘

“You watch these guys work and they know what is happening at each club, they know managers, chairmen, players and I knew I needed to be aware and have an opinion on a team if I am going to watch them. I record everything a month ahead of a game now.

“Jon is a nice guy and goes about it in the right manner, and with that respect and network of friends and colleagues and s he can basically glean information from people and use that very elegantly with an underlying foundation of professionalism and humility.

“I am not making that up. He has always been extremely humble and appreciative of his position and the world he operates in and he figured it out. But you expect that from someone with a brain like he has.

“I don‘t think he has ever offered me a piece of advice but I always picked up on the good things he did. His last commentary, Harry Winks scores and he says, ‘It‘s Harry!‘, to the whole world, in an instant, knowing he‘s injured so it can‘t be Harry Kane. Brilliant. The right words at the right moment. A privilege to sit alongside him and I will miss him.”

For a man who knows the Premier League better than most, covering the MLS will present new challenges to 53-year-old Champion, who is moving to Boston with his wife and 16-year-old son. But it is fertile territory for a football-stat hunter gatherer who is keen to extend his influence on the American audience beyond his expertise, experience and accent.

He said: “There is an interesting debate on how football should be covered in America. On the one side it needs American voices but for authenticity having a British voice helps.

“I can understand both sides and the MLS as an organisation is helping younger broadcasters and I will be part of that programme, so by the time I leave it would be nice to think the sport has progressed as much as broadcasting has.”

And there will always be PES: “When I covered Liverpool‘s Champions League game in Belgrade, I got to the hotel and I was mobbed by PES gamers,” Beglin said. “It was the last place I was expecting it, but the two porters, when they found out who I was, they were mad for it but in many ways it helped them learn English. Couldn‘t do enough for me.

“It is hard, laborious work, standing in a studio recording hour after hour, trying to find seven different ways to describe a cross coming into the box. They have a gauge on your voice to sense any dip in your energy. It‘s scripted but I have my own slant on it and we must be doing something right because the PES gamers still love it.”

And Champion recalled: “During the World Cup in South Africa, we got to one hotel to find dozens of people waiting who would not let us to go bed until we had signed their copies of the game.”

An affable duo forever immortalised in the game.

Sunday Indo Sport

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