‘Voice of Sport’ Ritchie Kelly to retire

Sporting legend Richie Kelly pictured relaxing at his home this week. DER1115MC105
Sporting legend Richie Kelly pictured relaxing at his home this week. DER1115MC105

With over thirty years of broadcasting experience under his belt, Ritchie Kelly has decided to spend his latter years in full retirement, and will leave the BBC in the coming weeks.

Having reduced his working week a few years ago he has decided that the 5.30am start is no longer for him.

“It got to the stage where I was motoring up the Strand Road in the early mornings, when everyone else is still in their beds, and I decided time was running out. There are so many places I want to visit and things I want to do.”

Yet, you can’t help but sense that he will always carry a love of broadcasting with him.

Reflecting back on his early childhood in Killea he says, “I remember always wanting to be a commentator. There was a big radio on top of the mantelpiece and I would stand right next to it, listening carefully to the news and sport.”

Yet, it wasn’t until Ritchie was in his 40’s that he finally got to transfer his passion into work.

“My father worked on the border as a Customs Officer and he valued education so he paid for me to go to St Columb’s College.

“I spent five years there - during the years that Phil Coulter and Seamus Heaney were at the school.

“When I finished he got me a job working with the Lough Swilly Company. It was a big operation back then and I worked my way up through the business until I was finally controller of the freight section.”

His friend from school, historian Ken McCormack was at this stage presenting the first morning programme on Radio Foyle and knowing Ritchie’s knowledge for sport, and specifically soccer, asked if he would report for them.

“I had grown up in a house full of sport. My father talked about the rugby and boxing and my mother regaled us with stories of her camogie playing.

“I had also managed the Donegal Youth Team in the year that they won the National Championship. Around the same time, I was twice offered the manager role with Finn Harps but declined as I really wanted to pursue the broadcasting route. And I couldn’t very well interview myself after the match!”

So, with Ken’s encouragement Ritchie began recording short reports for Radio Foyle.

“I would go to Ken’s house on a Sunday night and do a short 40 or 50 second recording to go out on Monday mornings. I was, at the start, still juggling the full-time work at Lough Swilly.

“But when Derry City entered the League of Ireland in 1985 a full-time position came up and I’ve been there ever since.”

A soccer man at heart, Ritchie still enjoys the diversity of other sports.

“When the full-time post came up we started to expand the sports covered, especially cricket and gaelic.

“I remember even yet, one of the cricket guys telling me ‘You’ve helped bring cricket to a wider audience’.

“But there were local cricketeers making the Ireland team, just like today, and they were playing against Test cricket players. So of course there was a need to cover it.

“Gaelic was covered mainly by Seamus Mallon, he still does some reporting, as he knows everything about the sport.

“But yes, we did start to diversify.”

It also becomes clear that Ritchie is never one to shy away from a challenge.

“I went back to university when I was in my early 40’s and studied for a sociology degree at Magee. I’ve also written a book, called ‘Sporting Greats of the North West’. That’s something I would like to do once I’m retired, write another book, I just need a title.

“I’m also grateful to have had the chance to travel all over continental Europe with the BBC, reporting on matches, but I’ve plenty of places I still want to see; Berlin is top of my list at the minute.”

Looking back, one of the biggest changes in Ritchie’s working life has been the expansion of technology.

“Technology has moved on to such an extent - that’s one reason I feel comfortable about moving on, there’s so much equipment now.

“But it was a great feeling to broadcast live from Europe, straight into the programme. That aspect of technology is brilliant, and it was great to be a part of it.”

He also reminisces about reporting through three great GAA managers winning for their county.

“I was there for Coleman managing Derry, McEniff managing Donegal and Harte with Tyrone.”

Another story he fondly remembers is being sent to Rome to cover the Republic of Ireland playing Italy in the Quarter-Final of the World Cup in 1990.

“I went without a proper press pass and managed to get the interviews I needed, through meeting people I happened to know.

“I also got into the dressing room at Croke Park when Derry won the All-Ireland Final. Nowadays you wouldn’t get anywhere without a press pass!”

For now though Ritchie is looking forward to his retirement and he intends to spend his new-found time with his family; daughters Karen, Lisa and Joanne and his six grandchildren - and his wife Dolores of course.