MATTHEW HILL - HIS SPORTING LIFE

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24/01/17

HE is as comfortable calling and hosting sporting events as he is broadcasting races. You name a sport and it’s a pretty fair bet MATTHEW HILL has been behind the microphone at the scene of the action. Only last month, an English commentator was sought to call the World Floorball Championships (a form of ice hockey) in the Baltic Republic of Latvia and Hill got the gig. For the past week or so, he has been the voice of Hisense Arena at Melbourne Park, introducing the tennis players prior to their matches at the Australian Open and then interviewing the winners.

Now the 36-year-old Melbournian, who met his idol Greg Miles on his 15thbirthday, is keen to replace him as Racing Victoria’s prime caller. Miles announced in November his intention to retire this year after a magnificent career which includes calling a record 36 Melbourne Cups. Never say never, but it’s long odds that will ever be surpassed, such is the pressure nowadays on race callers because of the additional TV exposure and the burgeoning presence of social media. Further, Miles had just turned 22 when he called his first Melbourne Cup (won by Just A Dash) in 1981. Applications for his position became official last week, and Hill has confirmed to JUSTRACING that he will be “throwing his hat in the ring”.

Hill, Sky Racing’s inaugural John Tapp Scholarship winner, quit his post as Sky Racing’s No 1 Sydney race caller two years ago to pursue a sports broadcasting career back in his home town.

Sydney had been his adopted home for a decade and a half. He took over from the retiring Ian Craig in 2009 as chief Sydney caller and filled that role for five and a half years until he went back to Melbourne in January, 2015. Hill says the opportunity which has presented itself as a result of Miles’ impending retirement is too good not to apply for. “I was just about to leave Melbourne in late November to go to the Japan Cup when Greg announced he had called his last Melbourne Cup and would be retiring this year,” Hill said. “It was a shock. I had no inkling of his decision. “Greg’s voice is synonymous with Flemington and the Melbourne Cup. “He has had a remarkable career, starting with the ABC, then later having to adapt to TV as Sky’s Melbourne caller and then TVN and now Racing.Com as well as continuing his radio broadcasts and comments. “I detoured after the Japan Cup to go to Latvia for the World Floorball Championships and was sitting at Bangkok airport wondering whether I should apply for the position. “It’s such a responsible job, but I’ve decided to give it a go. It would be a tremendous honour if I was chosen to be his successor.”

Whilst Hill wasn’t born into a fanatical racing family, his grandmother’s interest in the horses obviously rubbed off on him. He was an avid collector of racebooks as a kid, and his mother wrote to the Victoria Racing Club (VRC) asking for a Melbourne Cup book prior to his 15th birthday.

An enterprising VRC employee responded by getting in touch with Hill’s mum, who told him her son wanted to be a race caller. “It just happened that there was a Flemington Wednesday meeting on the day of my birthday, and I was lucky enough to be given the chance to go and meet Greg there,” Hill explained. “It was fantastic. We became great friends, and he has always been an inspiration to me.”

Miles had some words of wisdom for this aspiring young caller on their first meeting. He told him he should remember three words – see, recognise and say. “I’ve never forgotten that advice,” he said.

Turning 36 only last month, Hill obviously is still young. Yet he has already achieved so much, calling races in nine different countries. And his love of sport has seen him call at a Winter Games and the last three Olympic Games; the latest in Rio de Janeiro a few months back. Whilst he moved back to Melbourne two years ago and has been calling Australian Rules matches for the ABC and working on News Radio, he hasn’t abandoned his race calling skills, regularly broadcasting Victorian country harness meetings. He has followed the Western Bulldogs since he was knee high to a grasshopper, but unfortunately wasn’t at the Melbourne Cricket Ground last September when they beat the Sydney Swans in the grand final. “I was working for a digital radio station that afternoon, but was able to watch the game in the studio,” he said. “It was a terrific result; I was so pleased for all Bulldogs’ fans who had waited so long to win a premiership.”

Hill warmed up for his Australian Open assignment at Melbourne Park by calling the world feed at the Brisbane Tennis International at Pat Rafter Arena at the beginning of this month. He has now been working for Tennis Australia at the Open for six years, and revels in the atmosphere at Hisense Arena.

“It’s basically a younger crowd there, and it’s great fun,” he said. “The first week was interesting to say the least, with Nick Kyrgios winning his first match and then being bundled out by Andreas Seppi in a game which had everybody talking. “The players are really good to interview, but I’ve found Russia’s Svetlana Kuznetsova the best. She puts her game face on when she is out on court, but is always ready to have a laugh when interviewed. She is delightful.”

It’s his love of working at the Aussie Open and also at the Olympics which has prompted this sporting fanatic to put a “rider” on his bid to become the legendary Greg Miles’ successor. “I really want to keep doing the Australian Open and also the Olympics when they arise,” he said. “I’ve worked too hard to get to where I am now to give them up. “Hopefully, I’ll be able to manage everything by taking holidays when those events arise if I am lucky enough to be given Greg’s job.”

If Racing Victoria eventually considers Hill is the person they are seeking, then surely his request is not too tough a call!