9. april 2020

UK – INTERVIEW WITH THE VOICE OF THE EMIRATES: NIGEL MITCHELL

If you have ever visited Emirates Stadium either for a match or a stadium tour, you´ve definitely come across Nigel Mitchell and not at least his voice. On match days Nigel is namely always ready pitch side around the dugout to guide you as a visitor both before, during and after a game. And when the Arsenal-players go abroad on pre-season, Nigel is also their to take part in the fun. We have caught up with Nigel for a talk being around numerous of Arsenal-legends, being co-host on kit launches with Thierry Henry and a special peanutbutter-chocolate spread sandwich.

By Mads Adam Wegener

A “pinch yourself in the arm”-job. That is how Nigel Mitchell describes his privilege to work for his favourite football club Arsenal. The most Arsenal-fans might know Nigel from their visit to the Emirates Stadium. Nigel has namely the honour to welcome fans from near and far to ‘The Home of Football’, where he together with a range of guests provides the entertainment, whenever the football players don´t take center stage. Mr. Mitchell orchestrates everything from announcing the starting line-ups to conducting half time interviews and games with the Junior Gunners. Atmosphere is a necessity on match days, and Nigel has since 2012 done his very best to provide this. No matter how many times, this man never gets tired of roaring out, ‘Come on you Gunners’:

”I started in January 2008 and was part of the launch team for Arsenal TV.  My background was live children’s TV, so I had never worked in sport. However Arsenal gave me a chance, took me under their wing and have given me so many incredible presenting opportunities over the years.  At first I presented a daily news show called Arsenal Today and was the training ground reporter for the live Friday show. Arsenal TV eventually became Arsenal Player so those shows no longer existed,”

”However the Club asked me to be the voice of Arsenal World and then in October 2012 I remember walking through the office one Tuesday on my way to my voiceover when I was asked if I’d like to be the new pitch side Presenter.  I thought about it for less than a second and I’ve been hosting the Matchday Show at Emirates Stadium ever since.”

Nigel Mitchell, Lee Dixon, Ian Wright
Nigel with Ian Wright & Lee Dixon / Photo: David Price

Taking the temperature

For Nigel, his task to get things said and done during his very limited time on big the stage isn´t the only thing that makes his job hectic and at times breath-taking. The Arsenal-players do namely not take themselves through 90 minutes of unpredictability, but also fans and employees like Nigel:

It’s a results business so the difference between winning and losing can bring its challenges in terms of how I present things.  If we’re losing going into half time I obviously have to adjust my tone slightly and gage the mood of our fans before I begin the interview or whatever it is we have lined up for half time.  Fortunately, it doesn’t happen that often at Emirates, and The Gunners have often scored just before the half time whistle for which I’m very grateful.”

Tough it at times it can be hard to take, the roller-coaster ride is most of the time worth to be part of. One of the most memorable ones for Nigel is a couple of hot summer days in May 2014:

“Hostin the FA Cup parade show in 2014 was special.  We’d just won our first trophy for a few years in a very dramatic final, it was a beautiful day, the streets outside Emirates were packed with almost a 1/4 of a million people and it was my job to introduce Arsène and the team on stage to lift the trophy in front of our amazing fans.  I have an incredible photo of my interview with Arsène from that day framed in my living room.  It captures one of my all-time favourite career moments.”

The fond memories of the FA Cup-triumph has also put a mark on his opinion when it comes to his favourite Arsenal-goal.

”I loved Olivier Giroud’s scorpion kick against Crystal Palace on New Year’s Day 2017.  I remember watching from my seat near the dugout area and none of us could quite believe what we had just seen.  It was simply spectacular.”

Nigel with Arsene Wenger in 2014 / Photo: David Price

”However, I’m going to go for Aaron Ramsey’s winner in the 2014 FA Cup Final against Hull City.  That game was such a rollercoaster from start to finish and that goal was the perfect finale.  It was a lovely back heel from Olivier Giroud to set Rambo up for a great finish but for me it’s more about what that goal meant to Arsenal Football Club and the Arsenal fans.  It was historic as it delivered our first trophy for a few years and lead to some incredible celebrations.  I was hosting the FA Cup-final screening on the pitch at Emirates Stadium and I’ll never forget the moment the ball hit the back of the net and the amazing victory parade in the bright sunshine on the Sunday.”

A driver and his passenger

Even though Nigel sometimes can let himself be caught up by the atmosphere and the events on the pitch, like most fans do, the keyword for the experienced host is to be relaxed. It is namely first and foremost crucial for Nigel to make his guest feel comfortable. An important lesson he learned from one of his broadcasting idols:

”When I was growing up, one of my favourite interviewers, a British Broadcaster called Michael Parkinson, said, ‘Interviewing somebody is like driving a car.  You’re the driver and your interviewee is the passenger.  If you’re a nervous driver, your passenger will be nervous and therefore they’re unlikely to relax and give you the answers you’re really looking for.”  I heard that advice and immediately thought “well I can never be nervous then’. Therefore, I don’t allow myself to think about how famous the person is or get too excited about interviewing them in case it affects the interview.  I try my hardest to be a good driver and make ‘the journey’ enjoyable and on our VIP Experiences at Arsenal, our legends have told some absolutely incredible stories as a result of them being relaxed passengers.”

”However, there was one half time interview that still stands out for me.  I was really excited, not because I was meeting and interviewing this particular person but because I knew how excited our Arsenal fans would be when they saw him and heard from him.  That person is Dennis Bergkamp.

Even for the most experienced of hosts, sudden emotions and situations can turn up, when you work for a club like Arsenal. Specially when The Iceman is in the house:

”The day Dennis’s statue was unveiled outside Emirates Stadium, he joined us at half time to talk about that and to look back at some of his finest moments in an Arsenal shirt.  Hard to do real justice to them in 5 minutes but we tried our best.  You could hear a pin drop inside the Stadium.  60,000 people were completely silent listening to The Iceman.  Everyone was hanging off his every word and the atmosphere was electric.  That was a moment that I was very excited and very proud to be involved with.  Thank you Dennis.”

Dennis Bergkamp, Nigel Mitchell
Nigel with Dennis Bergkamp in 2014 / Photo: David Price

From Britney Spears to Thierry Henry

Before Nigel became a famous voice and character around Arsenal, he initially used his skill and sense for the right questions when he since his teenage years worked as a broadcaster for tv-channels like Disney Channel, Nickelodeon and ITV. Here, Nigel had the pleasure of getting to interview famous popstars like Britney Spears and Phil Collins as well as a host of Hollywood-actors. Becoming Arsenal as an employer has since got him to meet a whole bunch of Arsenal-legends, which he also have been able to add to the list of famous people, he has interviewed. Some of them have even been some of Nigels working partners over the years:

“I’ve worked with Thierry Henry a few times over the years and even co-presented a kit launch with him back in 2015 which was a real privilege.”

Nigel Mitchell with Thierry Henry / Photo: David Price

And Henry is far away from being the only one, Nigel has worked together with. Legends are litterally surrounding Nigel in his everyday work at the club:

“Our VIP-experiences at Emirates Stadium are always exciting to work on.  We do a few of these every season where I’m joined by either Lee Dixon, David Seaman, Ray Parlour or Martin Keown and we take a small group of fans on an exclusive tour of ‘The Home of Football’ whilst I interview our legend about their playing days.  We then have a buffet lunch in the Diamond Club and our legend spends time with each of our guests.  They are always brilliant days and every time we do one of those tours we hear some great new stories so I always really look forward to them.”

And even without having to bring out the big money to go on a VIP-tour, you can still have the pleasure of being followed around the Emirates by Nigel and a few Arsenal-legends:

“Finally, to be asked to be one of the voices on the Emirates Stadium audio tour is a great honour.  I’m in the company of Arsenal Legends Lee Dixon and Charlie George on that project and that really was very exciting.”

Next stop: Singapore, Sydney, The States

The task to be the host on match days and guide on the VIP-tours are far from the only duties, Nigel has had fun with while working for Arsenal. From time to time, events for the Junior Gunners are in need of a host, which Nigel is more than capable of being a host on. Speaking of young Gunners, Nigel is also the host for a few academy tournaments at the Arsenal-academy Hale End during the year, where he has the opportunity to get a look on some of the finest talents Arsenal have in their youth ranks. Like many, specially one player has lately caught the eye of Nigel:

“I visit our academy at Hale End a few times a season to host our Academy Tournaments so I see some incredible footballers in the making that may well go on to be first team stars one day a bit like Bakayo Saka.  What a season he’s having but he’s been working very hard for a long time to get where he is now and the amazing thing is that he’s still learning.  I’m very excited about his future.

Just like Saka, Nigel was on board on this year’s pre-season trip to the USA. On previous occasions Nigel has also had the pleasure of having a seat reserved in the same flight as the first team when they have gone abroad for pre-season. Pre-season is namely not only about playing friendly matches and getting into shape for the first team, but also for promoting the club, which makes Nigel an important asset:

“The pre-season tours that I’ve been part of have been absolutely incredible experiences.  My first taste of the tour was in Singapore in 2015.  I’d never been away with Arsenal before so had no idea what to expect but when the plane landed and I saw how many fans were waiting at the airport it was jaw dropping!  I was aware we had an incredibly dedicated following outside of North London but to actually see it in person was unbelievable.  The fans even knew all our names so that was a really lovely surprise when we arrived at the hotel and they said hello.  It made me feel very at home straight away so when I hosted events that week I never had to worry about the audience once..”

Nigel and Olivier Giroud during a kit launch in Sydney, 2017 / Photo: David Price

“I’d say my best experience of all the tours so far has been when we visited Sydney in 2017.  When we go on tour we always host a ‘fan party’ which is a 2 hour stage show inside a hotel ballroom and around 800 fans come along to take part in games and Q&As with some of the first team and an Arsenal legend.  In Sydney we decided to combine this experience with open training so it turned into a 4 hour event at the ANZ Stadium.  We ran it like a TV show and we were due to start at 2pm on a Friday afternoon.  We had to delay the start though as people were still coming in.  In the end we got underway at 2.30pm with a live audience of over 25,000!!!  We played a game called ‘Koala or Kangaroo’ with the players and everyone was shouting the answers at us.  It was one of the best events I have ever been part of.”

On the pre-season trip to Sydney, Nigel also got to experience, what it sometimes can be like, if you´re famous figure, that has something to do with Arsenal:

“A few days later I got up very early to watch the sunrise at Sydney Opera House before we flew to China and as I was walking around minding my own business at 6am, someone across the street shouted out “Hey Nige… is it a koala or kangaroo?”   The game and the event had clearly made an impact on our wonderful fans in Sydney and that’s something I’ll never forget.  For the record, it was a kangaroo.”

A very special peanutbutter-chocolate spread sandwich

When it however all comes down to the day Nigel fell in love with The Gunners it wasn´t about going to abroad or checking in on the same flight as the first team players. Arsenal found its way through to Nigels heart by two very special reasons:

“I still have the Arsenal cannon pin badge from my first ever trip to Highbury.  It’s on my hall table sitting next to the current Arsenal crest pin and an Arsenal Foundation one.  My godfather Robin bought it for me when he took me and his daughter, Chloe, to watch Arsenal vs Crystal Palace in May 1992.  We sat in the West Stand on the half way line and the famous mural was covering the North Bank whilst the building work was going on.  It was 3-0 to The Arsenal and it was a day I’ll never forget, not only because of the football but also because Chloe introduced me to the taste sensation that is peanut butter and chocolate spread sandwiches which we enjoyed at half time.  Whenever I walk past that pin badge in my hallway it reminds of those two significant ‘life moments’.”

Thank you very much for the stories Nigel! If you would like to keep updated with Nigels work for Arsenal, go give him a follow on Twitter, @MrNigelMitchell.

Nigel Mitchell
A young Nigel / Photo: Private collection
Nigel Mitchell
Nigel with the FA Cup trophy in 2014 / Photo: David Price

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