Derek Rae: “Every World Cup has its own dynamic. So, I’m very excited about this one.” (Photo courtesy of Fox Sports and Derek Rae)
By Michael Lewis
The United States might not be competing in the World Cup for the first time in more than a generation, but that certainly hasn’t dampened the enthusiasm of Derek Rae for Russia 2018.
Rae, a veteran television play-by-play man, has been involved in every World Cup in one capacity or another since 1990, has been named one of the broadcasters for Fox Sports for this summer’s extravaganza.
“I’m very grateful for Fox for the invitation and I was delighted to accept it,” said Rae, who has broadcast games for the New England Revolution, MetroStars, LA Galaxy and ESPN through the years.
The World Cup is more than just an American story to the Scottish native.
“It’s a global competition,” he said in a recent phone interview, “and I’ve always gone into World Cups and Euros and major international tournaments telling the story of the tournament. I’ve never had to cover the U.S. I’ve never been given that assignment. To me, there is nothing new. I cover the teams that I cover and I put my heart and soul into it. I pride myself, come kickoff time, whatever game I’m doing, I am completely immersed, not just the team, but the culture and the story points to hit on for every national team.
“That’s what we all do for commentators. We all go into it trying to tell the story of that country in an unobtrusive way because the game is always played the same when it is happening. We want to blend in and not overpower the action, which is the most important thing. But having that knowledge it’s very important and experience is important.”
Rae will be paired with former U.S. international Aly Wagner. They have never worked together on the air before, but they have established a chemistry during trial runs.
“I think this is a great tribute to Fox Sports and their planning,” he said. “Aly and I had never met. Fox Sports have had us together doing various trial runs, which I think that is something important, getting used to a new audio partner. So, I’ve got to know ally quite well. I really respect her. I really respect what she has to say about the game, her knowledge, her tactical insight. This is someone who does her homework.
“I remember her as a player. I think I commentated on some of her games way, way back many, many years ago. She brings a real thorough knowledge and a thirst for additional knowledge. We are at the point now where we email each other every other day, with nuggets of information, passing things back and forth, making sure the other is aware of something that may be significant, particularly during the last international break when all of the teams were playing each other. Hopefully what we produce on the air hopefully will be something the viewers will enjoy.”
At the present time, a list of the games the duo will commentate had not been finalized.
Russia 2018 will be Rae’s eighth World Cup as a commentator.
“Every World Cup has its own dynamic,” he said. “So, I’m very excited about this one, given the particular dynamic of 2018 in Russia and telling the story that with sense of place and putting all those factors into the commentary. I’m also very excited to be working with a new team of people and that’s important. There are colleagues there from previous tournaments, previous World Cups. It always ends up that way in broadcasting. But it’s the first time I ever worked for the Fox Sports Network and I have worked for quite a few channels over the years in various different countries. So, it’s a great thrill to be included as a member of a very strong team, a team that’s brimming with youthful talent. But like in any sports team, you perhaps need a little hard-nosed experience to call things as well. That’s probably, hopefully, where I come in.”
Growing up in Aberdeen, Scotland, Rae attended soccer matches with a tape recorder, doing commentary on matches.
He began his professional career as a 15-year-old, broadcasting Scottish matches on the radio back to hospitals.
“It’s not so unusual in the UK because hospital radio is a very strange thing that still exists,” he said. “It started as a way of providing patients in hospitals with local content. We don’t have the local radio stations on the scale that exist in the United States. So, it was a great way of really getting some broadcasting experience. I knew from a young age that’s what I wanted to do. I was fortunate to get that chance as a teenager.
“My local team was Aberdeen and it happened to be at a time we had a fellow called Alex Ferguson as our manager, guiding us to victory in one of the European tournaments. Aberdeen won the Cup Winners Cup in ’83, with Real Madrid in the final. And then went on to win the European Supercup against Hamburg a few months later. As a teenager, I actually broadcast both … home games of that run and the Supercup, playing at home. I got the hair dryer treatment pretty early on in my career, which probably served me well.”
So Rae quickly put being a fan behind him, joining BBC Scotland in 1986. Let’s face it. Just about anyone who pursues a career in sports journalism is a fan of a sport or of a team early on. Rae learned to put that behind him in a hurry to become objective.
“I think it would be very strange if you didn’t have a team that you supported when you were young, irrespective of the sport,” he said. “Your love for the game can be put across in a number of different ways. One of the challenges is to take that partiality and move into impartially. I always feel a real affinity with the referees. People see that a bit strange that I do that. I feel that broadcasters are a bit like referees because I know of the top referees — I have come across them in my travels — they are all the same. They all started as football/soccer crazy kids and this was their way into it just as it was my way to be there covering this game and meeting so many interesting people, players, managers, fans.
“Where you get the real stories is in dressing rooms, in tunnels, talking to the physios and kit men and janitors and people who are there every day at a particular football club. So, I think that’s right. You’ve really got to love it. You’ve really got to have it in your heart, in your blood. and that always comes through on the air with any broadcaster.”
Which is what Rae hopes to accomplish in Russia this summer.
To read more about Derek Rae’s thoughts about the World Cup, past and present, visit: