“Tom Ross is one of the greatest broadcasters on British commercial Radio. His knowledge of Midland’s football is second to none. His passion and enthusiasm for broadcasting is unsurpassed. One of the best sports broadcasters the UK has ever produced! “
Tom Ross has been the voice of Football in the Midlands for over thirty five years.
He was brought up at 2 the back of 437 New John Street West, Birmingham - a back to back house just off Summer Lane in the tough inner city slums of the 50s. He was one of 8 children to a tough Belfast mom Mary and equally tough Glaswegian dad Tommy. Throughout his formative and teenage years he stared real poverty in the face every single day and points out that his attitude to life and money is a product of that tough but love filled upbringing. “We looked out for each other because that’s what you did-families stuck together”. Tom says “Having less than nothing wasn’t a problem because none of my friends had anything either so there was never any peer pressure”.
He went to St Chad’s RC school from infants through to seniors. The infants and senior school was in Brearley St off Summer Lane while the Juniors was at the back of St Chads Cathedral in Shadwell St. Taught by tough Nuns and hard faced no nonsense Irish teachers he ended up as Head Boy and amassed over 20 external examination certificates including GCEs after a life changing moment when he was 13.
“It was hard at school with holes in your socks and your backside hanging out of your trousers” says Tom who jokingly describes how poor they were by saying that he never wore long trousers until his dad went to work on the night-shift.
It was at St Chad’s when he was 13 that he had a life changing experience that saw him sitting in a police cell at Bridge St West Police station along with some pals. "I realised after sitting with my Mom and Dad and talking through what had happened they made it clear in no uncertain terms that I had let them, my family and my school down".
It was just after that Tom made a conscious decision to do “the very best I could with no excuses” he adds “It didn’t matter that it was not good enough as long as it was the best I could do. I think now that it was my desire to get away from the poverty that inspired and drove me on”.
Tom worked hard and stayed on at school until he was 17: “I was in the 6th form with mates who were very intelligent and who found it easy to pass exams whereas I had to work harder than most to attain my exam results”.
Tom was also head altar server at St Chad’s cathedral and at one time it was thought he would enter the priesthood. He served mass at his brother Franks wedding at St Chad’s.
His hard work ethic came from his late father who gave him his life’s mantra:
There is no question that his dad was his hero: “I love my Dad to bits and miss him every single day. He never owned a house or car and never had any money but he was a very wise and loving man. Mom was an important figure in my life who taught me about respect and importance of discipline and most importantly never being ashamed of your background but to use it as inspiration".
Later on in his life inspiration also came from Boston Bruins Ice Hockey coach Don Cherry who said “never underestimate the power of desire over ability” he added that “while he always wanted both, if he had to choose then it would always be desire because ability without desire is a waste of time”. Tom just loves that quote and said “it sums up how I have approached playing football and subsequently how I approached work life”.
Football has always been an important part of his life since playing for the school and district through to Sunday Morning football. At 16 ge had the chance to join Southern League side Hinckley Athletic under the management of Dudley Kernick. Training Tuesday and Thursday nights along with players like Bobby Gould.
Tom says quite honestly and candidly: “the reality is that I was not good enough, and even though I trained and tackled with 100% commitment and desire”. However it was also due in no small way to a serious Achilles operation he had at the age of 12.
I moved to Boldmere St Michaels in the Midland Combination and had a few fantastically enjoyable years at Church Road.
Tom started reporting on football matches for BBC Radio Birmingham (now BBC WM) working for Sports Editor Tim Russon. His first game for the BBC was a Blues pre-season friendly against AJAX in 1977.
In 1981 Tom was contacted by the BRMB Sports Editor Tony Butler who offered him a job in his sports team. His first day at BRMB saw him covering Stoke v Blues which ended in a nil nil draw.
Tom remembers coming back from Stoke feeling pleased with himself thinking he had done a good job but Tony Butler soon brought him back down to earth by saying “If that’s the best you can do then clear off back to the BBC!". On March 28th 2016 Tom celebrated 35 years at Free Radio (the new name for BRMB).
When Tony Butler left BRMB in the early 80s Tom was appointed assistant to the new Sports Editor George Gavin. Tom has not missed a Friday night football Phone in since 1984
In 1993 George Gavin left to join BBC Radio 5 Live and Tom was thrilled to be appointed Head of Sport at BRMB. “It was the greatest job in the world” says Tom “fronting the sport on air at BRMB in my home town of Birmingham. It didn’t get any better than that.”
Tom utilised his own unique style of presenting and commentary and quickly took the station to Number 1 in the audience ratings where they stayed until 2004. That’s when the parent company Capital Radio decided that they would drop live football commentaries because of the cost.
Just one year later, when it was realised that the station had lost audience due to the decision, live kick by kick football came back to the BRMB airwaves and once again regained its place as the Number one for local football in the West Midlands.
Tom’s commentary style is all about passion as he explains “If we can’t be passionate, enthusiastic and excited about the game we are watching how can we expect the listener to be?”.
In 1997 Tom was asked to host the Capital Gold breakfast show for two weeks. Those two weeks lasted until the summer of 2008 playing the greatest songs of all time along with news, travel, sport, competitions and a few laughs along the way. So as well as travelling all over the country providing commentary on the local football teams he was up every weekday morning waking up Brum on Capital Gold.
Tom is a big music fan and in particular is a huge fan of Bruce Springsteen. “He is the nearest thing to Bob Dylan when it comes to lyrics - he is a true genius” says Tom who has seen just about every British gig by the Boss. Tom also loves Soul, Motown and Reggae - especially Brum’s very own UB40. In fact Tom likes all types of music and reckons that a great song is a great song whatever year it is from.
In 2008 Tom faced his biggest ever fight when he was diagnosed with Cancer in his leg. Tom was scheduled to have an operation in October at Solihull’s Spire hospital. However because he had never had a day of sick in nearly 30 years Tom did not want to break that record so came into work on the morning of the operation and was back at work the next day. He has never spoken about this until now because “there are so many people with much worse things to deal with” he says.
The doctors wanted him to have at least two weeks off work sitting with his leg up so that the skin graft could take. Within 36 hours of the operation he was at West Brom doing commentary with his leg on a box. “When the doctor said the results of my biopsy showed that it was a malignant tumour in my leg I went pale” remembers Tom adding “However the doc reassured me that it was not life threatening as it was in my leg”.
Tom remembers the operation as after a discussion with the doctors it was done under local anesthetic. “It was hilarious in the theatre as the wonderful surgeon Dr Remo Papini was operating I had two nurses one Villa and the other Blues having a right ding dong about football”.
In 2009 when BRMB along with Mercia, Wyvern, Beacon, Heart 106 as well as the respective Gold Stations was sold to Orion Media, Tom was given the opportunity to link up with the new CEO Phil Riley whom he had worked at BRMB in the 80s. Orion offered Tom the chance to become the Group Head of Sport. Tom then went on to provide live commentary games covering Wolverhampton Wanderers, Birmingham City, Aston Villa, West Bromwich Albion and Coventry City.
Those stations were rebranded to Free Radio and Free Radio 80s in 2012, with Tom continuing at the helm as Group Head of Sport.
In March 2016, Tom celebrated 35 years at Free Radio (formerly BRMB) and in June of the same year he announced his difficult decision to leave the station. Tom is now a freelance broadcaster, who occasionally still works for Free Radio alongside TalkSPORT, Birmingham Mail and many others.
It is for his impassioned Sports commentaries and love of the Midlands’ football teams that has resulted in Tom winning a number or prestigious Sony awards which are the radio industry’s OSCARS
Tom was the first Brummie to win a coveted New York Radio Gold Medal for his coverage of the 1997 Coca Cola Cup Final beating 2500 other countries to lift the award. He has also been a New York radio award finalist.
In 1997 he was runner-up in the BT Sports Journalist of the Year Awards.
In 2011 He received the IRN GOLD award in London for 30 years outstanding contribution to radio
In 2012 his coverage/commentary of the Carling Cup Final won the IRN Sports story of the year award
In 2012 he was named SPORTS JOURNALIST OF THE YEAR at the Midlands Press awards.
Sport dominates Tom’s life outside of work – he is joint/manager of the Blues All Stars, a team of ex-Birmingham City players who play charity football matches. They have raised in excess of £1,000,000 pounds for local charities. Tom is also chairman of the Birmingham City Former Players Association.
One of his career highlights was to be the first ever radio presenter to broadcast from the bench at Wembley during the Leyland Daf Cup Final in 1992 - smuggled in by Lou Macari as a physio’ in a tracksuit with his headphones in a bucket!
Tom also holds the record for being the oldest centre-page spread in Smash Hits magazine. When Robbie Williams went missing from pop group Take That, the world’s media were searching for him. Tom found him watching Birmingham City and got the exclusive interview with him and, within hours, it was all over the world on every TV station and newspaper in Britain.
In 2004 he was the first to react after the Tsunami disaster by holding a 27 hour Radiothon just days after the disaster struck. It meant him playing songs for 27 hours non-stop to raise money. With stars of pop, acting and football joining him to co host individual hours. His friends in football and the Birmingham business world rallied to help raise a magnificent £147,000.
In 2007 he made his acting debut playing a plumber in the hilarious “Mrs Brown’s last Wedding” comedy play with his friend the famous Irish Comedy actor Brendan O’Carroll at Birmingham’s Alexandra Theatre. (Brendan O’Carroll was in Angela’s Ashes, The Van and on TV he was in Max & Paddy with Peter Kay and has taken his Mrs Brown on to National TV with the BBC)
He’s also part of the “Bluenose Brothers” with his pal Ian Danter and released a song for Birmingham City FC called “Singing The Blues” that’s sold around 10,000 copies mostly through the club shop and HMV. Had they all been sold through HMV who sold the rest they would have had a top ten chart hit. In 2008/09 they released another single “Can’t keep Us Down after relegation to the Championship. Last season to celebrate reaching the Carling Cup final they released a double A side of “We’re On Our Way” and a terrace version of “Keep Right On”
Also In 2009 he raised £17,000 for ACORNS Children’s Hospice by going into the boxing ring for 3 rounds with former World Champion John H Stracey. Tom took plenty of punishment in front of 500 people at Birmingham’s Holiday Inn hotel.
Among his listeners are comedian Jasper Carrott, UB40, pop band the Twang, Ex Birmingham Boss Steve Bruce, ex manager Alex McLeish and former West Bromwich Albion manager Gary Megson and former Aston Villa boss John Gregory and numerous players, ex-players and directors.
He has been featured in the Times in 2003 and the Daily Telegraph in 2007 as well as being featured in OK Magazine in the late 1990s. Some of his humorous and quirky quotes have been used in various books such as the best selling “Tell Him He’s Pele… and get him back on” book by Phil Shaw. He is also talked about in various autobiographies including those of Robbie Savage, David Gold and Ted McMinn.
In 2010 he highlighted the work of 11 year old Birmingham boy Harry Moseley who after being diagnosed with a brain tumour at the age of 9 raised half a million pounds for cancer research before sadly passing away in 2011. Harry had a profound effect on Tom following an interview Tom did with Harry in the BRMB studios. “Harry changed my perspective on life” says Tom “a young man who through his pain and fears found the energy and love to inspire thousands of people so that no other moms would suffer like his did” “ I miss his cheeky loveable impish manner and way so much”.
Tom is an ambassador and has recently been appointed Chairman of the Board of Trustees for the Help Harry Help Others charity. They recently reached half a million pounds donated to cancer sufferers, families of cancer suffers and cancer research.
Tom is also an proud ambassador for South & City College.