Great Scot: Rae on top of world
While he calls Beverly home, his game is broadcasting soccer internationally
Derek Rae has seen them, the quizzical looks people give him when he says he works for ESPN.
''They'll say: 'You work for ESPN? But I never see you, and I never hear you,' " Rae said.
Even most of Rae's Beverly neighbors don't know that he is one of the world's foremost soccer authorities, an internationally respected broadcaster who has called World Cup games and the Super Bowl of European club soccer, the Union of European Football Associations Champions League final.
''I don't honestly think they know," said Rae between sips of Bass Ale at a Salem pub. ''I could be wrong. They know I travel a lot for work and I'm sometimes at home when other people are working, but I don't think they have much of an idea [of what I do]."
Rae said he is better known in Bermuda, where he was besieged by fans while on vacation, than he is in Beverly. Although some of Rae's games can be seen domestically on ESPN2, most of his ESPN International broadcasts are available only in Australia, New Zealand, the Caribbean, and parts of the Middle East and Africa.
Some local soccer fans might remember Rae as the voice of the New England Revolution in the late 1990s and again in 2001. However, with his extensive background in high-level European and international soccer, Rae ultimately -- and admittedly -- proved a poor fit for Major League Soccer.
Rae doesn't mind going unrecognized. Unlike some of his colleagues overseas, the 38-year-old Scot can go about his normal life without being hounded by rabid soccer fans and club supporters.
''People I run into here are not necessarily fans of football," said Rae, who reserves the right to call the game by its proper name. ''Once in a while they'll hear the voice" -- a soothing yet authoritative brogue -- ''and say, 'I know who you are.' But when I go back to Scotland, I get recognized more than I do here, and I've been living here for 15 years."
Rae grew up in Aberdeen, Scotland, attending matches with a tape recorder to fashion his own commentary. He began his professional broadcasting career at age 15, calling games for a radio station that broadcast to local hospitals. He got his big break at the age of 19, when his broadcasting idol, David Francey , suffered a knee injury and Rae filled in on the radio call of a Scottish Premier League game. He was then tapped by BBC Scotland to call a match between ancient rivals England and Scotland that was played in London. The BBC liked what they heard and hired Rae as its Scotland soccer correspondent, a job he held for five years before moving to the United States in anticipation of the 1994 World Cup.
Rae, the 1987 British Sports Broadcaster of the Year, got a job as a press officer with the Federation Internationale de Football Association overseeing the World Cup games that were held at Foxboro Stadium. While working on preparations, Rae met his wife, Beverly native Beth Powers, and the two settled there.
Powers said it took her a while to learn that Rae's vocation and passion was soccer. The only hint her future husband dropped was when he talked about his extensive travels; Rae covered soccer in 19 countries during his time with the BBC. ''I thought that was a little bit of a pickup line," Powers said.
Following the World Cup, Rae joined ESPN International, lending his voice to games from the Dutch and Brazilian leagues. His role has since expanded. Rae calls more than 150 games a year for ESPN International and hosts a weekly studio-based soccer discussion show, ''ESPNsoccernet Press Pass." He also writes a column for ESPNsoccernet.
''Obviously, in the US the talent that has a broad knowledge of international soccer, which is what we do, is small," said Norm Whitehurst, coordinating producer for ESPN International. ''Derek seemed a perfect fit with what we needed for our audience, which is very football-soccer savvy. They expect different commentary than an American broadcaster typically does.
''He's a great find for us, and as far as soccer goes he's probably one of the most knowledgeable people in the US."
The silver-haired Rae said he relies on game tapes, magazines, newspaper articles, and the Internet to stay on top of the international soccer scene from his Beverly home.
The Internet ''has leveled the playing field for people like myself," said Rae. ''Whereas when I first came here it was very hard to keep tabs on anything that was happening in Europe, nowadays it's as easy to do it from here as London, Glasgow, or Dublin."
Most of the games Rae broadcasts are done from ESPN's studios in Bristol, Conn., using a foreign video feed. However, he was in Istanbul on May 25 for the UEFA Champions League final, which saw England's Liverpool rally from a 3-0 halftime deficit to stun overwhelming favorite AC Milan of Italy, 4-3, on penalty kicks in the most astonishing comeback in Champions League history. The game, which was aired on ESPN2, got record ratings for a Champions League game in North America, according to Whitehurst.
Although he was nearly 5,000 miles away, Rae was thinking of Beverly as he was calling the historic match, focusing on friend and fellow Scottish expatriate Keith Donaldson, who he knew was watching back home.
''I always like to have one viewer in my mind who I'm talking to," said Rae, who called the Champions League final the best game he had ever covered. ''I always try to talk to one person rather than a million people."
Donaldson is probably one of the few Beverly residents who has an appreciation for Rae's timbre. Growing up in Scotland, it was familiar to him even before Rae was.
''He would be the same [in Scotland] as the guy who comments on the radio for the Red Sox," explained Donaldson. ''Anybody who listened to radio in Scotland would know of Derek Rae."
Rae is considered one of the most prepared and studious announcers in the game.
''Every time he goes on the air, regardless of whether it's the Champions League final or the smallest game on the scale of world status, he approaches every game exactly the same," said Tommy Smyth, a native of Ireland who is Rae's ESPN announcing partner. ''Even if he's doing an internationally friendly between Moldova and Latvia, he approaches it as if it were the final of the World Cup."
Smyth said Rae, who is fluent in German and dabbles in several other languages, is so particular about pronouncing a player's name correctly that he has been known to call consulates to confirm the intonation.
Rae is looking forward to next year's World Cup because it is in Germany. If he hadn't left college to become an announcer, Rae said he probably would have ended up as a German teacher or translator. He is not sure in what capacity, but Rae will be working the World Cup, marking the sixth straight time he been involved with the quadrennial competition.
Despite his experience, Rae doesn't see himself as a soccer cognoscente, and he doesn't want others -- both those in Beverly who know of his announcing exploits and those who know of him simply as a friendly neighbor or passerby -- to view him that way.
''To [my friends] I'm just one of them. I'm not Derek Rae the commentator," said Rae. ''I'm Derek Rae the guy they meet for a pint and the guy they play golf with."
Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.