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12th January 2023

Paul Bray Q&A: From player to commentator, and growing handball in Britain

From playing handball for Great Britain, setting up new clubs, leading the British Handball Association (BHA) and co-commentating with Martin Tyler, there’s not much in the game that Paul Bray hasn’t done. 

Now, having stepped down from his role as BHA Chair, Paul caught up with the England Handball team to look back on his fascinating career in handball so far.  

In this exclusive interview, he discusses how his playing career first started, and his path into commentating on handball, which saw him cover multiple Olympics and international championships.  

Paul also talks about the strides made in the British game during his time as BHA Chair, and reveals how international handball accolades run in the Bray family.  

How did you get into handball?  

I was born and brought up in France and started playing handball at school when I was 10. My English mother decided to move back to the UK when I was 16 and I continued playing, initially with Ashford, I then helped start Great Dane men’s handball team in London.  

I played for Great Britain (GB) for a time, and later coached the GB junior men, then the GB senior women’s team.

In 2011 I started a junior club in Ealing, West London, where my son started playing, the club grew and we decided to merge with a local senior club that now goes by the name West London Eagles.   

How would you describe your time as Chair of the BHA? 

I would say challenging, exhausting and rewarding. It has been full-on, and I have poured my heart into this role. We now have six GB squads, UK Sport funding, we’ve overhauled the BHA governance, improved our communications and established some commercial partnerships.  

Of course, none of this would have been possible without the tireless work and support of our incredible volunteer team staff and advisors, the players and parents and the Board members. 

I feel I have delivered on the goals I set out to achieve and can step away knowing that I have given it my best. 

What will you be doing with your time now that you've stepped down as Chairman of the BHA? 

I will have more time for coffee and a newspaper, but I will never step far away from handball, it’s my passion. I will continue with the TV commentating and spend more time coaching the young players at my club and in local schools and help develop the future generation of handball players. 

How did you first get into handball commentary? 

It was in February 1989, the first week that Eurosport went on air, they broadcast some handball and needed a co-commentator for Martin Tyler.

I was the GB Women’s team coach at the time, and they contacted me for some insights, and then invited me to the studio.  

I didn’t realise that they wanted me to commentate, so when Martin said “when I raise my hand, stop talking”, I nearly spat my coffee out,

“Stop talking? Why would I start talking?”, and that’s how it all started.  

They showed a lot of handball back then and I ended-up being the lead Eurosport commentator.

Now, almost 33 years later, I have covered eight Olympics, 45 World and European Championships, and a lot more. 

Do you remember the first game you commentated on? 

It was a men’s Baltic Cup match between Germany and Poland, but don’t ask me for the score!  

What's your fondest handball memory to date? 

I have had so many good memories from handball and count myself lucky to be so involved with the sport I love.

Commentating at London 2012, after I had been in charge of developing and overseeing the GB team Olympic programme, was very special.  

I always enjoy commentating at Euros and World Championships, where I also get to meet many old friends.

But probably my fondest memory was watching the stream of my son Oliver playing handball for GB Under-21s in Georgia and scoring six goals on his debut – he’s following in my footsteps! 

How do you think the game has changed over the years? 

It has changed enormously over the years.

When I started it was 12 players only on the bench, after every goal each team had to be back in its own half for the throw-off and 18-18 was a high scoring game - Today that’s a half-time score in some games.

Also, the ball technology improvements allow players to make some insane shots now and it has become an incredibly fast game.  From a TV perspective, I was commentating major finals in the 1990’s with half the cameras they have today, now every angle is covered, and you even have spider-cams hovering over players’ heads or inside the goal, TV Directing is a real art form. 

What are your thoughts on the new live streaming deal announced for handball in England this season? 

I think that getting handball onto a streaming platform in the UK and freely accessible to everyone is a key step to bring it to young players and increasing visibility. It’s a great initiative. 

What is it about handball that you think makes it such a fantastic sport? 

It’s fast, with lots of goals, some fantastic skills and the dynamics of the game can completely change from one minute to the next.

However ultimately it is easy to learn the basics and enjoy the sport at any level, it encompasses simple skills of running, catching and throwing, making it ideal for schools. 

What do you think the future holds for handball in Britain? 

There is some great work going on at grassroots level in the UK and I can see handball growing in schools and gaining a bigger foothold.  

At GB team level, thanks to the excellent cooperation between the British, England and Scottish handball associations we have seen huge improvements through the talent pathway, from senior GB team level all the way down through the age group teams and I was absolutely delight when our Under-20 men’s team won the IHF Trophy in October.  

It demonstrated that we are on the right path, and it was the perfect farewell for me as British Handball Chair.

Posted in British Handball