‘Ana Miles Harrison’ might just be the most comforting words for any Lions fan to hear on Saturday in the final minutes before the vital third Test against South Africa in Cape Town.
As the Sky broadcaster is the final name to be introduced, faded up from the studio in Isleworth to call his 19th Lions Test, it will bring a smile to the faces of supporters across Britain & Ireland, and confirm he has achieved achieved his own personal goal of recovering from colon cancer to be calling the shots again.
‘I’ll be in a really happy place calling this game,’ Harrison tells Sportsmail. It is the mundane tasks he has quietly revelled in this week, preparing as he always has for these momentous Saturdays.
The British and Irish Lions are taking on South Africa in their deciding game this Saturday
Miles Harrison will commentate on the came having come through a cancer scare
‘It’s been so lovely to be almost 100 per cent normal this week,’ he continues, showing the first draft of his hand-written player-by-player notes.
‘People ask, “What do you do in the week?” It makes me laugh. “Don’t go to bed” is my reply!
‘If you’d told me in May all the work I’d done on the South African regional sides I wouldn’t need, and I’d emerge just for the third Test, I’d think, “Why?” Now I have my answer.
‘Little tasks you do, which sometimes become a chore as you’ve done them for so long, have almost been beautiful to do.’
On June 1, it was confirmed Harrison, 55, had cancer.
For a couple of months before he had noticed changes in his bowel habits – needing the toilet sometimes four times in the mornings – and that he was losing weight.
‘I’m a bit of a whippet anyway, so if I lose too much I’ll fall through the floorboards,’ Harrison says with his typical twinkly-eyed wit.
In his 40s he had a polyp removed, thankfully benign, and ever since has had bi-annual blood checks.
The next was due after this Lions tour, his seventh, but these toilet trips concerned him enough to bring that forward. It was vital he did.
With evidence of blood in that sample, he was checked again – a high score alerted the doctors to see him.
The Lions tour has not quite been the same without Harrison’s commentary
‘I asked what the chances were of it being something sinister; they said it was not anything higher than 10 per cent,’ Harrison explains.
‘I had a colonoscopy at the start of June and there it was,’ he said. ‘I was in the 10 per cent. ‘Everybody probably thinks, “It’s not going to be me”. Then the moment when it obviously is it just knocks you for six.’
Amid waves of emotion, issues of how to break the news to friends and family, Harrison’s love for the Lions came through. Having commentated on every Test for Sky since 1997 — from Jerry Guscott’s drop goal in Durban, to Waltzing Brian O’Driscoll in Brisbane four years on, the brutality of Pretoria 2009 and the Eden Park draw last time –, he was desperate to fulfil his duties againthis year.
‘When the doctor discovered the cancer in my bowel I said, “Can I make the Lions?” That was my first thought,’ he recalls.
‘I got the feeling he wasn’t really into rugby, so I got a look of “what’s he talking about?!” but the surgeon knew exactly and said, “Yeah, we’ll try and get you fit for the third Test”.
‘That became my external goal, away from the emotional and family stuff. It became a nice driver. I could watch the series, and think, “If this goes well I could still be part of it”.
‘My attitude was always that I’d be competitive and beat it. That’s a legacy of being surrounded by sportspeople. It rubs off in a way, and is probably inside me as I’m quite competitive anyway.
‘I hope people don’t get the wrong impression, I do value family and it’s not just all about work! But you are talking to a person who has been absolutely immersed in this whole sports-commentary thing, and right at the centre of that is the British & Irish Lions.
‘That’s underpinned the whole of my broadcasting career and I’m very proud of that.
‘As a nipper I absolutely adored the Lions. There is no team that has meant to more to me, or one I have greater affection for.
‘I support Nottingham Forest and Nottinghamshire County Cricket Club very deeply, but the Lions is special as it allowed the young me to support all these players that didn’t play for the country in which I was born.
‘That was quite important when you were English in the 1970s! Suddenly these great players all belonged to me as a fan – and that’s never left me. ’On June 21, the Monday before the Lions’ tour curtain-raiser match against Japan, Harrison had surgery in Harpenden to remove the cancer.
He was inundated with support from the rugby world. Grateful to surgeon Nick Reay-Jones, he arrived back home in Berkhamsted that Saturday to Channel 4 coverage he should have been part of.
By then the world knew his news, and messages of support for such a popular broadcaster had flooded in.
‘It made me very emotional,’ he adds.
‘Releasing the news was deliberately timed so I was sitting in a chair and could take it all in, but it did make the heart race.
The Lions claimed a win in the first game and then lost the second against South Africa
‘I think if I’d had those messages on the day of the surgery all my buzzers would have gone off and I’d have been shouting “nurse! I need help!” I want to thank everyone equally,’ he said. ‘Every message has been read and every message has contributed to me feeling betterTo those who have sent messages you have actually been a medicine.’
While in hospital the nurses did not need to worry about entertaining him. Harrison indulged in sport – World Test Championship cricket, Wimbledon, the Lions and Euros all on his bed-side box.
When back home he suddenly discovered how nerve-wracking the whole experience can be.
‘I couldn’t watch the penalties,’ he says of England’s Euro final defeat to Italy.
‘And for the semi-final I had to leave Helen, my wife, and get her to shout up the stairs. Ridiculous!
‘There was this really strange noise she made at the end of England-Denmark… a sort of cry of agony, but I couldn’t tell if it was good or bad! ‘Thankfully, – for us and his heart-rate – Harrison will be back at work on Saturday. He has the all-clear to pick up the microphone once more.
When he does all partisan feelings will subside.
‘Knowing myself, I will click into work mode and be 100 per cent focused, as I always would be,’ he added. ‘But I have got up every morning this week thinking this is just brilliant.’