It’s a dream job; getting paid to watch football matches across the land and describe the action to the watching or listening millions.
And many have done it well; Kenneth Wolstenholme etched his words into the history book with his classic “some people are on the pitch, they think it’s all over… it is now!” during England’s 1966 World Cup win.
But one of my latest gripes about watching footy on T.V. is the shocking demise of the quality of commentary provided.
The first offender I’d like to take issue with is Mr. John Motson. I may upset people here, after all this guy is part of the English football furniture, sheepskin coat and all. He’s even responsible for one of my favourite ever pieces of commentary: a shriek of unbridled excitement was evident as he yelled “Alfonsooooooooooooooooooo!” when the Spanish player hit a last-minute winner against Yugoslavia in an incredible World Cup ’98 game.
Nowadays though, it’s sadly a different story for Motson. When he commentates on Match of the Day, it sounds as though he’s not quite sure what he’s doing there. He offers no real insight into the teams, just sits muttering away about what’s going on. And even then it seems as though he’s half a minute behind the action. And there is no sign of that zest and excitement for the game that was once his trademark, á la the Alfonso incident.
Factor in his awful attempts at pronouncing the names of foreign players (“DDA Drogbar” and friends), and it’s a recipe for disaster. There is no doubting Motson as one of the games great commentators and statisticians, but maybe it’s time for him to hang up his mic, so to speak.
My next victim is the ITV commentator Peter Drury. In fairness, Drury is actually not a bad commentator, but it seems as though he can’t manage to go a full game without throwing in a stupid and clearly pre-planned one liner. A prime example: Hosts South Africa scored the first goal of the 2010 World Cup. Instead of greeting it with “a goal for South Africa”, Drury felt it apt to describe it as “a goal for all of Africa”. I can see the point he was trying to make, but when Spain won the competition, did we proclaim “Europe have won the World Cup!”? No, didn’t think so.
Another one I remember making my blood boil was watching Tottenham score a goal in the UEFA cup in a game they had been two goals down. Spurs were back in the game; their players knew it, the manager knew it, and everybody watching at home knew it. But Drury took it one stage further: “I dare you Tottenham Hotpsur! I dare you!” No, Peter. Just, no.
But if Peter Drury isn’t commentating on ITV, then invariably we have to suffer the wisdom of Clive Tyldsley. ITV’s main football coverage now consists of the Champions League, so every time Manchester United are on we have to listen to Tyldsley’s worn recollection of “that balmy night in Barcelona”, when United won the European Cup in 1999.
Liverpool games are always played out on “one of those special Anfield nights”, although one of Tyldsley’s most annoying traits had an airing at the Red’s 2005 triumph in Istanbul. You may recall they were 3-0 down at half-time to a rampant Milan side, but staged an implausible comeback to win on penalties. When Steven Gerrard nodded in his side’s first goal on the comeback trail, Tyldsley’s response was thus: “Hello?”
Instead of concentrating on one of the great sporting comebacks, I had to stop myself from launching the T.V. remote through the screen.
More recently, Tyldsley has bizarrely started referring to accurate cross-field passes as “a real quarter-back’s pass.” Given that quarter-back is a position in a game of American football, I have no idea what Tyldsley is rattling on about, but he sure as hell ought to stop it. Football doesn’t even have quarter-backs for crying out loud.
Jonathan Pearce is another commentator who grinds my gears. In some ways he is like the anti-Motson, almost too excitable. Though an obvious love for the game is refreshing, Pearce often takes it too far; farcical yelps of joy are common-place. Watching Arsenal is obviously his vice: at times he gets so excited watching The Gunners that you often wonder just what he’s up to in the gantry. Maybe it’s best not to imagine. Anyway, he made his name commentating on Robot Wars, so it’s hard to watch a football game without the image of Sir Killalot smashing the crap out of a home-made lump of steel on wheels.
In terms of radio commentators, 5live’s Alan Green takes the biscuit. Has there ever been a man who has complained so much about football matches? Some people would kill to have his job, but you’d actually be forgiven for thinking he hates it sometimes. Seriously, he sounds so bitter. And he’s not averse to a spot of controversy either, once describing Manchester City’s Sun Jihai as wearing “number 17- that’ll be the chicken chow mein then.” Nice bloke.
I suppose it wouldn’t be fair if I signed off on such a note though, so I will throw in my nomination for best commentator, and it goes to Guy Mowbray. In recent seasons he seems to have taken on Motson’s mantel as the BBC’s leading man, and does a good job; mixing facts with a bit of humour and decent one-liners. But even he isn’t without his flaws: commentating on a South Africa match at the World Cup, he spotted a blonde spectator in the crowd, and remarked “I’m not sure whose, but a WAG she no doubt is.” It was the Hollywood actress Charlize Theron. Nice one, Guy!