2007 is of course the 80th anniversary of football commentary. It’s good that the best of it is still on radio, although the “chart” system that the BBC set out with in 1927 has long been discarded. When a game is broadcast live on both television and BBC Radio 5, I’ll mute the TV and have messrs. Greene and Brotherton to talk me through. Sadly, the excellent World Cup 2006 digital arrangement whereby you could get rid of the television commentary in favour of radio or indeed get rid of it altogether hasn’t been repeated since, allegedly because the numbers opting out of John Motson were too high.
It’s a genuine shame. Radio coverage is always more interesting, especially if you can see what they see and so know what they’ve considered worth telling you and what they’ve withheld. TV commentators have the signal advantage that they can allow the football to tell its own story, which it’s always better at doing than the microphone men are on its behalf. They don’t take up that advantage often enough. I tired early in WC2006 of the way Motson, for instance, would go into nuclear meltdown mode every time the opposition entered the England half. It just wasn’t as worrying as he said. And am I the only one who feels that his choice of words would be appropriate for events that take weeks to unfold, but jar constantly during the fast time of a soccer match?
John Murray, on Radio 5, is a different case in point. The man has a superb voice and sense of atmosphere, but is obsessed with even the merest hint of giant-killing: should one of his teams be a couple of league places above the other, it’s a shock to him that the lesser team should even stage an attack. He “did” Manchester United v Newcastle United on what for me was the occasion of a long, long drive home from the East Riding. Murray commented as if it were Manchester United against e.g. Sutton United. Newcastle played well and the game ended in a draw, but to Murray this was as great a shock as Yeovil Town v Sunderland in 1949, and Old Trafford was shaken to its foundations etc.
In the World Cup, Murray was even worse, pretending (I hope he was pretending) that every “nation” (in his overworked phrase) had utterly downed tools and was agog in front of its televisions, ready to decide between life and self-murder on the basis of the next five minutes’ action. But Murray is not Motson, and he hands over to Alan Green, the best at the job since Moore and Coleman.
Anyway, I wake early on a Sunday feeling vengeful towards commentators, perhaps because I’m still a bit cross over the Beckham/USA (stop calling it “America” too, people)/”soccer” thing – I’ve been leaving mildly abrasive comments about it here and there, albeit not on Dave Hill’s CiF contribution as, just for once, the resident commentators did a good job on my behalf.
It strikes me that we have a unique historical opportunity which will soon pass to put out an England side that commentators will absolutely hate. We know what they really hate – Korean sides where four or five players have the same surname. They needn’t think they’re safe just because we don’t play Korea every week.
Think about it. Let’s begin with the Cole brothers. Andrew has retired, and in any case I’m promoting Carlton from the under-21s for the occasion. Ashley is at left back as usual, with Joe Cole up ahead of him. Alongside Ashley, we’ll summon up the Ferdinands, Rio and Anton, and at right-back, Gary Neville, which means that brother Phil moves up into the holding midfield position.
You can see where this is going. I admit it’s a stretch on current form, but I’m bringing Marcus Bent into midfield in order that Darren Bent can lead my attack alongside Carlton Cole. (When I first began this exercise, I’d forgotten about the Bents, and was left with the two central midfield positions to fill: I put Lampard and Gerrard in. Marcus Bent can only be an improvement).
That leaves one outfield position to fill, and as this is the Commentators’ Nightmare XI, who else but Gabriel Agbonlahor?
The English keepers are all very easy to pronounce, and have no outfield siblings, which is disappointing. If any of the regular commentators was afflicted with a severe lisp, then Robinson would have kept his place, but as they don’t, he has to step aside for Chris Kirkland. Unsatisfactory, I know.
On the bench, we have Luke and Ashley Young. Neville Neville isn’t really on the coaching side of things, but as I’ve sent McClaren and Venables to the stands, he can wield my bucket and sponge.
We end up with:
Neville G Ferdinand A. Ferdinand R. Cole A
Aglonbahor G Neville P. Bent M Cole J
Cole C Bent D
Subs: Young L., Young A.
Coach: Neville N
Assuming that the Charltons are coming to the end of their playing careers, who have I missed out? Whom have I forgotten?