A Commentator’s Nightmare

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?

13 Replies to “A Commentator’s Nightmare”

  1. 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.

    I’d be curious to know how many of us do this. I’d wager it’s quite a few. I did it for years when I was living in the UK.

  2. Because we’re not talking about Canada, mainly. I’ll grant that the POTUS is apt to intone “My fellow Americans” from time to time, and then there’s “God Bless America”, but at least they are on the right continent to perpetuate that kind of confusion and they aren’t using the word in a pejorative-discriminatory sense.

    I’m aware of seeming touchy on this issue, and do in fact regard my raising of it as pointless. I doubt I’ve any chance of even making people reflect on the issue. My declaration of interest is that my wife is a US citizen and most of my surviving family now lives over there. Most Brits experience anti-Americanism as a series of mild, often humorous, asides that come along now and then. We experience it as a continuous rattle of pebbles against the window, one which intensifies when you get out of London. They are still only taps on the glass, not Carol Gouldian civil disturbances, but like that persistent quiet little noise that keeps you awake at night, they can render you emotional in time.

  3. I don’t know why he says it – perhaps it’s an across-the-pond version of that bewildering British phrase, “cheap at half the price”!

    As for where Americans live – we have the same kind of question about Europeans, I suppose – are Europe’s boundaries at the Bosphorous and the Volga, or elsewhere? Eurovision, or UEFA?

  4. I wondered if that was what you meant, and if thinking about it on the tube can count as ‘reflecting’ I did some, and I think I’m going to continue using it. When writing reports I would always put ‘US’ but in general;

    1. I just can’t see it as being pejorative. It’s too commonly used, both in pro- and anti-US pieces, and in ones that are neither. Even on this homepage you use it yourself three times, and I though one might be ironic, I don’t think the other two are.

    2. As you say the President uses it all of the time, here’s his latest speech, “THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. On Wednesday night, I addressed the Nation from the White House to lay out a new strategy that will help Iraq’s democratic government succeed. America’s new strategy comes after a difficult year in Iraq.” but it’s also in his previous four speeches as well.

    3. I think it’s rarely confusing, as it’s just not often used to refer to Canada, or Mexico, or even less so South America.

    4. What should we call ‘Americans’, if not ‘American’s – ‘US citizens?’? I think that might be clumsy sometimes.

    Having said all that, if you prefer US then I’ll use US here.

    By the way if you want another example of lazy anti-foreigner prejudice, did anyone see Antiques Roadshow (in Australia) last night? The expert made continued jibes about the French (as the women’s antique was French), then when she said she liked the French and clearly wasn’t joining in, he said ‘So do I, one at a time’.

  5. I know that the inhabitants of Latin America get annoyed by it, because in Spanish ‘America’ means the whole two continents, but I think you’ve already lost that battle. In normal English usage, ‘America’ now means the US and you need to use ‘North America’ ‘South America’ or ‘the Americas’ if you mean something else.

    Having tried to teach this bit of vocab to an ESL class with Spanish speakers in, I know they resist it, but if a Colombian speaking English referred to herself as ‘American’ or ‘from America’ she would be misunderstood 9 times out of 10.

  6. Matthew, please don’t allow me to dictate useage on this – I agree that “US Citizen” is clumsy. I think I was probably in reaction to some Beckham/US article or another when I made my aside about (“don’t call them.. people”).

    I’m glad I missed Antiques Roadshow. It rather backs up my theory that the middle classes in the UK are against racism and sexism, but not against discrimination per se.

    I’d love to have seen his face if that 1950s merger suggestion had come into force. I can’t help thinking it would have done this country no end of good – especially during that grim 1975-1984 period.

  7. Interesting story, wasn’t it? The BBC editor didn’t seem to be aware of Churchill’s similar proposal in 1940, I thought.

  8. God Bless America written by a man born Russian of course; there’s your American Dream right there.

    “cheap at half the price”, hasn’t that just become mangled by comedy?

  9. There’s always this, instead, from Kingsley Amis’ “Memoirs”:

    “Presently the signal office was moved or closed down, and I found myself with my diminishing section – men were being posted back to England every day in ones and twos – in a small market town with nothing to do. Sometimes we sat on the veranda of the little hotel we occupied and watched the girls riding by on their bicycles.
    ‘Guten Morgen,’ said an unusually pretty one, smiling.
    ‘Lucky fucking saddle,’ called Driver Thompson gallantly.
    CQMS Hadlett, an old India hand, was standing next to me. ‘I’d rather sleep with her with no clothes on than you in your best suit, sir’, he said.
    ‘But of course you…’ I began, and stopped.”

  10. Sorry, Israel Baline was “born in Russia” if not actually born “Russian”. (Co-incidently we watched Fiddler on the roof for the first time ever last night.)

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