Thursday, April 19, 2007

10 Random Commentators

It's Thursday night. That barren night of the week, when the world gets on with other things (UEFA Cup and MSL asides), so here's a random list for you all to get your teeth into. Football commentators fulfil a peculiar role in our lives. Whilst it's impossible to describe any one particular man as "The Voice Of Football" (there are too many of them to narrow it down to one person), this motley group of individuals have shaped the way that we watch the game on the television.

This list is almost completely random. They're almost all retired, and several of them are dead. The most important thing about them is that they are all better than the current lot. There is some talent amongst the current crop of commentators - Simon Brotherton on the BBC is authoritative yet maintains the right level of enthusiasm, for example - but too many of them remain constrained by editorial diktat. Peter Drury and Jon Champion were excellent when they worked for BBC Radio, and even Clive Tyldesley was tolerable when he started out at Granada TV, but they seem to have been told to shout and scream at the tops of their voices, and to exhort us to support The Big Two Plus Two in the Champions League, whether we want to or not. They have, I feel, misjudged us. Even if I wanted English teams to do well in the Champions League, I would still want the commentator to be neutral. They are broadcast journalists, and their bias strikes me as being utterly unprofessional. Anyway, on with the list.

1. Hugh Johns: With a deep, Welsh accent as rich as treacle, Hugh Johns is my personal favourite commentator of all time. The internet is scarce on information about him, but this much I know for certain: he's now probably best known for one of the first moments of his TV career. He was the commentator for ITV at the 1966 World Cup Final (what was he saying as Wolstenholme was saying "they think it's all over... it is now"?, "Here comes Hurst. That's It! That. Is. It."), and was their main man through until 1978. His day job was working for ATV in the Midlands, which, during the 1970s and 1980s, was a pretty good place to be, with Derby County, Nottingham Forest and Aston Villa winning the league, and renaissances at Birmingham City, Stoke City and Wolves. He returned to Wales after the end of regional football on ATV, and worked for HTV until into his eighties. Random Quote: "El Re! Pele!" (after the opening goal in the 1970 World Cup final).

2. Kenneth Wolstenholme: The original football commentator. The BBC's main man at Wembley in 1966, and the accidental inventor of the most famous piece of British football commentary of al time. As early as the beginning of the 1970s, however, his style of commentary was starting to sound dated, and David Coleman replaced him as the BBC's main commentator. He resurfaced at Tyne Tees Television in 1974, as they sought to broaden their regional coverage, but left after being told that he would be playing second fiddle to Roger Tames. He died in 2002. Random Quote: "They seem to be taking it in turns to give an exhibition!" (at the start of the build up to the last goal in the 1970 World Cup Final).

3. Brian Moore: Moore was, as the host of and main commentator on LWT's "The Big Match", the nearest thing that ITV had to a "Voice Of Football" for thirty-odd years, even though he was merely the host of their World Cup coverage until 1990. In his early commentaries, Moore could be best described as "over-excitable" - he later admitted this to have been a mistake, and toned down his commentary style accordingly. He was a life long supporter of Gillingham, whose supporters named their fanzine "Brian Moore's Head Looks Uncannily Like The London Planetarium" in his honour. His last match for ITV was the 1998 World Cup final between Brazil and France, and he sadly died in September 2001. Random Quote: "It's up for grabs now!" (as Michael Thomas bore down on goal in the last minute of the Liverpool vs Arsenal title decider in 1989).

4. Martin Tyler: To a generation of football fans younger than me, Tyler probably is the voice of football. His beginnings were humble, though. He started at Southern TV, down here on the south coast, before moving to Yorkshire TV and eventually Granada. The high point of his early years was probably the 1986 World Cup final, but ITV tended to keep faith with Brian Moore, so he went off to Sky in 1990. Terrestrial television's loss was satellite TV's gain. Maintaining the right balance of enthusiasm and authority, he has formed a tremendous partnership with Andy Gray, and the syndication of Sky's broadcasts to the rest of the world means that he is arguably the most famous, in global terms, of this entire little list. Random Fact: He was also ITV's head cricket commentator when they briefly covered the sport in the 1980s.

5. Gerry Harrison: Here's something odd for you. In 1969, the BBC ran a competition called "Find A Commentator". The winner was one Idwal Robling, whose prize was a job for the BBC at the 1970 World Cup, from whence he returned to near anonymity, whilst Gerry Harrison (who hadn't even finished second - that honour fell to Ian St John, of all people) was spotted by (and offered a job by) Anglia TV. This would normally have been a pretty small gig, but Harrison became East Anglia's Brian Moore, hosting and commentating on their weekly "Match Of The Week" show, at a time when Luton Town were heading for the top flight for the first time, and Ipswich Town were nearly winning the league. He left ITV in for 1993 for the production company TWI, and still commentates for them occasionally. I briefly met him in Japan, last December. Random Fact: He's much, much taller than you'd think he is.

6. Roger Tames: Brought in as a bright young thing in the mid-1970s, Tames was the head commentator for Tyne Tees Television on their programme "Shoot!" during ITV football's golden period, up until the end of regional football broadcasting in 1983. He earned infamy during this period for being alleged to be biased against Middlesbrough, Sunderland Newcastle by the respective clubs' supporters. In real life, he supports Arsenal. He stayed at Tyne Tees for another 20 years, and now works for Film Nova, a mysterious production company. Random Fact: He looks exactly like "Roger De Courcey, of Roger De Courcey & Nookie Bear" fame.

7. Peter Brackley: Serious question - has there ever been anyone else in the world with a voice quite like Peter Brackley? I'm just wondering aloud, there. Brackley started out on Central TV, when Hugh Johns went back to Wales in 1982, and worked there, and then for ITV's centralised sports coverage. Still turns up at the World Cup for ITV, usually at the least important match of the entire tournament, and was also the voice of "Football Italia" on Channel 4 in the 1990s. He's best known now, of course, for being the voice of the Pro-Evolution series of games for the Playstation and Xbox. If he's on royalties for that, he probably doesn't need any other work. Random Fact: Look! He's got his own Myspace page!

8. Barry Davies: To prove that I'm not putting these in any order, Barry's in at number 8. Shoddily treated by the BBC, he was better than Motson in the 1970s and 1980s, but never received any big matches until the 1994 World Cup final, and that turned out to be such a bad match that he didn't really have anything to talk about. Occasionally described as "pretentious" by people that don't like more than two syllables per word (oh, the irony), Davies also covered tennis and, most famously, hockey for the BBC (his outburst of "Where were the Germans? And, frankly, who cares?", as Britain scored their third goal in the 1988 Olympic final is one of sport's great TV moments), he finally threw in the towel in 2004, sick of being downgraded and shunted aside for younger and less talented people. Random Quote: "Interesting...Very Interesting...Look at his face...Just look at his face!" (as Francis Lee belted in a twenty-yarder for Derby County in the mid-1970s).

9. John Helm: I can't work out whether I think John Helm is great or not. His adenoidal Yorkshire accent should, by rights, anger me, but it's tempered by a quite magnificent commentary that he did for Yorkshire TV in 1982 of a 6-0 win for Rotherham United against Chelsea in the old, old second division. He's now Five's main commentator and, as such, has spent much of this season travelling to football's European outposts to cover Newcastle and Tottenham's adventures in the UEFA Cup. Random Fact: He can say the names of all 92 League clubs in alphabetical order in about 30 seconds, or something.

10. Gerald Sinstadt: Originally, he was the reedy voice of Granada TV in the late 1970s, when Liverpool bestrode Europe like a giant, red dinosaur. He then moved to TVS on the south coast and, more latterly, the BBC, where he still pops up occasionally on the very last match on "Match Of The Day". He's probably most famous for his Olympic rowing commentary, where he regularly got very over-excited about Steven Redgrave winning gold medals for Britain. I also keep seeing stories about him being chucked out of an adult cinema for knocking one out, but I can't seem to be able to find, as it were, any "meat" to this rumour. Random Fact: Looks quite a lot like Alan Whicker.


wimblepool said...

re.: Barry Davies. 1995 FA Cup Final. Was it just me, or was anyone else amused when his commentary went something along the lines of: "Now, it's the aptly named Sharpe to the equally aptly named ..." (voice trails of as Sharpe passes to Butt)?
Just me, then.

Ed said...

I miss these old commentators, especially Barry Davies. Oh, and Tony Gubba. His virtually inexplicable bias towards Southampton brightened the 1990s. The ones I like nowadays are the 2nd string: Steve Wilson, Simon Brotherton and Guy Mowbray. Motson has gone senile and Jonathan Pearce... well, he was great on Robot Wars.

The other problem with sport commentary in general is the execrable standards of grammar and syntax possessed by the "expert summariser". Mark Bright huffs and puffs his way enthusiastically through games, usually squealing comically whenever there's a goal. You know he probably knows his stuff, but what use is a journalist who is unable to convey it? I can tolerate Mark Lawrenson until he starts being all pally or jokey. So, in 3-4 second bursts, essentially.

This problem is not confined to football - ITV's F1 coverage is hamstrung by Mark Blundell's analysis "Lewis Hamilton's pace what he's got...". GAH. They should let people like us do TV punditry, we'd be much better at it. Why don't they? Because we aren't big names, and we're just too damn sexy for them. THAT is why.

Ed said...

Oh, and Peter Brackley supports Brighton and Hove Albion. ROCK ON.

Gary said...

What ... no Idwal Robling or Huw Johns?

200percent said...

Huw Johns and Hugh Johns are the same person, obviously. My all-time favourite. I know that he reverted to the Welsh spelling when he went back to HTV, but the reasons for the changes in spelling are something that I haven't been able to establish.

Idwal Robling was, of course, at the 1970 World Cup - is he the guy who got VERY excited during the 1981 Swansea-Leeds match?

Scaryduck said...

Hugh Johns, otherwise known in school playgrounds as "Huge Ones".

Chris said...

Great article - right up my nostalgic street!

I think I may be somewhat in the minority when I say I like a bit of hysterical shouting in my commentaries, albeit not *too* much.

I love hearing commentaries from the 1970's where Coleman, Davies, Moore and even Davies went a bit loopy. Even today, Jonathan Pearce can sometimes light up a dull match with his excitability.

I was surprised to hear a few years ago that Barry Davies was actually an Arsenal supporter. I must say his neutrality was second to none in order to hide that.

I think Davies was my favourite of the lot. Much more articulate, much more funny than the others but with a nice laid-back approach too.

Shame he's no longer behind the mike, in my opinion.

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