Johnny & Al's Euros On TV: Commentators

They don't give Alan Green too tough a time but they do object to Guy Mowbray's rehearsed jokes and Clive Tydesley's 'full name' schtick. Thumbs up for Sam though...

Last Updated: 29/06/12 at 14:33 Post Comment

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Today we turn not to 'the boys in the studio' with their deathless joshing and knee-grabby bonhomie but to the men at the coalface, the blokes who actually tell the viewers what is happening. (Memo to Messrs Keown and Shearer: this is not the same as watching a slow-motion replay and describing the action aloud.) We speak, very much so indeed Brian, of the football commentator.

What should a football commentator be like? There's no template to follow and different styles appeal to different people in different ways. This guarantees that most of them will, at some point, annoy the hell out of some us pretty much all the time. Poor blokes - and very occasional women - we only notice them when they're getting on our nerves. We're probably too harsh on them, especially at a European Championship where you not only have to know who's who on the pitch but also be able to pronounce the tricky foreign names without causing an international incident.

So as we run the rule over the Euros commentators we know it's not an easy job and acknowledge that all are actually pretty good at the basics. The style they do it in is another matter, however.

The Italy v Germany game saw Guy Mowbray at the helm, facing the slightly unusual challenge of illuminating a game in which there was no British team or player. With television generally assuming that the football viewer is a parochial, grunting creature who will start flinging his own faeces at the screen if there is no direct representative of the sceptred isle on display, this is generally regarded by the BBC and ITV as a bad thing. Fortunately, Italy's Mario Balotelli - he plays for Man City, you know - was on display, as was this Pirlo guy, who everyone had hitherto been surprised to discover was good at passing the ball if left unimpeded by English challenge for seconds at a time.

Mowbray had done plenty of homework, even if that did cause Mark Lawrenson to get sniffy at him. Want to know about Daniele di Rossi's sciatic nerve trouble? Tickled to find out that Riccardo Montolivo spent the first 15 years of his life summer holidaying outside Hamburg with his German grandparents? Lawro wasn't.

But even if Lawro doesn't, we quite like Mowbray as a commentator, he is unfussy and well-prepped. He conveys enthusiasm and excitement without seeming like he might bust a nut at the first sniff of a goal. Like all of his breed, he has a weakness for the pre-scripted line: did we really need to hear "now we will find out if Jogi Low really is smarter than the average bear"? Is it worth pre-loading on gags like "that might annoy referee Lannoy" or "Reus...where's Rolls?" We like his manner better when he is just letting it flow, like his observation that "Chiellini has his socks rolled down like a proper old battle-scarred Italian defender of old".

Overall, a decent effort from the boy Mowbray even if his comment during England's game v Italy about Alessandro Diamanti being a 'West Ham reject' was unnecessarily catty, not to say somewhat Little Englander.

We can't let Thursday night's game pass without mention of Shearer getting (we assume) tongue-tied and calling Buffon "a top creep", nor take a second to marvel at Martin Keown, who had another shocker pitch-side, including the bizarre argument that the Germans had been too "arrogant" to deal with Pirlo.

Jake Humphrey keyed up that Martin "was getting irritated by the Italians celebrating in the corner over there". Keown: "That is the Italian culture, they are very emotional people." Does any reader, we wonder, possibly have a picture of Keown celebrating something on a football field in an overly emotional and disrespectful way? The ex-Arsenal man has had a poor tournament, seeming to have frozen on the big stage.

Over on ITV they have Clive Tyldesley and Peter Drury; a pairing that seems to have been around since the dawn of time. We still find it hard to distinguish between them. In our heads, they are the same man. Both seem to over-rate and over-state England's qualities and performances, often praising a simple five-metre pass by, say, Scott Parker as an illustration of football brilliance. Clive also has an annoying habit - annoying to us anyway - of shouting the full name of a player just as he takes a shot at goal.

Back on the BBC, Steve Wilson is as anonymous as his name would suggest. This isn't necessarily a bad thing in that he comes on, does the job and leaves without impinging on our brain. This means he will never be loved but never be hated either.

Jonno Pearce also chips in but is no longer the attack dog of yore, with blood pouring from his eyes after a screaming session. We feel he relies on pre-prepared bits far too obviously. Oddly, even when he's doing it live, it sounds like he's commentating over it afterwards. We can't work out why this is though. Perhaps he exists in an almost identical but different space-time continuum.

On 5live our main commentators are Alan Green, Mike Ingham, John Murray and Darren Fletcher. Fletch is a larger than life, irascible presence who sounds like he'd be tremendous value in the saloon bar. It's his misfortune to sometimes be coupled with Robbie Savage, who we fondly imagine he has to hit with a big stick from time to time in order to shut him up. Or just because he can.

Murray's Northumbrian tones make decent listening, though he's always very polite and unprepared to really stick it to a player. Ingham is old school. When England play we can hear the fear, the sheer nerve-shredding tension in his voice. Relax Mike, really, it's supposed to be fun.

Greeny, as ever, divides opinion. A bitcher and a moaner of the first water, this can occasionally fall into self-parody. After all, being paid to watch football isn't mucking out public toilets is it? But his greatest asset is that there is nothing phoney about him. These are his views; this is the game as he sees it. If you don't like it, fine, but he doesn't try and be something he's not.

Our favourite on Talksport is the extraordinarily named Sam Matterface. He's a screamer and a squeaker when the excitement builds, which appeals to us. If you can't get excited at live football then the commentary gig is probably not for you. Coupled with Stan Collymore, they make an impassioned team. If you want your football commentated on with a lot of shouting these are the go-to men.

If we had to pick a winner of the current crop we'd go for the boy Matterface on the basis that at times he appears to actually lose his mind, which is never not entertaining. However, we have a feeling that if Barry Davies were still working (and why isn't he?) he'd be better than all of them.

John Nicholson and Alan Tyers

Alan's book is called 'Gin And Juice: The Victorian Guide To Parenting' and you can check it out here.

And read John's book, 'The Meat Fix.'

Follow Alan on Twitter here or Johnny here.

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Premier League Winners And Losers

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