John Nicholson and Alan Tyers look at pundits and commentators and pin down what makes them good, what makes them bad, and what makes them ugly. This week, it's Chris 'Sminky Pinky' Waddle...
Definitely one of those men who looks better as an old bloke than he did as a young 'un. The legendary mullet has been consigned to the hairdresser's dustbin of history, though somehow, its ghost always seems present whenever Chris peers back out of the TV screen at us. The Waddler has even been seen to tuck his shirt in on occasion, though we like to think he still rolls his jacket sleeves up like it's still 1987. Unlike many of the slim-fit ex-pros, Waddler has thickened out like a proper old school male of the species. This is much to be celebrated and speaks of a man not overly concerned with vanity and primping. We imagine the whiff of brown ale and strong tobacco to follow him around like an especially masculine eau de cologne.
Despite, or perhaps because of, being such a free-spirited and joyous player to watch, the Waddler is something of a curmudgeon on air, particularly when England are on. Has been outspoken on several occasions about the systemic flaws in English football, talking passionately and with a lot of sense. Had a famous rant post-2010 World Cup when he said:
"The FA sit on their backsides and do nothing tournament after tournament after tournament. Why don't they listen? Why don't they look at other countries and ask 'how do they keep producing talent?' We lack so many ideas and it is so frustrating. The amount of money in our league is frightening and all we do is waste it on rubbish ideas."
This is as apposite a critique as anyone has ever offered.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Not afraid to call a spade a f***ing shovel, has a passion for England and what the national side could/should be, but without letting it descend into tub-thumping. Can be fearlessly critical of players who are just not good enough.
His utter fury at England's rubbishness at the last World Cup was a stellar moment. Could be heard off mic, beating his desk in sheer fury.
Some may think he is prone to miserablism, possibly mistaking the phlegmatic Tow Law accent as overly downbeat, but his voice is one of his biggest assets. Impossible to imagine him adopting any modern idiom of speech. The rising inflective and increasingly Valley Girl-isation of language will never leave an impression on The Waddler.
Tactical genius or tactics truck?
The Waddler is a solid presence on this aspect of the pundit's calling. Appreciates the game with a sound understanding of the principles rather than dipping into intricacies.
Leg squeezer geezer?
You don't see Chris on the pundit sofa; perhaps he turns down such offers. The Waddler certainly gives the impression that he thinks there are far too many know-nothings involved in football and we are also fairly sure that he would not give too much weight to the opinions of the non ex-professional. And not that much weight to the opinions of many ex-professionals either, to be fair.
Oh yes, the Waddler is a Good Team Man and not afraid of a bit of horseplay. In the early days of Football365, a staffer was lucky enough to be granted an audience with Jimmy 'Five Bellies' Gardner, during the course of which interview Five Bellies spoke on the phone with the Waddler, at whom he was squeaking in a very high, very Geordie voice "Waddler you look like a pimp!" Quite why or how the Waddler looked like a pimp has been sadly forgotten over the ensuing years, but clearly any man willing to share jokes with Jimmy Five Bellies is no stranger to a bit of Hashtag Banter.
The Waddler is not a major offender in the crime of repeating the same old inanities. We reckon this is not so much because he is an exceptional communicator but because he has actual opinions he wishes to express and is thus less likely fall back on tired stand-bys. His assessment of Theo Walcott, "I just think he doesn't seem to understand the game," for instance, was very much outside the beltway of "he's a top, top player" pundit-on-English-player matiness, which in turn leads to many of them all saying the same things.
Why does he get gigs?
Researching this article, we found more people disliked the Waddler than we had previously thought. Maybe the accent isn't for everyone. People seem to get extremely upset by him saying "pelanty", which we choose to find endearing. Benefits from quite a media-friendly CV - his time at Spurs helps him, as fans of that club are disproportionately represented in the media. Also associated with Newcastle, who few people dislike. Gets a vote from the cultured crowd as a result of having played for Marseille, and is otherwise best known for Sheffield Wednesday, and frankly it would be unreasonably cruel to hate them these days. Was a great player, seems like a good dude, isn't afraid to speak his mind. We are pro-Waddler.
John Nicholson and Alan Tyers
See extracts from Alan's new book 'Tutenkhamen's Tracksuit: The History of Sport in 100ish Objects' here.
Check out John's new series of crime novels about life, death, sex and UEFA Cup football, here.