This week’s love letter is to a man F365 visited only recently. We love him, and so does Johnny Nic.
Why the love?
Before we get to the meat of this: one word comes up time and again about Peter. That word is poetic. I don’t know of any other commentator that term could be so synonymous with. Brilliant.
OK, now, on with the show.
After getting his break on local radio and being one of 5 live’s first commentators, Peter really came to widespread public consciousness on ITV, starting 20 years ago where for many years he was the commentator that wasn’t Clive, Clive. Indeed, for those early years many confused one with the other, as there were similarities between their performances.
These days Peter has gone freelance. Started to work for BT Sport in 2013 where he continues to impress on European football nights, but also covering any other match handed to him. Whether it is a big game or not, he always brings a bristling sense of the epic and the exciting with him.
A self-confessed commentating obsessive who has only ever wanted to do this job, it is perfectly obvious that he absolutely bloody loves doing it and probably spends more time researching and preparing for each game than he has any need to, simply out of that love. And y’know, in life, people who have a passion for anything is always a delight.
You always know when you’ve got a great commentator because they define moments in the game forever. What they say becomes synonymous with the incident, or indeed the whole game, and Peter has done this time and again.
And on Tuesday night, he was at it again. If I was to say why we love his work so much, it is encapsulated perfectly in this much-shared clip from Tuesday night.
"The unthinkable unfolds before our eyes!" 😳
Commentary that will make your hairs stand on end, on a night when more Roman history was made 🇮🇹
Only sport can make you feel like this… pic.twitter.com/UG0KV2CIdA
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) April 11, 2018
What is so remarkable about that is his spontaneity and emotion, combined with such a flexible, expansive vocabulary as he pulls analogies out of thin air from his cultural hinterland, so much so that it becomes more akin a prose poem. And it all feels so 100% natural and without an ounce of cynicism or self-regard. There is no “Aren’t I clever?” about his work at all (even though it is clever).
It should be said that his long-term easy-going and now almost telepathic partnership with Jim Beglin is also something that his fans love – and be in no doubt that he has a lot of passionate fans. One of them wrote to me, albeit on the grounds of anonymity, to say quite seriously that his secret fantasy was to have Peter commentate on him and his wife making love, with Peter shouting his surname and then full name at the peak of the vinegar strokes. Now, that’s got you thinking hasn’t it? You can just imagine it, can’t you? Ha ha. He may not be the only one.
Commentating is really hard. No. I got that wrong. It is really, really, really, really very sodding hard. Those who idly dismiss their performances have no idea what it takes to be any good. Just try it for even five minutes on any game. You pronounce names wrongly or stumble over them, then you get distracted, you misidentify players, you don’t know or forget who half the players are, or you can’t spot them quick enough, then the action gets away from you all too easily and when the ball does go in, you miss who hit it.
Now try and imagine not just getting all those things correct but being able to deploy pacing, repetition, alliteration and rhetoric to express the drama and excitement, be excited but never overwhelmed, all the while sounding genuinely thrilled. And if that’s not enough, imagine drawing down cultural analogies and references to colour the action too. When you think about it, I simply don’t know how Peter, or indeed anyone else does it. It isn’t like any other job. The fact we have so many superb commentators is another reason why I say we are living in a golden football media age.
Clearly he does a huge amount of preparation, as all the best commentators do, but beyond that, it must be all to do with having a pin-sharp mind and phenomenal concentration.
Like many commentators he doesn’t have a discernible regional accent but nonetheless makes a very distinctive noise. He’ll often hit a hard ‘a’ in the back of his throat to the point of it rasping, drawing it out, especially when it’s central to a player’s name. So you end up with ‘Vaaaargghh-deee’. ‘Messi’ is delivered with a giant ‘ehhh’ in the middle. I love how he opens his tonsils up like that.
Can bellow out a great, repeated, even shocked rhetorical question. “Is this for real? Is this for real?!!” or “How many do you want? How MANY Do. You. Want?!”, for example. The fact I know you can hear him saying that in your head right now is proof of just how monumentally impressive he is.
Repetition is a powerful tool when well used and Peter deploys it to maximum effect.
“It’s Cristiano Ronaldo. It’s always Cristiano Ronaldo. The man’s a phenomenon. The club’s a phenomenon.”
And if I may indulge my Boro passion for a moment. He, as ever, was in the chair with Jim Beglin for one of the great nights in my club’s history when we played Basel.
“Teesside pride”. Yeah, you got that right, Peter. You got that so very right. Thank you.
At times the ferocity of his deliver is such that you feel he must yelling at the top of his voice. He does that thing we all do at a game; see a goal happening a nanosecond before it actually does. I call it football time travel. Your mind leaps ahead three frames of existence and you know it is going to be a goal, you see it happen, and then almost imperceptibly, reality catches up with you. Like I say, many of us have that power, but Peter has it whilst commentating and that’s what allows him to take such a run up at a goalscorer’s name and deliver it with such awesome expression.
Listen to how he describes Vardy’s first goal here. He’s just slightly ahead of the play the whole time and knows, even before the ball crosses the line, that it will be a goal and thus lets fly with the striker’s name in celebratory fashion. He is already making the “Vvvvv” even as he’s pulling his foot back to strike the ball. This is the football commentary equivalent of being on the one, not the four. Hitting the front beat, not the back. Just ask James Brown.
If you don’t find it exciting, then you might want to check your pulse for signs of life.
His legendary pre-kick-off introductions are obviously scripted – written for the occasion – and I know some find this wilfully pretentious, but not me and not millions of others. He is using language to properly scene-set, free of cliche and full of originality. They’re eloquent, clever, even intellectual on occasion and why shouldn’t football aspire to be art? Why shouldn’t it be a richer reflection of the human condition? Why shouldn’t poetry be part of the game that is so often called beautiful despite being pretty damn ugly?
Here is a tremendous example of Peter delivering a full blast of prose verse.
No-one else really does this. It’s his and his alone. I love the confidence in his own talent and perception that frees him up to be able to deliver this stuff. It is a million miles away from the more straight up and down work of more sober workers, and while every rainbow needs all of its colours to be complete, Peter paints with some of the most vivid shades (and yes I did try to write the sentence to sound like a PD intro!).
I would wager that very few viewers can bring Peter to mind, which in the modern age is quite amazing really. He keeps a very low profile in general. Doesn’t bother with the auld Twitter. Fair play to him for that. So while his voice is instantly identifiable, that is where the familiarity ends. Maybe that is how it should be.
However, research reveals a chap in his 50th year who is one of those people who somehow looks of indeterminate age. There is little or no photographic evidence of any fashion choices, so he could be sitting in the comms box in a red flared Crimplene trouser suit and we would neither know nor care.
What the people say
Commentators will always divide people on aesthetic grounds, but Peter is consistently favoured by those who like their mic person to add something other than mere say-what-you-see. I’ll start this fantastic selection of comments with those from other broadcasters who were kind enough to get in touch.
“It’s always a privilege to be on the same team as Peter. He’s classy, intelligent, helpful, enthusiastic and poetic. A master of his craft” – Lynsey Hipgrave, BT Sport.
“Commentary is the hardest job in football broadcasting. No rehearsals, no second chance, no idea what is about to happen. We’re blessed with some great guys on the mic at BT Sport – and PD is right up there. Also, absolutely lovely guy. No side, no agenda” – Jake Humphrey, BT Sport.
“Sets a standard to aspire to, but so uniquely brilliant you’d be mad try and replicate it. A poetic turn of phrase, quality of voice and natural exuberance to enhance any match. He’s a lovely bloke too, popular with colleagues, and generous with encouragement for us lesser mortals! He’d be entitled to have a bit of arrogance about him, but the complete opposite. He’s a top man. The global Premier League audience get the gifts every weekend, of course, and he and Jim Beglin in tandem is a great partnership” – Steven Wyeth, BT and BBC commentator.
“I”ve worked with PD, or the Reverend, for 20 odd years. He is everything you can wish for in a colleague and a commentator, but what shines brightest for me is his love for the sports he covers. He’s had some knocks, but the enthusiasm never dims. A brilliant wordsmith too” – Matt Smith BT Sport.
“That BT Sport Roma moment speaks for itself, as does so much of his work. I would just like to add how good he was to me (we had never met) when I tried football commentary four years ago (I’m a tennis commentator). He took my call and spent half an hour dispensing invaluable advice” – David Law, 5 live and BT Sport commentator.
“His use of language is just beautiful. I would also like to express my admiration for his description of dung beetles during the opening ceremony in South Africa. He is also an absolutely lovely man” – Kelly Cates, 5 live and Sky Sports.
“Peter Drury is above all a really nice bloke. And he’s a damn fine commentator as well” – John Roder, BBC, BT Sport and others.
And now for the public opinion.
‘Wonderfully clear, an everyman for every type of commentary medium, a product of the ‘less is more, but emotion is key’ style of delivery.’
‘Last year, Man City interviewed some of the commentators from the final day in 2012. Drury talking about his own reaction to Aguero’s goal is brilliant, as if it happened yesterday. Whether he prepares words or not, the emotion comes from someone who genuinely just loves football.’
‘Worked with him a bit when I was at the ITV website. Always happy to help, nothing was too much for him and a lovely man. Great commentator too!’
‘Doesn’t just commentate, he enhances the whole experience. Tragically underutilized for bigger occasions.’
‘Often seems more excited than the goalscorer. Infectious enthusiasm.’
‘Words that would ring false if they were uttered by other commentators come across as passionate and sincere when Peter is the one saying them. His obvious excitement, passion and preparation combine to create legendary moments, and the Roma quarter-final call is proof of that.’
‘The fact he squeezed The Renaissance, the Greek God from Mount Olympus who came from the seven hills of Rome and pulled off a miracle and Roma rising from the ruins into his commentary the other night makes him an automatic legend in my eyes.’
‘Weird composite of some of the best bits of Davies, Moore, Motty and Tyler.’
‘I still maintain that his “Agueroooooo” was better than Tyler’s. “Where does football go from here?” Football poet! Gives you goosebumps with every word uttered.’
‘Drury remains the soundtrack to my football gaming life. He has been featured commentator on the PES video game for ages. His stock phrases buried in my consciousness forever, “that is classic Kun Aguero” being a real favourite.’
‘His commentary style is Alan Partridge crossed with Barry Davies. Mean that in a good way.’
‘”GOAL! GOLDEN GOAL! AND HAS EVER A GOAL BEEN SO GOLDEN?!” – South Korea v Italy, 2002.’
‘It’s not the easiest to find but he did the ITV commentary when Boro beat Steaua in the UEFA Cup semi final. It was every bit as good as the Roma game the other night. He has a brilliant ability to tap into the mentality of the locals. This is so evident in that Boro commentary.’
‘The accountant has come good. His sense of drama and excitement is real and infectious. He is a fine wordsmith but also not afraid of silence.’
‘His commentary for Scholes’s goal against Panathinaikos (2002?) was great. His admiration was genuine and he knew he had witnessed something amazing and put that across well.’
‘There is no other commentator I would want to commentate on the best moment in my life, whatever it is.’
Since being freelance for the last few years, if anything he’s got better and better. Perhaps fresh challenges have been inspiring him to hit greater heights of purest Drury-ishness. Maybe he feels more confident because he knows that there’s an audience that loves what he does.
At just 50, he’s got at least a couple of decades of top-rank work ahead of him. I hope he gets some of the biggest games at this summer’s World Cup. The biggest occasions need the biggest performances from all concerned. World Cups should be epic and Peter does epic very, very well. Long may he do so.