Luke’s World Cup: when commentators and pundits fall short

Where are Kenneth Wolstenholme and George Taylor when you most need them? Luke Harvey spent months looking forward to the World Cup only to find it marred (so far) by indifferent football and (probably for the duration) poor punditry.Of course, Ken and Goerge did the commentary and the punditry without help …

the scene: George Osborne – Chancellor of the Exchequer and a man whose stiff upper lip is matched by his even stiffer looking hair – is on Question Time about to face a fierce interrogation from the fearsome Jeremy Paxman.

Paxman strikes first, quickly questioning Osborne on the proposed budget cuts and if they truly are feasible. Osborne reclines in his seat, clasps his hands together and with a smirk and a chuckle pronounces: “I don’t really know much about the numbers side of things, to be honest.”

The majority of the country would grind to a standstill, except the media, of course, which would work themselves into a frenzy of disapproval, with witty headlines and column inches to deliver damning verdicts. Our own Chancellor has no idea what his job seems to be, what’s going on?

Cut to the BBC studio. Slovenia and Algeria are due to take each other on in what would turn out to be a rather tepid and dull World Cup match. Prior to kick-off, discussion about either side is rather vague. Why so? Well it’s no hidden secret really, as all the pundits seem happy to agree that they have very little knowledge on either country.

Names of players unheard of outside the Premiership were minimal, facts about either country’s qualification success were scarce and a general understanding of how either team would play was simply non-existent.

It’s true that the BBC and ITV perceive a need to cater for the lowest common denominator of viewer – which in the case of the World Cup is a pretty low level of IQ. Nonetheless, the blatant disregard by the pundits of the need to do their jobs with a degree of professionalism is astounding, nearly as astounding as the fact that they get away with it day-in, day-out.

It isn’t just the punditry that is sub-par either; the commentary is flawed from beginning to end too.

A lack of imagination from the men in the booth is evident, they are more than content to let the television pictures do the talking for them, which they occasionally punctuate with the name of the player currently on the ball – but nothing more. They spew the same regurgitated facts over and over: for those who didn’t know – Slovenia’s population is just two million; you may have missed that nugget on one of its seven mentions during the game.

There was no mention of domestic football in Slovenia, and the commentators seemed oblivious to the fact that the north eastern club Maribor are the country’s most successful, with six league titles. The homework, perhaps overlooked in favour of cocktails by the pool, leaves me in no doubt that most pundits and commentators would struggle to locate Slovenia or Algeria on a world map if asked.

Back in the studio Alan Hansen is trotting out his same old clichés while dubbing the match boring.

Perhaps the match was of a lower standard than we would hope for – although it is a mystery quite how explosive people thought this fixture might be – but what he fails to analyse is why the match is like that. Are the teams cancelling each other out? Are their styles of play too predictable and without a back-up plan?

We can forget the possibility of such intelligent discussion in a heartbeat. Instead we’ll just call their players rubbish, after all we haven’t heard of many of them so they can’t be very good, and we’ll be on our merry way. That seems to be how it goes.

Following the Italy v Paraguay match, Messrs Davids, Dixon and Hansen’s inability to name the 28-goal Serie A striker Antonio Di Natale was another display of inexcusable amateurism. Imagine similar flaws being highlighted in your ability to do your own job, and then imagine how long you’d last.

Unfortunately, my solution would most likely be scoffed at by many football fans. I would like to see a journalist with good football knowledge brought in as each game’s third pundit. Who better to give viewers an idea of a team’s dangerous players or style of football than a person whose job is to conduct thorough research before typing a single word? However, I fear that my idea would fall foul to dismissive comments such as “what do they know about football?”.

Instead we’ll stick with the tried and tested. Who, despite having a range of contacts, videos and the use of the internet at their fingertips, clearly just can’t be bothered to do the job for which they are so well paid.

9 thoughts on “Luke’s World Cup: when commentators and pundits fall short”

  1. Even David Coleman! And who was it who said, while commentating on the Boat Race, “I can’t quite see who’s ahead but it’s either Oxford or Cambridge.”

  2. I’m trying to engage in a news black out zone given the all of the games are on while I’m working!

    The beauty of Brian Moore’s commentary was that he played the role of a privileged spectator. Regardless of how many games he’d covered, I don’t think he ever forgot his role as being the eyes and ears of the viewers. As you say Bill, so beautifully understated, and always, always impartial. Something that has been largely forgotten amongst the current lot. The other great for me was Harry Carpenter who endeared himself to the nation with is one moment of partiality (“come on Frank). Harry Carpenter could have commentated on an OAP backgammon tournament from the British Legion and it would have been worth listening to. I miss the old school commentators. I can’t say the same for these modern day “opinionators.”

  3. Maybe I’m getting used to them but I was hearing a little less vuvuzela and a little more singing and shouting at this morning’s games. I wonder, once South Africa are gone from competition, whether a lot of the vuvuzelas will go, too. We can only hope.
    “At this moment in time…” don’t you wanna kill him? The other one that really annoys me is as soon as the ball crosses from one half to the other: “Is this the start of a move on goal?”
    Brian “and it’s in there!” Moore used the language so well; a minimum of cliches. I remember he’d say sometimes that so-and-so was “adventuring down the wing.” Lovely stuff.

  4. Yes, Bill. I think that one of the biggest problems with these commentators is that they lack a summariser. Banyard the focus of my ire talks incessantly. He fails to realise that “less is more,” and that just commentating is enough. I seriously think that the art of good commentating is dead.

    The only good thing that I can say about Banyard is that his “facts” are based on facts (please excuse the tautological nonsense), and that he doesn’t insist on comments such as “he can strike them from here,” about some full back we’ve never heard of before kick off.

    If I recall correctly, the late and great Brian Moore didn’t use to have a summariser. He just knew how to do the job properly. Summarisers are probably a result of having crap commentators, and that they divide the irritation. If the football watching public are going to get annoyed, best share it between them. The worst summariser of them all for me is Dean Sturridge whose catch phrase “at this moment in time” used to be trotted out at every convenient opportunity, whether appropriate or not (which is never in my book!). Someone must have taken him to one side and had a quiet word about it and suggesting he stop (presumably under the threat of removing his toe nails with a set of pliers if he doesn’t give it a rest).

    I always preferred the option of watching with the commentators off as Sky used to offer. Even the annoying Steve Banyard is preferable to the wailing of those bleeding Vuvuzuelas!

  5. Right on, Jeremy. You get the feeling that people are constantly slipping him pieces of paper with abstruse information they’ve dug up and he’s using it just to have something to say. I can picture a bunch of kids Googling frantically to feed him.

  6. Brilliant article Luke.

    The bloke that we have here (Steve Banyard on CBC) is from Talk Sport I believe (or was at some point). He is of a similar stripe to the blokes that you are referring to here.

    The most irritating exponent of “providing information about players that nobody has heard of, or cares about,” brigade is Jonathan Pearce, who will happily trot out phrases such as “he plays his football for XXXXXX club.” Very important to included “club” at the end of the sentence for Jonathan as he clearly feels it adds a gravitas otherwise lacking. It doesn’t of course, it’s just a sure sign that he’s been reading voraciously about the Kazhak second division. The less these commentators know about players the more they insist on telling you, much of which you already know. Franco, the Mexican striker is looking for a club this summer because “he was released by West Ham, at the end of last season,” and that he was “born in Argentina!” Did anyone who knows anything about football not know either of these facts? He’d clearly just learned that Jus Fontaine was the top goal scorer in World Cups as he must have mentioned this at least three times. No sense of irony I don’t think, even though France have failed to find the net in this World Cup yet.

  7. The pundits are being baffled yet again by Serbia-Germany, a good contest being ruined by a card-happy ref. But the Serbs have the Germans’ measure, shutting down their game with tight marking and a solid defence.

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