Less than a week to go, and the second most important debate of the World Cup has already started. Which side are you watching it on? In the early stages of the tournament, there’s no debate over this. We switch channels back and forth between the BBC and ITV depending on where the match is, but as the tournament goes on you’ll find them going in competition – particularly on the day of the final. And if England were to make it that far, we’d have all-out civil war on their hands. It’s an important decision. For most of us, it’ll decide what our experience of the 2006 World Cup is. Don’t believe me? Okay – try listening to “Nessun Dorma” and tell me that you’re not transported back to those balmy summer evenings when England almost chanced their way into the final. So, let’s have a quick look at what they’re offering up this summer:
Commentators: The BBC, obviously have Motty. Good old Motty. The elder statesman of British sports broadcasting. For a while, John Motson sounded as if he was losing it. During the 2002 World Cup, he befuddled the entire nation with increasingly tenuous “breakfast” jokes, culminating with a moment that will mar all future TV World Cup Goals compilations – shouting “YOU CAN SMASH THEM NOW! HE’S SCORED!” as David Beckham cracked home the winning goal against Argentina (it was an obscure reference to breakfast plates). I think somebody must have had a word after the tournament – although he remains more histrionic than he ever used to be, the flight-of-fantasy analogies seem to be a thing of the past. His back-ups are a mixed bag. Jonathan Pearce isn’t quite as teeth-clechingly bad as a football commentator as those of us that used to listen to him on Capital Gold in the 1990s might have expected, but still gets more excited than I would prefer, whilst Steve Wilson is developing into Motson’s natural successor. A clear football man who balances creating atmosphere and giving information very effectively.
ITV are led by the squawking, shouting, xenophobia machine that it is Clive Tydlesley. In the old days, he was a decent commentator, having worked by Granada TV before going to the BBC upon the creation of the Premiership. Snice his return to ITV, though, he has become the epitome of “tabloid broadcasting”. Openly biased towards British clubs in the Champions League (overlooking the fact that there are a good number of people that wasnt British clubs to do badly in Europe), laboured puns and “jocular” banter. Somewhat inexplicably, he has been voted the Royal Television Society’s Commentator of The Year three times. Tyledsley’s shortcomings are thrown into a sharper light when he’s lined up against his supposed juniors, Jon Champion and Peter Drury. Champion has a voice that grates, but still manages to be authorative, whilst Drury is my favourite of the lot. I can’t put my finger on exactly why – he just sounds like a real commentator. When John Motson retires, the BBC should bring him in as their top man.
Anchors: I have no problem with Gary Lineker at all. He has settled into the “Housewives’ Choice” niche particularly effectively, and always seems assured and confident in front of the camera. He’s got himself a job for life there. ITV, on the other hand, thought they’d hit the jackpot when they signed Des, but it all went wrong. He couldn’t adjust to the different tempo of commercial television, and shuffled off without a contract renewal when his five years were up. Gaby Logan (and her infamous eye-liner) had been filling the breach since then, but ITV have brought back a ghost from the form of former Grandstand host Steve Ryder. Having not seen him on anything apart from Formula One and Golf in the last ten years, it’s difficult to assess how he’ll get on, but it’s certainly an interesting choice.
Pundits: The BBC nearly have it right. Alan Hansen is the only pundit out of all of them that can actually tell me anything that I haven’t already seen, and this more than compensates for the terrible presence of Mark Lawrenson and Peter Reid. As for Ian Wright, well… it’s not a racial slur to say that he’s an imbecile. As for ITV, well, Andy Townsend looks to much like the manager in “The Office” for me to take himseriously (not David Brent, the other one), I can’t think of Ally MacCoist without getting a sudden, hideous mental image of him with his cock up some young woman, and Terry Venables now reminds me of the Ray Winstone character in that recent Channel 4 drama about a dodgy football manager.
I am rather of the opinion that we’re coming out of the golden age of sports broadcasting. The great names – Kenneth Wolstenholme, Barry Davies, David Coleman, Brian Moore and Hugh Johns – are all retired or dead. Listening to their commentaries, I pine for the days when commentators were understated, articulate and eloquent to the point of being poetic. Can you really imagine Clive Tyldesley saying, without a script, “There’s some people on the pitch… they think it’s all over… it is now! It’s four!”? No. Thought not.
(As a byline, if we can’t have a return to the golden age of TV football commentators, can we have something like this? Those Norwegians could certainly teach us a thing or two)