Having given the television coverage a review/kicking over the weekend, it’s time to take a look at the radio coverage of this World Cup.
Ian Dennis is our host, and Jacqui Oatley and Graham Taylor are our commentary team for the opening stages, with Dennis taking over. Oatley is one of three prominent ladies at the World Cup, alongside Gabby Logan, and ITV’s Kelly Cates. Logan and Cates are more high profile, but considering most of the games that we’ve had so far, Oatley has considerably the toughest job of the three. It’s easy to report from the England camp, it’s interesting to go round the country and see how the fans are experiencing, but commentating on the standard of football we’ve had so is a challenge for the most experienced of commentators. This is the most important position a woman’s going to get until we get female officials at the World Cup. The best Britain has to offer as an official is Amy Fearn (nee Rayner), who initially seemed to be fast- tracked, and has now seemingly hit a glass ceiling – having seen her referee and run the line in recent seasons, that can be the only reason that she is not refereeing in the Football League on a regular basis. The highest a woman has reached is Nelly Viennot, a Frenchwoman, who was a UEFA assistant referee in the early to mid 2000s, and was shortlisted to be an assistant referee for the 2006 World Cup until she failed a sprint test.
As with so many other games so far, there isn’t a great deal to talk about on the pitch, but unlike the other commentators at the World Cup, they don’t whinge and bemoan how bad their life must be to be flown all the way round the world, to the greatest sporting tournament in the world to watch football. Instead Oatley and Taylor treat it as an excuse to turn it into a football version of Test Match Special. And it works well, because they have a great chemistry. There’s discussion about the Slovakian keeper Jan Mucha, and how he’s signing for Everton, and how they can scout him for David Moyes. When they realise Mucha has already signed for Everton, they imagine Mucha having a stinker, so they can take the piss: “Hey Moyesey, he’s rubbish”. Taylor then goes on to show that he’s a class act (read Paul McGrath’s autobiography for further proof), by talking about New Zealand, and whether they should be here, and instead of the sneering tones of Lineker, Dixon and Hansen on Match of the Day, Taylor is keen to emphasise that it is a good thing that the All Whites are here. It is a World Cup after all, there should be teams from all around the globe. Even better that this Oatley & Taylor they make the point of letting us know that they’re giving the Mexican Wave a miss – which was a much more irritating export to the world’s game than the vuvuzela could ever be. And Oatley & Taylor become the first commentators to talk positively about the vuvuzelas, pointing out that with a game this bad, the vuvuzelas give it an atmosphere. Somewhere in amongst all this, New Zealand (who have most of the play in the early exchanges) create a threatening chance, only to see Jan Durica beat Rory Fallon in the air and head it for a corner. We get more interesting stories including from New Zealand manager Ricki Herbert’s time as a player at Oatley’s club Wolves, where the players used to try and hit golf balls over the North Bank, and how Herbert never picks keeper David Mulligan for their club, Wellington Phoenix, yet takes him to the World Cup.
Oatley hands us over to Ian Dennis, and the pace changes. Dennis is a lot dryer, a lot more typical of a BBC commentator, and as well as describing everything that’s happening, and put a British slant on things. Immediately launching into a “what could have been” for Northern Ireland. Nigel Worthington’s men only finished seven points behind the Slovakians, and scored not only fewer than Vladimir Weiss’s men and Slovenia. “What could have been indeed”, it could have been even duller. Dennis is a lot more descriptive of the game, and we get the first real threat from Slovakia (from manager’s son Vladimir Weiss). Unlike Oatley, Dennis actually has things to describe, as the tempo seems to pick up as they hand over, but even when there is nothing to describe, Dennis still tries, only pausing to remind people where they are, what the score is, and what’s coming up later. He also lets us know which players do and have play for British clubs. This stilts Taylor a lot more, as he does from a comfort zone talking generally about football, to trying desperately to find something to say about this match. And as you can tell from this report, it is not easy. As I type that, things begin to happen. New Zealand goalkeeper Mark Paston miskicks a backpass, but Robert Vittek messes about so much, that Tommy Smith helps recover and manages to get the ball out for a wasted corner. Shane Smeltz hits the side netting, and Tony Lochhead commits the first real foul of the match against Erik Jendrisek, getting booked for his troubles. More seriously, my digital TV box sees fit to protest at the lack of quality, and give up the ghost, just in time for half time. I miss nothing. New Zealand will be happy with their first half.
I’m back, and we’re back, as Oatley and Taylor are our commentators for the first half of the second half, and Slovakia create a couple of half chances, meaning we get less banter, but more description of the “action”, and suggesting that the reason for so much inaction is because the conditions are like those of the Britannia Stadium – cold, wet and windy (and yes, the Britannia Stadium does seem to have it’s own weather system). And then we have action. Stanislav Sestak floats a cross in from the right hand side, which finds an unmarked, and marginally offside Robert Vittek, who heads it past Paston to break the deadlock. 1-0.
This gives chance to review the previous area that I’ve felt that Oatley’s commentary has let her down – in moments of excitement, rather than emphasised, she’s generally shrilled like a schoolboy commentating (and let’s be honest with ourselves, we can only make this comparison, because we all did it as kids). Thankfully, there’s less shriek and more gravitas. The style of her “commentary” in the first half suggests that Oatley wants to create her own style, rather than just try and imitate the men, which would be a much easier option to take. One other pleasing aspect of her patter, is that when there’s nothing going on, she brings up details from other games so far, so that Graham Taylor can give us analysis on something. The second half commentary tends to drift back to the BBC in-house style, which is a shame, as most of the game really is not worth talking about. Maybe Oatley & Taylor ran out of material in the first half, maybe they’ve been told to concentrate on the game, either way, the second half commentary is neutered compared to the first, and Taylor makes the point that he feels he’s repeating himself. It’s a shame, as it’s been the most entertaining commentary pairing of the tournament so far, but still far better than the banalities than the likes of Guy Mowbray, Clive Tyldesley, Chris Coleman, Mick McCarthy and the rest have produced so far. It’s a shame that the game has been so bad – although maybe that’s the reason the commentary’s been so good. A final mention of the arduous journey to Rustenburg today, and how much of a disappointment that Marek Himsek has been, and we’re back with Dennis and Taylor.
The first thing Dennis mentions is that West Bromwich Albion’s Chris Wood is getting ready to enter the fray, which he does, at the expense of Middlesbrough’s Chris Killen. It’s all gone British-centric, as every player at British club is referred to as the property of the club, rather than the country, as Blackburn Rovers’ Ryan Nelsen passes to Ipswich Town’s Tommy Smith, and Slovakian coach Vladimir Weiss’ background gets a mention, seemingly only to remind Celtic fans of his time as coach of Artmedia Petrzalka. The tempo of Dennis’ voice picks up. The game is still the same slow, plodding crap, as it has been all game, but Dennis rattles off the way possession is being held, like the game has become interesting. He doesn’t keep this up, as we head to a preview of the Ivory Cost-Portugal game, where Didier Drogba will be on the bench. It’s a lot more interesting than anything happening in Rustenburg, mainly because until Smeltz heads wide with two minutes to go, nothing has happened on the pitch since Dennis came back on air twenty minutes ago. That something happens a mere five minutes later, catches Dennis and Taylor out, as a Shane Smeltz cross comes in from the left and Winston Reid heads in the equaliser. He looks offside, but he’s marginally onside. 1-1.
Taylor sees this as vindication for those who felt that New Zealand were too weak to come here. Dennis wraps up, and that’s your lot. Ian Dennis is a BBC man through and through (he’s been commentating for BBC Leeds and 5Live for twelve years, and it shows. He has very much the in-house style, and you could pretty much interchange him with pretty much any of the other Radio commentary team. The only time that Dennis comes into his own is when he bemoans that the stands aren’t full, the game isn’t sold out, and that FIFA are still trying to sell tickets through the website, but aren’t telling the locals that the tickets are for sale. Taylor backs him up and says that it’s pointless anyway as FIFA won’t lower the prices to an affordable level for the locals. Jacqui Oatley on the other hand, has been a breath of fresh air, and while there was much scepticism about her initial appointment as a commentator, she realises that a commentator’s job isn’t just to inform, it’s to entertain. And a final word about Graham Taylor. When he summarises, he’s one of the best in the business, and when he’s required to do something else, be it taking the mickey out of fellow managers, standing up for the small guys, or acting as a residential patient for a TV advert, he gives it his everything. Football’s been his life, and it’s given him everything he’s ever had, and he’ll give everything he can in return.
Once again, our thanks go to Historical Football Kits for allowing us to use their images in this report.