The 200% Hall of Fame: Barry Davies
Last October, the 200% Podcast gave out the first of its Hall of Fame awards. In lieu of having the resources to be able to send them anything of actual value, we promised at that time that we would eventually get around to writing some words and creating a picture to mark their inclusion, so here’s the first in this series, the BBC’s Barry Davies.
In the build-up to the fiftieth anniversary of Match of The Day, BBC Breakfast invited Barry Davies on to their sofa to discuss the programme. Asked what he thought was the reason for this, at seventy-seven years of age and on live television at twenty to nine in the morning, he replied without a pause for contemplation, “Familiarity has bred contentment, rather what it usually breeds.” That evening, in front of an audience many of whom may only have been familiar with his voice as a ghost from football’s dim and distant past, he rolled back the years one last time, commentating on the match between Crystal Palace and West Ham United for that evening’s broadcast.
It was a bittersweet moment, for those amongst us of a certain age, a reminder that his era is now a bygone era that won’t be returning. We now live in an age during which the identikit is a la mode. There is no place in the game for the truly distinctive voice of football, and even our one remaining connection with the game’s broadcasting past in the commentary box, John Motson, often seems to be little more than an impersonation of his former self. But if there’s one thing that we can say about Barry Davies, it is that he was a distinctive voice of the game.
It is often said that his style was “school-masterly”, but to describe him as such is to not paint a full picture of his style. Barry Davies was, when the time was right, as much about excitement as it was about anything else. His most famous lines – not his best, and in their own way as misrepresentative as so many other descriptions of him – exude an almost schoolboy like sense of wonder at what was taking him at times – his description of Paul Gascoigne’s free-kick for Spurs against Arsenal in the semi-final of the 1991 FA Cup at Wembley as “Schoolboys’ own stuff” must surely have been as baffling to ten year-olds watching in 1981 as they would be a quarter of a century later.
If that “school-masterly” reputation came from anywhere, it really came from a lack fear on his part to criticise. It’s difficult to say for certain whether the closer bonds between those that run football and the broadcasters that screen the matches are the reason why so many of the voices of the game seem to be so asinine, but this certainly seems to be true. It seems impossible to imagine a modern commentator noting a badly taken penalty kick with the words, “Dear oh dear, I don’t believe it. I hope I’m not being too unkind to Pat Nevin, a player of undoubted quality, but that has to be the worst penalty I’ve ever seen at this level of football.” Consider yourself to be well and truly chided, Pat.
Oh, to feel that feeling again. A broad sweeping panorama of a northern industrial town or a sweep along the River Thames accompanied by scene-setting words from a broadcaster welcoming you to the match. We should be grateful for the fact that we got to hear the commentaries of Barry Davies, the wit, the chastisement, and the enthusiasm. One of the great ironies of modern football is that as it moves further and further away from being a sport and more into the realms of being just another form light entertainment, so it long ago started to take itself too seriously and to talk too much. The voice of Barry Davies is the voice that doesn’t talk too much, the voice which understands that, sometimes, what you don’t say is as important as what you do say.
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