Scraping the barrel: why is football cursed with insipid commentators?

We all have our favourite bad commentary quote, an art mastered by the genius that is David Coleman. A God among men, he furnished the bland and generic landscape of sports commentary with such gems as “here’s Moses Kiptanui, the 19 year old Kenyan, who turned 20 a few weeks ago”

There have been numerous pretenders to Davey’s throne since he retired at the turn of the millenium (Motson’s clarification to black and white TV owners that “Spurs are wearing the all-yellow strip” is worth a mention), but ever since he hung up his microphone our TV screens have been a duller place, not least since every analyst that approaches football on TV is irrevocably insipid.

The problem is that if football can be considered an art form, where are our intelligent critics of the game? Those that make their career on analyzing and discussing the greatest authors of the human race can at best hope for a Professorship at some university, yet a former footballer can get away with the most banal statements and still land himself a big pay cheque and a prime time TV gig. One is committed to formulating new approaches to the thinkings of some of the greatest minds ever produced, and the other gets away with pointing out that “football is all about the two ‘M’s – movement and positioning”.

Alan Shearer and Ian Wright are two examples. Whoever thought of entrusting the ever-charismatic Shearer with entertaining the nation in the 15 minute break between self-inflicted torture at the World Cup is even more of a sadist than Sven-Goran Eriksson and his insistence on taking Peter Crouch as the only fully fit striker to Germany. The only reason I can see for Ian Wright’s appointment is that the Beeb bosses realized their mistake at handing the Geordie wonder-kid a 5 year contract and hired the annoyingly-hyperactive ‘Wrightey’ to combat the walking personality-vacuum. Now his only job seems to be to jump around and laugh, whilst stating his thought out opinion that “England will definitely win the World Cup this time”.

It’s not that there aren’t intelligent analysts of the game, and that’s my point. When at least half of the population have considered and passionate thoughts about football, why are we lumped with such simple anaylsis on our TV screens? You only need to look at newspapers and the internet to find examples of football criticism that would put the current crop of TV talent to shame. Perhaps it’s something to do with the nature of TV: in his Guardian column David Pleat provides thought-provoking and insightful comments on tactics, yet commentating on ITV he can’t even pronounce ‘Chimbonda’.

There are some exceptions of course: Alan Hansen is always an interesting watch, if not slightly defence-orientated, and a lot of people have a soft spot for Andy Gray on Sky (not a view I share: all he seems to do is shout and wobble). But when you pair them with the likes of Lee Dixon or Carlton Palmer then any hopes of a decent discussion about the beautiful game is dead. Critics of referees are always saying that ex-players would be perfect for the job since they’ve played the game. Yet those that make the transfer from pitch to screen would surely have to discount this theory. Is it really too much to expect decent TV coverage of the country’s most popular game?

And you know what the most damning thing is? I haven’t even mentioned John Barnes Football Nights yet.

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