It’s Not Always Good To Talk

Having written recently about the skills required for good sports commentary and the value it can add to a sporting occasion I feel it necessary to show the other side of the coin. Due to the extensive coverage given to sports in a multi-platform and subscription television based world there will inevitably be bad commentators. The word ‘bad’ is perhaps misused here though as judgement of commentary is not an objective matter, it is very much a matter of opinion, what may annoy someone may be exactly what others desire from a commentator.

There must be some things that annoy a majority of viewers though, below are a few of my pet hates that can guarantee a cringe every time I hear or read them, I suspect I’m not alone with some of them;

Nicolas Anelka in action for Chelsea

Nicolas Anelka - He may be French but he's definitely a man. Photo: americanistadechiapas

Mispronunciation: I fully admit that as more foreign players have found their way into British sport and more international sport is broadcast that there will inevitably be names that are difficult to pronounce. What annoys me is when names we all know how to pronounce are mispronounced by those who should know better. A perfect example of this to have recently annoyed me is ITV4’s cycling commentator Phil Liggett calling the French rider Thomas Voeckler, Thomas Voikla. Liggett is a veteran of countless Tours, he commentates on cycling for a living and will have been to France more times than most so how on earth does he get it wrong? It should be pronounced something like Vercklair but a widely heard and acceptable pronunciation is Verckla. Another example that gets up my nose is David Pleat’s (he is a serial offender) pronunciation of the French footballer Nicolas Anelka, Pleat insists on calling him Nicola. I know in French the ‘s’ is not pronounced but he calls him Nicola in an English accent, by all means call him Nicola but if so don’t make him a girl and so do it in a French accent, if you’re intent on using an English accent then do as most do and simply call him Nicolas.

Over familiarity: Steven Gerrard should be called Steven Gerrard, John Terry should be called John Terry, no Stevie Gs, no JTs. A commentator is there to inform and describe, if a teammate wants to refer to them in that way in a post match interview then so be it, a commentator can call them by their nickname in pub conversation just as you and I would but please not in a commentary. This is one criticism I have of Tom Fordyce, he has a habit of creating new names for sportspeople that often have little relation to their actual name. His current favourite seems to be referring to Tim Bresnan as Brezucio, I don’t know why this annoys me but it does.

David Coulthard in a Red Bull

David Coulthard's helmet meant he was easily identifiable. Photo: :: De todos los Colores ::

Missing action: In my opinion a cardinal sin of a commentator; so caught up in finishing what they are saying that they miss something. It may only be the beginning of something happening but I like my commentators to react to things as they’re happening, not with a few seconds delay. It can often feel like the commentators are actually at a disadvantage being at the event because for television commentary they aren’t necessarily seeing what the viewers are and as such may not react to something on our screens due to them not looking at their monitor at the time. A culprit of this particular pitfall was Jonathan Legard, the 5Live turned BBC1 Formula 1 commentator, he didn’t seem to manage his move from radio to television too well and was often found to be still talking as Martin Brundle interrupted him to update the viewers with something happening out on the track.

Referee Howard Webb

Referees such as Howard Webb rarely escape the wrath of Alan Green. Photo: thetelf

Know your stuff: This may be the most important part of preparation for a commentator, if your job is solely to commentate on one sport all year round then I expect you to be able to identify the main protagonists. In many sports and for most commentators this will come naturally just through being a fan and recognising the way somebody kicks a ball or runs a bend or pedals a bicycle. Kits, numbers, car bodywork, haircuts and tattoos all help in this respect yet commentators still get it wrong, unfortunately Legard falls foul of this as well. Most Formula 1 teams are kind to the commentators and make some distinction between their two cars, be it the colour of the nose or the camera on the top of the air inlet, not forgetting that each driver likes to make their helmet very distinctive, yet Legard still seemed to have trouble identifying drivers. I say seemed as he was booted off the Formula 1 coverage and back to football league commentary after two years of complaints from F1 fans and was replaced by the very knowledgeable David Coulthard. Henry Blofeld is another prime suspect for this one, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been listening to Test Match Special and he’s called Stuart Broad, Chris. Stuart has been playing international cricket for nearly five years now and Blowers still gets it wrong at least once a day.

Alan Green: There isn’t anything inherently wrong with being opinionated and sharing your opinions with the audience, in fact I’d say that I probably prefer commentators and summarisers to have opinions. However Green angers me with his opinions as he more often than not assumes everyone shares his and dismisses those who don’t. I also find that he is far too quick to criticise and pass judgement, whether it be the performance of a player, the referee or the standard of a game in general. If he commentates on a poor quality game, and with the amount of games he covers that is inevitable every now and again, then he appears to take it as a personal slap in the face from all the players on the pitch that they can’t put on a performance worthy of his presence. He seems incapable of accepting then not every game will be Arsenal v. Barcelona, not every pass will find it’s target and not every referee will go through their career without making a mistake.

Right that’s a few things off my chest! Feel free to comment if you agree with my criticisms or defend a guilty party if you feel they’ve been harshly treated or simply to add to the list and vent some frustration of your own.

Photos: Anelka – americanistadechiapas, Coulthard – De Todos Los Colores, Webb – thetelf


5 thoughts on “It’s Not Always Good To Talk

  1. Following on from your comments on mispronunciations, I cannot understand why David Coulthard keeps on saying “Vetell” all the time when he is commentating during Formula One races. Surely he can hear Martin Brundle and everyone else pronounce Sebastian’s surname “Vettel”? I bet if there was a driver with the surname Smith, David would probably call him Smyth. It took him a long time to learn how to say “Heidfeld” but if someone’s job is being a sports commentator you would think they would put some effort into learning how to pronounce surnames. Just because David was a Formula One driver, it doesn’t mean that he should be a commentator now that he has retired. We need to hear some professionalism during the races.

  2. It’s amazing what annoys people isn’t it? I actually think Coulthard is a good person to have in the box alongside Brundle, he’s just come out of the racing world and as such provides great insight for the viewers. He has also known Brundle for a long time and as such they have a rapport that isn’t forced. Like yourself though I can’t get away from the fact that the names bug me.

    I’ve been asked before why it irritates me so much when a name is pronounced incorrectly and I’m not really sure why but it does. Though as you say, if it’s someones job then they should make it their business to ensure they know how to pronounce names correctly.

  3. Come on.. get some perspective here, it’s the sport that matters, not how the commentators pronounce ‘Vettel’ or ‘Voeckler’. We all know how to pronounce them and we don’t care how the commentator pronounces them… it’s just another amusing quirk of British commentary. Is this just bitterness that it’s not you doing the commentary?

  4. @ jamorass

    Thanks for taking the time to read my blog and I agree with you that it is the sport that matters however I disagree that ‘we’ don’t care how a commentator pronounces names.

    In a previous blog I’ve highlighted the value that good commentary can add to a sporting encounter and thus can also detract from the action if it happens to be ‘bad’. I also mentioned that ‘bad’ commentary is also very subjective and that my article was highlighting my pet hates about commentators that some people may share – others clearly won’t.

    Your final point about bitterness is also wide of the mark, not once have I said I wish I was commentating or that I could do a better job – I have though expressed my opinion that I sometimes expect more from those that are paid to commentate. The least they I expect is for them to do their research and be able to identify players correctly and pronounce their names.

  5. I do believe that David Coulthard should learn how to say Seb’s surname properly. It’s not as if he is commentating an amateur sport; Formula One is an international sport. Recently Martin Brundle told David during a broadcast that “Vettel rhymes with kettle” but even during the Japanese Grand Prix he was still saying Vetell. I’m not the only one who is annoyed, I’ve found blogs and questions from people wondering why David can’t say Vettel. I can’t even explain why I’m annoyed since Seb Vettel isn’t even my favourite driver! The Formula One broadcast is shown in other parts of the world such as Australia which is where I’m from. When Daniel Ricciardo started racing this year, James Allen said “Daniel Rickyardo” right to his face and Martin and David were also saying it. It puzzled me because I didn’t think you said his surname like that, and it turns out they were wrong. All James Allen had to do was ask Daniel before the interview how to pronounce his surname.

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