Sunday, April 22, 2007

It was a Big Ask for the lady...

...but she staked her claim and will be looking to make a name for herself

Giles Smith amusingly skewers the Neanderthal objections to the BBC’s employment of a female commentator for the first time on Match of the Day.

Jacqui Oatley was given the low-profile Fulham v Blackburn game, which the BBC buried halfway through the programme, presumably to give her a gentle introduction to the cut-throat, high-stakes universe of describing the least uninteresting bits of mid-table matches to sleepy men just back from the pub.

I watched it, and Jacqui was fine. Or rather, she was no better or worse than any other British TV football commentator. Which in many ways was the problem – she was exactly the same as every other British TV football commentator.

Hearing the commentary in the unfamiliar female tones had the effect of highlighting just how stange and incestuous is the language of the professional pundit. We’ve always known there are cliches, but I’d never really noticed just how rigidly conventional the whole private vocabulary is.

It goes way beyond the odd “game of two halves” or “he’ll be disappointed with that”; virtually every phrase is weird. “Warnock finds himself in acres of space”; “And McCarthy, the poacher, supplies the finish”; “scorer nearly turned provider”; “half-time can’t come soon enough for the beleagured manager”. One-twos must always be “lovely little” things, balls are only ever “shepherded over the line” by defenders, and strikers must “look to make a little darting run in behind the defence”, in the hopes of collecting a pass that will either be “wayward” or “inch-perfect.”

Nobody speaks remotely like that in any other walk of life. But thanks the curious evolutionary paths of language, that’s how British commentators feel they must describe the process of a football match. Presumably other nations have their own conventions. Listening to American soccer commentary sounds hilarious for us: they pick up on wholly different aspects of play (being fixated with long goalkicks and throw-ins and such like), and we always love the Latin “Gooooooooooooal golagolagola” business. Foreign viewers must have a completely different experience to we watchers of Motson and Tyldesly.

Oatley is ok. She has watched a lot of football matches and is perfectly fluent in commentator-speak. You don’t have to know anything about football for that - you just need an ear for language.


Ali said...

Motson and Tyldesley I've never liked.

Peter Brackley's great. Loved him on Football Italia even though the games were a chore to watch.

Mike Beversluis said...

Regarding sports clichés, here's the canonical list of reporter responses.

The funny thing about clichés is that they are the remarks of lazy thinkers, but people use them, especially in sports, because there is very little good that can come from saying something new.