Thursday, August 20, 2009

Brendan Foster is my new hero

Which sports commentators are the best? is a question I often ponder while pegging out the laundry, or sterilising bottles.

The radio commentary team of Test Match Special are rightly praised for their ability to fluently fill five days of airtime no matter what is happening on the field of play, including occasions when nothing is happening except heavy rain. But in truth the TMS boys have an advantage in that cricket is a game of myriad, multi-faceted complexity – anyone with half an interest in the game can comfortably natter about some aspect of it for hours on end, and if all else fails you can always default to slagging off the ECB.

More impressive to me are those microphone jockeys who really have to manufacture their commentary. I’ve always been impressed by Eurosport’s veteran cycling pundit David Duffield. Stages of the Tour de France unfold slowly, with developments in the action taking all day to reach fruition. Duffield copes with this through his mastery of the art of the lengthy digression, filling the long hours with discussions of yesterday’s supper in a favourite little restaurant in Rouen, or the historical importance of particular French fishing villages. I was once hypnotised by a very detailed lecture he gave on the problems faced by the banana industry in Central America (yes, really).

But again, Duffield doesn’t quite take the prize because there are numerous technical diversions open to him, on bicycle technology or team tactics. For this reason I used to consider marathon running to be the ultimate commentator’s challenge, since it lacks both of these technical options and, for the TV viewer, essentially consists of a great number of shots of people running and not overtaking each other very often.

I say ‘used to’ because last night I realised that even the marathon is a breeze compared to the king of the commentary-defying sports: middle distance track running. At least for the marathon the commentator fulfils a useful purpose in reporting spot times, which allow the viewer to follow whether chasers are gaining or losing on the leaders.

But middle distance track running is a sport where on television the action is entirely self-explanatory. The commentator has literally no useful purpose, so he must instead make the best he can of uselessness. And last night I witnessed a masterclass by the BBC’s Brendan Foster, as he covered the World Athletics Championship Men’s 1500m Final.

For describing the business of runners going round and round in a perfectly obvious order, Foster employs two separate but expertly intertwined methods:

1. detailed speculations about the runner’s thought processes (eg. “And he’ll be hurting now, really hurting, he’ll know that this is the hard part, but he’ll also be thinking ‘This is what I’ve trained for, this is what I’ve put in all that hard work for’, and he’ll be reaching inside himself, and digging deep, and using that pain…” etc)

2. reciting synonyms for the word “accelerate”. Last night Foster came up with the following, which I repeat verbatim: "And you just sense now that the pace is going to change: it's going to gather, it's going to pick up, it's going to multiply and it's going to move."

Any fool can say “I think they’re speeding up a bit.” It takes a true artist to say it in fifty different ways for the duration of a 1500m race. I therefore put it to you that Brendan Foster is the Michelangelo of sports commentary.


malty said...

Brit, how long have you and I known each other via the mirrorcrackle of the internet? do me a favour please, don't mention Fosters name again in me presence.
Let me lift the veil a little. I was born in Hebburn, Foster, and that other twat Crumb, who was the son of the local milkman, and their acolytes would run twixt So Shields and Gateshead, and so with the other twister Brasher, set oop t'great north run, this was all reported to me by my father who still lived in said toon and became apoplectic at the mention of their names, having insider knowledge of their pedigree, or lack of it.
OK, fine, dandy, magic, brilliant. Great north run / Gateshead stadium / athletic success / brownie points.
It sort of all went to their heads / wallets etc, some future historian delving into the history of Tyneside athletics mixed with sleazy financial gain will unearth a can of worms the size of Kansas.
Later, Crumb had the temerity to move into a pad close to me in Northumberland, in the eighties, and became the world champion shit faced neighbour (out of my way, I'm important and in a hurry) Frequently visited by Foster, who had by then become welded to Crumb, we had the added bonus of frequently bumping into Foster.

The pair of them make what must be the crappiest sports commentators ever, boring, empty, shit faced.
PS.. watch next years tour on ITV4, Phil Liggett is OK.

worm said...

Not really up on commentators, tending to avoid the sporting milieu as i do. so i shall contribute to this post by saying I am intrigued by the guy who does the commentating on Robot Wars.

malty said...

The electronics industry has given us some amazing trinkets in recent years, picture quality that allows porn addicts to be there in the room with the action, music buffs can have their eardrums perforated by Callas during the last 1 min 26 secs of Tosca, computers can go about their daily business sans cables, well, nearly sans cables. OK, that was a blatant lie.
It cannot be beyond their ken to invent an MP3 Player / sports voiceover (home for the use in) Simply drag and drop the requisite data, footie, cricket, synchronized darts etc, choose the language, accent and style, off we go.
The built in filters would allow us, like ABP in Firefox to block unwanted styles, they could name it something like the LinekerFosterMotsonAlliss button.
The IPod version would of course be twice the price of the completion and have inferior sound sound quality, Creative labs and Sony would refuse to work with Linux.

Brit said...

Duly noted, Malty, I promise not to post on Brendan Foster again. Dear me but you do have a lot of relevant anecdotes.

Anonymous said...

Be careful what you wish for. At least he gets kudos for trying to make a soporific sport gripping. Much worse are the ones who seem hellbent on making a gripping sport soporific. Hockey is a pretty exciting game, but we have a nerd here who can single-handedly cause the entire nation to turn to cooking shows before the first period is over. His whole schtick is to alternate the banalest of platitudes ("One thing is for sure. If you're not going to skate, you're not going to score any goals!") with maddeningly stupid statistics ("One thing the Leafs have to watch out for is that over the past five years the Flames are third in the league for number of second period goals scored in the first half of the season.").

malty said...

The most imprecise sports comment ever has to be "and Jockey Wilson's fit". For younger and non domicile bloggers Wilson was a fat, sweaty, beer swilling darts supremo, always with a fag on.

monix said...

It would be difficult to find a more impressive commentator than Dean du Plessis, who is a Zimbabwean cricket commentator on radio and television. He has been blind since birth! Peter White interviewed him in yesterday's edition of BBC Radio 4's "No Triumph, No Tragedy." It is available as a podcast and well worth listening to for the description of how he identifies bowlers from the sound of their feet landing at the crease, batsmen from the grunts or mutterings they make and how he can distinguish between different strokes, relying entirely on the stump microphone.

Stephen said...

Cram and Foster are what we Northumbrians disparagingly call "Posh Geordies" or the "Geordie Aristocracy" along with Jimmy Nail, Tim Healey and, in the junior leagues, Ant and Dec.

Stephen said...

As for sports commentators Sid Waddell has a kind of crazy genius, though he plays on it a lot these days and Ted Lowe was, for me, the Chaucer of snooker.

malty said...

Talking of sport Brit, I daresay Mrs Brit, in the full flush of motherhood, gave you a visa to visit that well known area of grass in London and revel in the massive humiliation.

Brit said...

A visa, Malty, but sadly not a ticket. But see above for an armchair view.