Saturday, 21 February 2015

Sitting Alongside - The Golden Age of Co-Commentary: Part 2

Continuing our look at the great, the good and the trying-hard-not-to-be-embarrassing from the world of football co-commentary...

Charlton, Jack

The older of the Charlton brothers barely had a chance to put his feet up after retiring from an accomplished playing career when he was swiftly snapped up by ITV. His first assignment saw him fly out to Belgrade to cover the 1973 European Cup Final with Brian Moore, and he did the same again in 1974, 1976 and 1980. Six FA Cup Finals between 1974 and 1981, not to mention a wide range of England internationals culminating in the 1982 World Cup were also added to Big Jack's canon, proving an undoubted talent that his employers could regularly rely upon.

Jack Charlton's vocal style was distinctive but winningly efficient. Possessing a stronger Geordie accent than his younger brother, the viewer occasionally had cause to stop and figure out what it was he'd actually said (cf. "I dunna why he didn't hit it to the far purst"). That aside, Charlton rarely wasted a word as he described what was going on, nor in his views about a particular player, team or manager.

Forthright without being overtly controversial, Jack Charlton unquestionably found the right balance in his delivery. A player of considerable experience, he had plenty to say and wasn't afraid to say it, but he was always fair-minded in his assessment of everything. It would have been easy for him to bore people about his days playing for Leeds or England, or to gloat about the greatness he achieved, but he didn't. Instead, he spoke with conciseness and meaning, just as you always hope a co-commentator would.

Insight - 8.5/10 Speak-when-you're-spoken-to-ability - 9/10 Humour - 5.5/10 Controversialness - 6/10 Delivery - 8.5/10. OVERALL - 7.5/10.

Clough, Brian

Given Brian Clough's success with Derby County and his outspoken 'clown' comments about Poland's goalkeeper in 1973, it's strange that he wasn't handed a co-commentator's microphone until 1979. Perhaps it's because ITV preferred to make use of his presence as a studio-based panelist because that's where you'd have found him for much of the early- to mid-70's.

As it is, Clough toned down his controversial views once relocated alongside the main commentator, but he remained truthful and honest with the things that he said. When hearing Clough's analysis, you always got the feeling he was scrutinising every moment, processing everything that was going on in front of him in fine detail. Waffle was a rarity with Clough - what you got was an interesting take on the game with points being made that weren't immediately apparent to the casual viewer.

And he continued to do just that throughout the 1982 and 1986 World Cups, several domestic Cup Finals and European Finals to boot. By the late-1980's, however, his main career as manager of Nottingham Forest was entering its final stages and his work for ITV came full circle as he appeared more and more often in front of camera as a studio guest rather than behind the mike. As TV viewers, that worked out just fine as Clough got more of a chance to speak at greater length rather than keeping his utterances short and to the point.

With more time to talk, there was greater potential for hearing the sort of spiky dialogue he'd become known for, and that, after all, was what we all wanted deep down. Far from bland, Brian Clough liked to talk and knew how to make you listen whether you liked him or not.

Insight - 9/10 Speak-when-you're-spoken-to-ability - 8.5/10 Humour - 6.5/10 Controversialness - 7/10 Delivery - 8.5/10. OVERALL - 7.8/10.

Hill, Jimmy

If ever a man made it his job to watch football and explain it to the ordinary TV viewer, it was Jimmy Hill. Then again, Jimmy Hill made it his job to do many things in his life, from running football clubs to representing the interests of players as PFA Chairman.

On TV he could have conceivably done everything himself; presenting the programme, commentating on the match, conducting the interviews with the players afterwards and reviewing the key tactical sequences... Hill had so much experience, he could have done any or all of those things with consummate ease.

As it is, he was asked to take his seat in the commentary box and convey his thoughts whenever their was a big match taking place. Initially on ITV, Jimmy Hill formed a winning partnership with Brian Moore and was present for the FA Cup Finals from 1969 to 1973, as well as numerous England matches and European Finals. A switch to the BBC then saw him initially move to a front-of-camera roll hosting Match of the Day, but from the 1980's he was back behind the mike again for World Cups and European Championships alike.

His skill at reading the game and understanding who was playing well and who wasn't (including the officials) gave him a reputation for being one of the best football brains around. Unfortunately it also prompted some people to regard him as a know-it-all and would happily impersonate him as a dreary, self-satisfied bore.

This was unfair to say the very least. If any criticism could be aimed at Jimmy Hill, it's that he was perhaps on TV too frequently over a long period of time, but that wasn't his fault either. TV producers knew he could add much to a live match broadcast, so unsurprisingly they made use of his talents whenever possible. And why not... Jimmy Hill loved the game just as much (if not more) than anyone, and his desire to prove it during his co-commentaries was a very admirable trait indeed.

Insight - 8.5/10 Speak-when-you're-spoken-to-ability - 8/10 Humour - 5/10 Controversialness - 5/10 Delivery - 9/10. OVERALL - 7.1/10.

And now, once again, it's time to look at some of the minor members of the 'Sitting Alongside' club...

Clemence, Ray: Rarely used former Liverpool and Tottenham goalkeeper but a shrewd collaborator that spoke with sense and relevance. Joined Brian Moore for ITV's coverage of England's 8-0 win in Turkey in November 1984, but should have been used much more often.

Francis, Trevor: Britain's first million-pound player and in recent years a regular co-commentator on Sky Sports, but it all started back in 1986 when he accompanied Brian Moore during England's goalless friendly in Budapest. Great insight as an accomplished player and manager and pleasingly talked a lot of sense.

Greaves, Jimmy: One of the greatest England forwards of all time and a colourful co-presenter for ITV's 'Saint and Greavsie', yet not used all that often in the commentary box. Perfectly comfortable in front of the camera where his jovial character shone through in abundance, his appearances behind the mike were mainly confined to the 1990's. Possessing a potent mix of humour and honest criticism, Greaves was a fine foil to Brian Moore and was able to lighten the mood of a game better than most of his peers.

Coming up in Part 3:
A galloping manager, a Saint and a host of stars that disappeared as quickly as they'd arrived...

-- Chris Oakley

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