Friday, 8 May 2015

Sitting Alongside - The Golden Age of Co-Commentary: Part 3

The final part of our look at the men who commented on football, but not well enough to sit in John Motson's seat.

Keegan, Kevin

An early example of the superstar footballer snapped up by TV to give a players-eye view of the action being watched. And very well he did so too, first of all joining Brian Moore in the ITV studio for coverage of the 1978 World Cup before taking his place alongside him in the commentary box throughout the 1980's and 1990's.

Polite and discreet while understanding and learning his role, Keegan allowed himself to chip in more often in later years without ever being as pointed or scathing as some of his peers. In trying to elevate his sense of self-importance, his comments occasionally backfired on him, most notably during the 1998 World Cup match between England and Argentina.

After 120 minutes of play and the score at 2-2, everything rested on the final England penalty to be taken by David Batty. When Moore put Keegan on the spot (sorry - couldn't help it) by asking him to predict whether Batty would score, he replied 'Yes' and promptly gave the first live demonstration of foot consumption to a large television audience.

Unfortunate, but by no means the only indicator of Keegan's abilities, for the former England striker was always able to use his managerial experience to give tactical insight where others couldn't. A reliable co-commentator, still in demand on TV today.

Insight - 7.5/10 Speak-when-you're-spoken-to-ability - 9/10 Humour - 5.5/10 Controversialness - 5/10 Delivery - 8.5/10. OVERALL - 7.1/10.

Pleat, David

Just a few years after galloping onto the Maine Road pitch in 1983 to celebrate Luton Town's avoidance of relegation to the Second Division, David Pleat was in an ITV commentary box, giving his views on the 1986 FA Cup Final.

Pleat was on the verge of becoming manager of Tottenham, but if anything it was his media career that was just taking off as his easy-going, informative style of co-commentary was deemed just the ticket for the independent broadcaster. From the late-1980's onwards, his voice and his honest, analytical views were regularly heard on ITV, providing a calming and credible adjunct to proceedings.

Unfortunately, as many in his position do, he became prone to ever more regular verbal gaffs as his confidence grew. Even now, he allows himself every chance to be witty and humorous, although the reality is often somewhat wide of what his intentions are.

Perhaps, however, he can be allowed such indulgence. Whether at World Cups, FA Cup Finals or internationals, Pleat understood the science of football tactics and could count upon such knowledge to bolster his discourse. While not being the most dynamic of personalities he remains, on TV and radio, a knowledgeable and experienced figure.

Insight - 9/10 Speak-when-you're-spoken-to-ability - 7.5/10 Humour - 6.5/10 Controversialness - 6/10 Delivery - 8/10. OVERALL - 7.4/10.

St. John, Ian

Everyone knows that Saint was half of 'Saint and Greavsie', but in fact Ian St. John was an active co-commentator for ITV going way back to 1978. Providing his take on the European Cup Final that year between Liverpool and Club Brugge, he did similar work at the World Cups of 1978, 1982, 1986 and 1990, along with numerous European and domestic cup finals well into the 1990's.

St. John's greatest quality was probably his way of speaking with confidence and conviction. In many ways, it wasn't what he said but the clarity and assertiveness with which he said it, and as a viewer you felt compelled to accept his views, no questions asked.

His delivery was often quite serious, but as someone used to working with the jocular Jimmy Greaves, he needed little persuading to drop his guard and enjoy any humorous moments that came about with a chuckle here and there. Because of that, viewers appreciated the warmer side to his character in contrast to his steely, determined delivery.

In general, however, St. John got the ITV co-commentating nod far more often than his partner Greaves because he could enhance the gravitas of an occasion. As a former player par excellence, he understood the importance of, say, an FA Cup Final from a player's point of view, and the need to take it seriously. This matched the revered tones of Brian Moore and therein you have the ideal partnership, as was shown by his many appearances behind the microphone.

Insight - 9/10 Speak-when-you're-spoken-to-ability - 8.5/10 Humour - 6.5/10 Controversialness - 6/10 Delivery - 8.5/10. OVERALL - 7.7/10.

And now a final look at some of the other names that have tried to convey the excitement of football... with different degrees of success...

Moore, Bobby: A highly underused contributor to ITV's coverage of Brazil v Uruguay and Italy during World Cup '70, Moore's comments were as entirely rational and polite as you'd expect from England's captain. Why ITV didn't bring him into the fold more for the big football occasions of the next decade or two, one can only wonder, but they should have done.

Ramsey, Sir Alf: Ironically, Moore's boss was used by ITV on a few occasions during the 1970's, but he seemed prone to tripping over his words and rushing through his delivery all too often. Lacking any humour and determined to retain as much dignity as possible throughout, Ramsey wasn't exactly cut out for co-commentary work and his appearances in the commentary box were rare beyond ITV's 1974 World Cup coverage.

Robson, Bobby: Another former England boss, although in the case of Robson, his co-commentary days began well before he got the national team job. Bobby Robson was still at Ipswich when ITV came knocking in June 1979, but he showed his versatility by doing well during their coverage of England's friendly match in Austria. Sadly he wasn't used much thereafter and his only other notable co-commentary work came during the Euro 84 Final for the BBC. Another case of 'what might have been'...

And there we have it - a selection of some, but not all of those individuals chosen for their ability to string a bunch of meaningful words together. These are the few that opened their mouths and spoke what was in their minds before their foot plugged the gap - a skill that is never as easy as one might think. 


  1. Superbly written, recently I re watched the 84 European Cup final (Bruce Grobbelaar was appearing in a bar in San Francisco and they showed the entire game including penalties of course before he arrived) Kevin Keegan was the co commentator and he only said something when asked, which wasn't a lot, mostly during lengthy breaks in the action. So much better than today's guff. Although when Alan Kennedy put the winning penalty away Keegan immediately ruined the excitement by saying "well that's no way to win a game" just as the ball had hit the net.

    1. Too kind, Rob - thank you. :)

      Isn't it jarring how quiet the matches are when (a) the commentator isn't filling all the dead air, and (b) the co-commentator only speaks when he's spoken to? If only we could go back to that...

      I love Keegan's comment - typical Kev! :)

  2. I saw an excellent interview with Alan Parry a few years back, when he described his disagreement with Kevin Keegan - a hero of his - over the sending off of Leonardo in the Brazil/USA World Cup 2nd round match in 1994. Keegan was trying to defend Leonardo's brutal elbow on Tab Ramos on the basis that the initial tug was from Ramos, and Parry decided that he couldn't let it go, probably rightly. I remember the final bit went something like this:
    AP: "But you can't defend that,surely Kevin?"
    KK (forlornly): ".........No..."

    1. I distinctly remember that friction between Parry and Keegan, Kev! I'll bet they didn't work together much after that... :)

  3. Steve Williams9 June 2015 at 11:41

    Bobby Robson did make a memorable appearance a bit later on, because after the abrupt depature of Ron Atkinson he was installed as co-commentator by ITV during Euro 2004 and co-commentated on their two live England games against France and Switzerland. Unfortunately, fine man though Robson was, he was woefully unsuitable to co-commentary, at least in 2004, as he would take so long to make his points he was constantly being interrupted as something else had happened, and they never used him in that role.

    1. I didn't realise that, Steve. Mind you, I do remember him being on similar rambly form back in '79, so perhaps it's just as well his appearances were brief! Thanks for your message... :)