11 April ~ Whatever qualities Peter Drury has as a commentator, soothsaying isn’t one of them, as his premature announcement of Manchester United’s progress to the UEFA Champions League semi-finals this week showed. As well as revealing the increasing self-importance of the modern-day commentator and his ridiculous insistence on calling games before they are even halfway over, the ITV man also misread his audience, his one-eyed forecasting antagonising neutrals and those viewers hoping for a Bayern Munich win.
Believing their role to be cheerleaders and prophets rather than mere painters of a picture, Drury and his ilk are oblivious to the extent to which armchair allegiances and preferences have shifted since the Big Four initiated their domination of the Premier League and, until this week at least, the Champions League.
European nights once provided an opportunity for fans of less successful clubs to get behind the nation’s representatives on the “continent”. The successes of Nottingham Forest and Aston Villa in the European Cup were cheered by most supporters across the country, give or take the odd pocket of resistance in the Midlands, while Liverpool’s frequent triumphs were a source of if not of national pride, then of satisfaction. Drury’s predecessors in the commentary box largely reflected that mood, rightly assuming that the vast majority of those watching would want the English team to win.
The advent of the Premier League and the subsequent concentration of success within a select group of clubs has changed all that, however. As much as ITV and other broadcasters would like us to believe differently, Manchester United in the Champions League can no longer be packaged as “England versus Europe”.
Resentment at the enduring superiority of the ruling quartet and their domination of the media has caused fans of other clubs to get behind the likes of Bayern and Inter, myself included. Eleven years ago I let out a cheer as United completed their comeback on “that night in Barcelona”. Yet when Arjen Robben’s superb volley struck the back of the net on Wednesday I clapped. I suspect I was not alone.
With their one-size-fits-all coverage of the game, Sky, ITV and the like have failed to gauge that shift in allegiance. It is expecting too much for them to ask their commentators to adopt a more nuanced, less jingoistic approach. Yet as long as makeweights like Bayern Munich continue to resist the inexorable advance of the Big Four, we will at least have the satisfaction of hearing Drury’s smug predictions come back to haunt him. James Calder