3 November ~ The BBC announced that it will cut the second commentator's role from its radio football coverage last week. No longer will Alan Green assault the listeners' ears around the 22-minute mark with tales of the game's awfulness and the stadium's lack of heat, just in case Pat Murphy's description had left you in any doubt. In the same week as this development, I listened to Radio 5 Live's coverage of the Carling Cup tie between Stoke City and Liverpool. The fact that this may be my last radio game for the foreseeable future has little to do with any protest over the BBC's cost-cutting measure that brings their radio coverage in line with their television output.

It may or may not surprise you to know that I didn't enjoy listening to David Oates, the aforementioned Green and Craig Burley bringing me the news that my favourite team had won a tricky cup tie 2-1 at a ground where they had failed to win in their last four visits. To me though, it marked a significant shift in my attitude. You see, I grew up with the radio and in particular Radio 5 Live. I spent most Saturdays with my dad, watching our local Irish League team in the flesh, while also keeping up to date with events from across the water through the wonders of not very modern technology.

The decision on whether or not to watch Match of the Day could usually be made around 4.50pm depending on whether Stuart Hall was describing Liverpool as the lions or the Christians in the coliseum, which he would normally squeeze into his description of a corner-kick routine. At the same time, my dad would know whether he had won enough of a fortune so he did not have to go to work on Monday morning, once he had heard the results on the way back into town. Occasionally, I would hand him the radio and watch the looks of amazement on shoppers' faces as he shouted the scores, oblivious to his decibel level due to the earphones.

I had no such pleasure that Wednesday night, however, hearing of Luis Suárez's sublime double and Kenny Dalglish's broad grin at the final whistle. Whereas before the radio had seemed more personal and more descriptive, now it just seemed like a last resort. I had only tuned in (I say tuned in, actually I put my TV on channel 705, which didn't seem right in itself) because my internet connection was down and I wasn't sure if the bars in Belfast would be showing a League Cup tie not broadcast by Sky. There's no call for it in Kuala Lumpur, as Ian Ayre might say.

Listening to games on the radio used to be a bit like reading a book. You had to imagine what it looked like when Ron Jones said that Arsenal were wearing yellow stockings. And he meant socks, he didn't mean that Thierry Henry had decided they'd all get the suspenders out for the tough trip to Sunderland, like he did with their gloves. You had to picture how close your team had come to scoring or conceding from the level of noise from the stands. Depending on how raucous the crowd or how excitable the commentator, it could sound like the whole game was being played in the penalty box, when in fact Lee Dixon had just crossed the halfway line.

After years of being spoiled with attending live games, watching television coverage and later internet streams, the radio now feels more like being outside a gig, not able to see in, being told by someone in the front row that I'm not missing much anyway. Every time I heard the Stoke or Liverpool fans urging on their side in possession, the commentators were debating something else. Why does Andy Carroll not jump? How come the ballboys only give Rory Delap a towel and not opposing players? By the time they had described how a move ended, I’d already guessed from the reaction of the fans.

There was a time when I actually preferred the radio. In 1996, when Liverpool beat Newcastle 4-3 in that famous game, I was listening to Radio 5 Live. We didn't have Sky in the house at the time and I didn't mind at all. It sounded great and not being able to see made everything seem more possible. Comparing that night to a grinding win at Stoke 15 years later may seem unfair, but next time I’m stuck with the radio, I don't know if I’ll make it through the whole game, never mind the poor single commentator. Stephen Adams


Comments (24)
Comment by Banana Banana 2011-11-03 11:19:58

BBC local radio still do an amazing service covering games up and down the land and actively promoting local teams. The role of BBC Oxford in promoting Oxford United's promotion out of the conference was amazing and really helped push crowd numbers up and get local adults and children to see a live football game.

Comment by jameswba 2011-11-03 11:24:00

Good article - amazed, though, that someone seemingly younger than me shares this radio nostalgia. Among my greatest radio football memories are the four FA Cup replays between Arsenal and Sheffield Weds in 1979. Happy days, even though the underdogs finally lost.

Two seconds of Alan Green today, by contrast, and I feel like throwing the radio from a very great height with all my strength.

Comment by erik1966lutig 2011-11-03 11:43:13

Good article.
I am an American who can remember as a child hearing the BBC World Service announcer intoning the Saturday scores (they didn't play many -- or any -- Sunday or Monday matches back in those pre-Internet days).
The announcer used the same level tone for every manner of result, no matter how stunning.
You would hear:
"Luton Town one, Cambridge United nil... Stoke City nil, Oldham Athletic four." In the exact same, emotionless cadence. Ahhh... the good old days.

Comment by Peter_Bateman 2011-11-03 11:44:10

I have many happy memories of great games in the 70s and 80s conveyed to me by the likes of Peter Jones, Maurice Edelston and Bryon Butler. I too vividly remember the Arsenal v Wednesday Cup marathon as well as an extraordinary League Cup quarter final between Swindon and Arsenal the followihg year when, of course, the underdogs won. I lisatened to a lot of the games in the bath and that is where you can still find me most Wednesdays at 8 o'clock. My wife thinks I'm mad..

Comment by 99leesea 2011-11-03 13:31:42

I think that 5 live's coverage is still infinitely preferable to the dross churned out by Sky/ITV though. Given the choice think I actually prefer to listen to a match than to watch it. Live coverage on TalkSport is a different matter however..

Comment by geobra 2011-11-03 13:32:54

The first time that I listened to a second half commentary on the BBC Light Programme was Saturday, December 17th, 1955. The match? Colchester United v Exeter City in Division 3(South). The commentator? Raymond Glendenning. The match finished 5-1 to Colchester (3-1 at half time). Unthinkable today, but perfectly normal then, when a different ground was visited every week.

Comment by Leon Tricker 2011-11-03 13:47:35

I'll actually be sad to see (or rather, hear) the second commentator being dropped from Five Live. As you say, "No longer will Alan Green assault the listeners' ears around the 22-minute mark". Indeed: he'll be given free reign for the full 90!

For me, a second commentator can offer a different perspective, and it can be nice just to hear a different voice. If they're looking to save money I'd rather they dropped the 'summarisers.'

I understand why people complain about the number of presenters the BBC sends to cover matches: it's a waste of money; they're trying to compete with Sky. I'd argue it's not a waste of money, it's about providing entertainment. And if we're doing away with second commentators could we also do away with the Strictly Come Dancing spin-off shows please?!

The radio still has a place for me though. Either when in the bath, like Peter Bateman, with a drink and listening to mid-week games. Or preparing/cooking dinner on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon if I'm not at a live match. Or in the background while I'm working. Or if I'm away from home for work and stuck in a grotty hotel in the middle of nowhere. My little pocket DAB job with built-in speaker goes everywhere with me!

Comment by Paul Rowland 2011-11-03 14:10:05

I'm not a great fan of Radio Five, to be honest. Rather than reducing their commentator count by one, I think they should have gone a bit further, and reduced it by two. And the "experts" too. They drive me nuts, all of 'em. I can't think of anybody on Radio Five that doesn't drive me completely NUTS NUTS NUTS. AAAAARGH!

My particular hate? When Ingham goes off on one of his analytical meanders, then gets interrupted by a sudden unexpected burst of on-pitch action. Next thing you know, the adrenalin kicks in and he just starts shouting at the mic even though he hasn't a clue what's going on because, basically, he hasn't been concentrating.

"Rooney's been quiet today, but the thing about Rooney is, you know that at any mo - OH HERE COMES NANI HE SHOOTS OH WHAT A SHOT WHAT A PLAYER THE KEEPER IS NOWHERE OH MY OH MY THAT WAS VERY, VERY CLOSE INDEED... actually, he didn't quite connect, and it's drifted out for a... throw-in. Poor effort that, from er, I think it was Giggs. No, it was Young. Anyway, as I was saying... Rooney. Yes, the thing about Wayne Rooney is - you never know when he's going to do something unexpected do you?"

Give me Match of the Day anytime. The thing about Match of the Day is, you can watch it on the IPlayer on Sunday morning with the sound turned down, fast-forwarding over all the studio bits. You can't do that with a Radio Five commentary, can you?

Comment by Orwellians 2011-11-03 14:18:54

Living abroad allows me to listen to World service commentary (only about 30 minutes tops) and watch the game on tv - sometimes.

The pity is that so little football is covered.

The second commentator is essential.

This is a lost art, akin as someone mentioned, to reading a book or looking at a master painting. Brian Butler was always the best, I'll never forget his commentary of Forest winning round by knock out round their first European cup.

Today, the girls are the artists. I listen to the enthusiasm, and the perfect description of the ball in play, and hear the poetry all over again. But they are rarely given a chance on tv, or at major championships.

Stuart Hall is still the most marvelous entertainer.

It really is sad to witness the complete destruction of BBC football at the hands of a corrupt financial corporation called, er, the BBC.

Comment by donedmundo 2011-11-03 14:41:58

Don't know about getting rid of the second commentator; but definitely get rid of the 'expert' summariser. Complete waste of space. Commentator, 'And that's a great ball from Rooney, setting Young free on the left. Skips inside one man. Shoots narrowly wide.' Summariser, 'That's a great ball from Rooney setting Young free on the left. He skips inside one man but his shot goes narrowly wide.' Mind you, they are worse on the telly, pointing out what only the blind could not see.

Comment by Orwellians 2011-11-03 15:14:46

Whatever happened to the idea that an important part of radio was a service for the blind?

ps The tv commentary is so bad, one would almost feel relief if one was needy of hearing!

Comment by Doinbiznis 2011-11-03 15:55:04

Here in Canada, every once in a while, the feed from the commentator's booth gets lost and we get to enjoy the game with only the sound from the stadium. They should make that standard practice. I’m not sure if the feeds are from the BBC or Sky or whatever, they’re all equally annoying. I gather the radio coverage is not much better.

That said, Ray Hudson's La Liga coverage on GolTV is a fine listen. Hyperbole, ridiculous metaphors and a wry sense of humour, what's not to love?

Comment by JimWhitehurst 2011-11-03 16:30:48

I thought it was just me that got infuriated with Alan Green! Why the Beeb continue with him amazes me. His arrogant style and continual moaning about everything make me regular switch off. Going to one commentator is great news as long as AW isn't the only one!

Comment by Adam Wilson 2011-11-03 16:47:42

greatest radio commentary ever: Bryan Butler on Maradona's second goal v England. classic beeb understatement
worst? Alan Green on Steve Redgrave winning his 5th gold. classic Green hyperbole ("stop whatever you're doing and be upstanding blah blah blah...")
Aside from that my 5Live pet hate: when trailing the weekend games do Arsenal have to "take on" Wigan?
As for the World Service, in my previous overseas pre-Internet days, the Saturday sports service was dire. I know we all love the "and welcome to our World Service listeners whereever you are to a cold damp Baseball Ground where its still scoreless" but have you any idea of the dross I'd had to put up with to get to that point half way throught the second half - Aussie rules something, gymnastics from Bratislava, THE DAVIS CUP SUB-SAHARHAN 2ND DIVISION DEAD RUBBER PLAY-OFF. These days I'm on Forest Player to get the Radio Nottingham commentary and rarely listen to 5Live.

Comment by Red Adder 2011-11-03 17:04:03

Green is the worst commentator on radio by an extremely long distance - and thats against some pretty poor competition. Anything that gets his arrogant rants and drivel off the wireless is good in my book.

Comment by Coral 2011-11-03 18:03:10

I was led to believe that Sky were going to try out a red button where you could have just stadium noise. I watched the Chelsea v Arsenal game in a bar with no sound. I didn't like it and thought it was because I missed the commentary. Then I realised it was the crowd noise so I could hear how they had reacted to a referees call that I can't see. In the end I added my own commentary, because Arsenal were losing I could safely guess that it was talk of Crisis Arsenal and dodgy defending. When they came back to lead that Chelsea's new Morinho was not as good at getting Chelsea to defend and Torres was short on confidence. I just don't see what commentary adds other than winding people up and putting in some pointless facts.

On the Radio it is essential but it would be nice if they covered the game. As has been said it is crucial at a lower level as the only way of covering a game but that often becomes a chat show with a game incidentally happening in the back ground.

With Radio 5 it has become a running joke. In a car home we turned on for a game and Green was commentating. We had a sweep stake on time for the words "the referee here has got it all wrong. Absolutely clueless". The driver won after 2 minutes. All games end in him berrating officials. For England games you get the added bonus of him sneering at Capello and not understanding what he is saying "*chuckle chuckle* I can't understand him". That said on 606 he seems to be a relatively good host and neutral for a lot of it, the time you would want him having a rant. Football is all about opinions these days, sadly that is all we get on commentary now.

Comment by Spadams96 2011-11-04 11:03:01

Does Jimmy Armfield still work for 5Live?

I always thought he was a very good summariser, always very fair.

Graham Taylor and David Pleat too, come across as very knowledgeable and considered, even if Pleat does get everyone's name wrong.

Comment by ooh aah 2011-11-04 11:41:30

Jimmy Armfield did find himself in Colemanballs in Private Eye for this little nugget about ten years ago:

He's good at that David Beckham, kicking the ball

The thing is I knew exactly what he meant - that diagonal crossfield ball Beckham would play by cutting across the ball as he kicked it

Comment by jertzeeAFCW 2011-11-04 13:42:57

Not working for the BBC I am not 100% sure of the reason why there is a second commentator half way through each half but I am pretty certain it is for the same reason why you get two presenters doing Radio 5's shows at breakfast and drive time.

The reason being that, and research has proved this, the human brain tends to switch off and lose concentraiton if it hears the same voice for longer than 20 minutes.

By juggling presenters in a show lasting 3 hours they break the 20 minutes. By having 2 commentators the 20 minutes (approx) riule can be maintained.

It is also the main reason why if you do a presentation to an audience it should not exceed 20 minutes without a break. Your audience will start falling asleep no matter how interesting you think you are!

Comment by Arthur Nibble 2011-11-04 13:53:07

Add me to the anti-Green brigade. I can't stand him and turn the radio off as soon as I hear him commentating.

I also agree with geting rid of the 'pundits', especially that waste of oxygen Claridge, who's all over BBC's football coverage like a nasty piece of dog crap that you can't get off your shoe.

Comment by danielmak 2011-11-05 05:29:19

Since I'm in the US, Green isn't an issue for game commentary, but I regularly listen to the BBC World Football news/documentary/interview show he hosts. I've found that he's not so bad when he just hosts the thing, but once he starts adding his opinion about stuff, I almost always disagree. My favorite was his claim that the Man Utd-Chelsea CL final in Moscow should be moved to England because it was ridiculous to make England fans travel to Russia to watch English clubs. I wondered if he made the same argument about the Juve-Milan final in Manchester or the Sevilla-Espanyol UEFA Cup final or the Porto-Braga Europa final. Probably not.

Comment by geobra 2011-11-05 10:22:05

I agree that Alan Green is an extremely irritating commentator, but surely on the question of two clubs from the same country reaching a European final he has a point. Why don't UEFA add a proviso when they allocate finals - that when the finalists are from the same country, it will be played in that country? The original host country would be compensated with the next final unless.....

Comment by shadsworth cloud 2011-11-06 09:01:09

Can I add my vote to end the obscene Sky "Soccer-Saturday" love fest for old pros. what was once a "breath of fresh air" is now torture to watch as a football fan. Someone said that football is all about opinions, but this is what happens when you have ONLY opinions. i.e no actual football. In a digital age, to rely on matt le tissier or phil thompsson with headphones relaying OOOOHs and AAAAAHs is short-changing.
kill it off (along with thommo, matty, etc

Comment by redlester 2011-11-06 09:05:34

I still remember the days of the 70's and early 80's when the only way to keep up with my beloved United, from afar with no access to BBC Manchester or Piccadilly Radio (and note at the time we were winning zilch) was BBC Radio 2 long wave. We used to get only the 2nd half, and it was a closely guarded secret which match they were covering until it actually came on! It created such a wonderful adrenaline fuelled atmosphere, I spent years of listening to 2nd halves while throwing darts at the dart board in my bedroom to deal with the tension. Which often ended in the board being missed when Macari missed a sitter or Jimmy Nichol allowed a journeyman striker to put us to the sword.

Fast forward to now and I hate listening to United on radio. Totally agree with what's been said about the commentators talking about issues other than what's happening in front of them. When I do listen though, such as when am driving, I quite like to hear Alan Green even though I agree he is an idiot. It's just that I associate his voice with "big" games and therefore it feels slightly more important and exciting than the other faceless voices. I particularly hate John Motson doing radio commentary.

As for the summarisers, Graham Taylor and Pleat make me want to throw darts, but at them not the dart board. Taylor in particular is unbearable. He still refers to The Kop as "the most knowledgeable fans in football" every single time he goes there (number one in the list of 1980's football cliches).

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