11 February ~ In the latest issue of WSC, available now, Ian Plenderleith looks at online analysis of football's pundits and commentators

Who is the game's worst broadcaster? The debate has embraced a wider cast of dubious characters now that we can head to YouTube to hear the gibbering vacuity and perverse analysis of commentators and pundits from around the world. And, thanks to the internet, British viewers were well warned ahead of the arrival on their screens this year of the lead candidate for football's most nonsensical TV goon, ESPN's diminutive, smooth-topped Irish export, Tommy Smyth.

One of Smyth's finest moments as a co-commentator came during the 2006 Champions League final, with Arsenal leading Barcelona 1-0. Smyth suggested that Barcelona were "too patient" and needed to start "dumping it in there" if they wanted to score. Exactly four seconds later, a smooth, four-man passing move lead to Samuel Eto'o's equaliser. Not that this was enough to shut Smyth up. The secret to his endurance has always been an arrogance based on conveniently ignoring the thousands of times he's been plain wrong, topped off by the fake persona of a cheeky chappie who aims to amuse, but succeeds only in irritating with every utterance.

When Smyth showed up on UK television, Martin Kelner in his Guardian blog quickly discerned that the pundit is "something of a stage Irishman, with the blarney level turned right up" and that he is a man who talks a "brand of total bollocks". The responses to Kelner's assessment were as close to unanimous consensus as it is possible to find in the arena of internet democracy. Several US readers rejoiced in finding someone who at last could share their long-term pain.

The web has made life much easier for anyone keen to document and subsequently expose the worst excesses of drivel being passed off as expertise. For decades, we had to rely on our memories for Motty's preposterous musings and could cite little more than a general sense of frustration at a particular commentator's foibles. Also, there were only a handful of stations and thus a generally higher standard of commentary, as well as fewer drones bussed in merely because they'd once taken part in a professional game.

Nowadays, we have Jamie Redknapp. Comedian Paul Parry campaigns to expose modern misuse of the term "literally" and his website demonstrates how Redknapp is a serial offender. The former Liverpool annoyance has his own top 20, including how he once described Wayne Rooney as having been served a cross "literally on a plate". Or how Paul Scholes will "see a picture in his head and literally paint it in front of you". Though probably not before literally destroying you with a late two-footed tackle.

Meanwhile, according to the website Danger Here, Andy Gray has an obsession with a player's mobility, which he articulates in terms of PACE – Pace, Awareness, Calibration and Evaluation. PACE, says the site, is "a complex measurement system now used by all commentators to assess the speed of a front man with a little bit of what Big Ron might call 'turbo' at his disposal". Players may, according to Gray, have "a bit of pace" or "bags of pace" or "frightening pace, lightning pace, genuine pace, unbelievable pace, pace to burn". Or they may be just plain "pacy".

The blog Fisted Away dons the persona of Alan Green to describe how he witnessed a tentative young couple take their first kiss. "What are you trying to do, thinking you can kiss at this level!" he exclaims. "I'm not negative about many things: just the paucity of Anfield's vending machine crisp selection (I have written several letters) and the warmth of the sun." There's nothing original about slating Green, according to a piece on Two Hundred Per Cent, "but that's no reason to shy away from the task". It points out that: "In a highly competitive media environment... which is currently subject to stultifying budgetary limitations, the continued employment of someone as self-centred and incompetent as [Green] feels less and less tenable. This needs reiterating... as often as possible."

Equally unappreciated, Clive Tyldesley has provoked one admirer to purchase a domain name with the sole aim of christening him in a rather corrosive manner. The site is sparse but to the point. Tyldesley's gushing devotion to Man Utd attracts attention from numerous other sites, few of them prepared to be kind. Who Ate All The Pies highlights his resemblance to Meat Loaf and that's about as complimentary as it comes. The Own Goal blog complains that Tyldesley has "one of those annoying shrill voices at the best of times, but... gets far too excited far too quickly". Many other online writers stretch that theme to rather more explicit extremes.

Despite Tommy Smyth's best efforts, however, the future direction of punditry could well lie across the Irish Sea. According to Back Page Football, the panel at RTE comes "close to rivalling the judges on The X Factor for vitriol and negativity. Johnny Giles seems to resent life itself while Eamon Dunphy has made aggression and contradiction his gimmick." That the pundits are "outspoken, abrasive and unpredictable" makes them more engaging than their English counterparts where analysis "often seems to lack passion, perhaps because the on-air talent are afraid of upsetting players and losing out on interviews? Whatever the reason, the coverage is frequently anaemic and devoid of the fire that the game itself provokes."

Setanta's Pat Dolan would arguably fit into the lively Irish bracket, despite being labelled a "deranged moron" by the blog A More Splendid Life, which claimed Dolan "has met the loud-mouthed, self-important block of wood you avoid in the pub test". But better lively and opinionated than dead from the eyes inwards, like Alan Shearer. The ex-striker is so dull, it's difficult to find a site that can even be bothered to compile his blandest quotes. Though he did once say that Newcastle Utd were "good enough not only to win the Premier League, but to conquer Europe as well". Both the beauty and the cruelty of the web is that it never forgets.

Comments (9)
Comment by fishplums 2010-02-11 12:24:26

ctrl f "garth crooks" = no results.

Comment by The Mighty Kubelgog!!! 2010-02-11 12:48:31

Pat Dolan is a golden god. Listening to him talk is like living in the world of The windmills of your mind. As you listen to him talking seemingly disconnected ideas your mind gets taken over by whirring images. Like a circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheel.....

When he starts a sentance, you literally have no idea where he's going to end up, he could be slating a true great of the world game, praising a true great of the world game, or just wind up talking about fashion or something.

Comment by Coxy 2010-02-11 13:08:07

Are but what of Talk Sport, a whole radio station full of charactertures of charactertures brought to us for the Chav nation that we have become. The annoying gets in the pub now on 24/7 to spout inane drivel, laugh at the dim by trying to irritate the the fans of the so called big clubs, and said fans always buying it. Lad mag radio which enhances the lowest dominator with Aplomb! Still at the end of the day, what Im saying is, you know the Tubes don't always have quality Cream. Oh hold on I have nothing whatsoever to talk about, er , right, Spurs you aint a big club,please spend 50 p a minute waiting in anger, why we make buckets of cash to talk for 30 seconds on how massive The Lillywhites are.

Comment by Satan Wit 2010-02-11 13:28:26

Two words for you to Google/Youtube: Ray Hudson.

Comment by RayDeChaussee 2010-02-11 14:19:21

Lovely piece of vitriol.

BBC's MBM reports are full of excruciating drivel too. e.g. West Ham's second goal last night was described as "Massive, massive, massive".

Whoever it is that does the voiceovers for ESPN Classic's coverage of English football post year dot needs a ticking-off too.

Comment by Humus B. Chittenbee 2010-02-11 18:34:22

I did not like Mr. Kelner's back-handed swipe at US football fans. I did, however, find that Mr. Kelner described Smyth to a 'T' in his article. When I first saw Smyth on ESPN [here in the US], I thought they had him on as a sort of novelty, as they had no one else to turn to for that day's game. Sadly, that has not proved to be the case.

On the positive side, one does know that when Smyth comes on, one is safe to go to the kitchen or bath while missing nothing of note - and may, perhaps, even save some sanity!

Comment by Jongudmund 2010-02-12 11:00:53

See, I read this article in my latest edition of WSC yesterday and I thought "I hope they put that on the website WITH THE RELEVANT HYPERLINKS." The Tyldesley reference is wasted unless you can hover over it and see what the web domain actually is.

Sadly without the links, this was a waste of a magazine page.

Comment by bangsection 2010-02-12 16:39:33

People moan about the cartel of ex-players who dominate punditry but it's the civilians who have become the most irksome group in recent years. Spoony, Lovejoy, Green, Bhasin - they all get my back up more than Lawrenson, Dixon and, yes, even Shearer. In contrast, an ex-pro is now one of the most engaging voices on TV and especially radio - step forward Steve Claridge. I have a theory that this is partly down to the fact that almost every fan in Britain has fond memories of him playing for their club...

Comment by johnnyutah01 2010-04-15 18:57:23

Ah Tommy Smyth "wid a woy!"... back in my native New Zealand I used to have to listen to that twerp "commentate" on Champions League games. Unbelievably bad. It was made worse by the fact that for some reason, ESPN's European coverage looked like it had been filmed with the same cameras used in Mexico '86, a kind of vaseline-smeared lens with added pixelation. So not only was my viewing experience awful, so was the drivel I had to listen to from that idiot. Oh, and his commentating partner was an American called Jean Paul Delacameron or something. You could LITERALLY feel his sense of seething injustice of having to share a commentary booth with this bloke.

Not that English commentators are any better. I agree with the comments in the article and other posters here - the inane drivel that comes out of people's mouths sometimes is beyond belief. I think what's made it worse is the Sky Sports Soccer Saturday / Final Score model - do we need to be updated on a game in such a way that isn't actually commentary, but more pub-like shouting and ranting? Crazy, though I do like Jeff Stelling's patter, great compare him.

When it comes to ex-players commentating, I think there's a case for it, due to their expertise of playing at that level. But the problem stems from a lack of vocabulary or ability to discuss the game intelligently. Their feet did the talking when they played. The best pundit I've ever seen or heard in the last few years was Martin O'Neill at the 2006 World Cup. He almost looked embarrassed at the crudity of "punditry" from the likes of Hanson, Lineker, Lawrenson etc and when it was his time to talk, he dissected the game in question brilliantly. The only one who comes close for analysis is David Pleat, but his voice is extremely annoying!

Time to dump most of them - especially:

Wright (hopefully he never comes back)
and especially Hanson, Lawrenson, Jim Beglin and the rest of the Liverpool FC Media Mafia.

Oh, and Tim Lovejoy. Goes without saying, doesn't it?

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