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

Comments (16)
Comment by paulandrewparker 2010-04-11 09:39:47

Drury is shocking but he's not alone. In fact 3 times this week I've heard the commentator declare a game finished when it's been anything but. The commentator of the Liverpool game on Thursday fell into exactly the same trap as Drury when they went 3 up against Benfica, which was an even bigger crime given what had happened the night before and he had to revise his opinion somewhat when Benfica had the temerity to score. And then again last night Rob Palmer decleared "El Classico" over when Barcelona went two up with 35 minutes left on the clock.

I dread to think what the world cup will bring from the current shallow pool of commentating talent.

Comment by t.j.vickerman 2010-04-11 10:33:13

It certainly has changed over the last 10 - 15 years, though I still know some people who want to see the English sides do well. As a supporter of a League One side, I want to see the English game competitive and so continued success in the Champions League and the perpetuation of the revenue that brings is clearly going against that.

But I remember as a kid avidly following Manchester United's 1991 European Cup Winners' Cup triumph immediately following the Heysel ban and even having a similar reaction to 1999 as the author. Likewise, I was delighted to see United throw away their advantage in both games against Bayern Munich though it didn't match my reaction to Iniesta's goal that put the lovely Chelsea out in last year's semi final.

As for Peter Drury, I have had a soft spot for him as he started out on Radio Leeds and often covered Huddersfield games. Living abroad now, I don't get to see ITV's wonderful coverage but he's surely not yet reached Tydesley-esque levels, has he?

Comment by ipswichblade 2010-04-11 10:40:21

I love it when English clubs get knocked out at this stage just to see how Sky/ITV try to "sell" two semis and a final all, especially in the case of ITV, at peak time viewing without any English interest.

Comment by mattlufc 2010-04-11 12:09:36

I think the thing for me is that Arsenal v Barcelona was a game of 22 overseas players who happened to be playing in London. I dont need to add to the praise for Barcelona but when you see such a display of football with no local interest its difficult not to cheer on Barcelona. However the introduction of Walcott changed not only the game but the dynamic a little for me and I was pleased to see him score.

Conversely however odious and dislikable the England Chelsea contingent are at least there is one!

Those nights listening to English clubs in europe in the late 70s early 80s was just that, nights listenting to english players ( scots, irish and welsh)playing against players from other countries.

As the clubs become essentially debt ridden foreign owned franchises I think its entirely fair that the ordinary fan is free to cheer on who he likes in these matches and not be saddled with the "support the English teams" line that ITV/Sky peddle.

Finally taking Man U as an example, if you arent a Man U fan you invariably hate them and wish them nothing but failure. Assumeing they have the biggest fan base in the country it still means 90% of the viewing public had Bavaria in their hearts for 2 nights in the last fortnight

Comment by Broon 2010-04-11 12:56:27

I broadly agree here, I didn't really care who won between Man U and Bayern but the jingoistic commentary actually prompted me to support the Germans.

so I'd just like to add that you guys probably won't notice the exact same thing at the World Cup, not just during England games but during games which involve any player who's ever played in England or enjoyed an episode of Corrie. As a Scot with some English heritage, right now I'm open to arguments for and against wishing England well during the WC... but I know from experience that the commentary will be so jingoistic and presumptuous that it will antagonise me into backing the opposition, every time. Not to mention the presence of Gabriel bloody Clark's 10-minute reports from England HQ at least six times a day for a month.

Comment by Steve Jinman 2010-04-11 13:48:17

This article hits the nail on the head, commentary on English clubs in Europe is only one step removed from the one eyed nationalism we will soon be subjected to at the World Cup. However there has been a bright spot this year with the run of Fulham to the semi final of the Europa League. I'm not a Fulham fan but have experienced exactly the same sentiments in cheering them to victory over the Wolfsburg, Juventus and Donetsk as I did when the likes of Dundee United, Forest and Ipswich were doing the same in the 70s/80s. I think it helps in Fulham's case that their manager Roy Hodgson is generally understated in his comments and adopts the European approach to the game rather than the Bulldog don't like it up em one favoured by the commentators. As Danny Baker pointed out yesterday this has even crept into Hodgson's accent with his unEnglish pronounciation of the word semi-final with the emphasis on the erm final sylllable.

Comment by satsuma 2010-04-11 20:30:48

A fantastic article; I actually find myself cheering for any European team over United, Chelsea or Liverpool. I have some sympathy for Arsenal (purely for the way they try to play football) but even then, I wanted to see Barca go through.

The problem is that ITV, Sky etc no longer provide commentary - they are instead trying to constantly sell us a product we have already bought. The old European cup represented a significant departure from the week-in, week-out English football, whereas the Champions League is with us all the time. Indeed, there seems to have been more focus on who will finish 4th in this year's Premiership than who will win it! Sadly we will never go back to an old style European cup, the choices will be between a bloated CL like we have now, or an even worse Euro Super League.

Comment by SydneyToon 2010-04-12 00:43:10

Yes, I also agree broadly with the article. It was nice to see Man United go out this time. I should point out that I always prefer to see an English team beat a foreign team in the final - and I do like the fact that Manchester United have more English players than most.

However, there has been at least one English representative in the Champions League Final for the pat 5 years, including one all-English decider, so it will be nice to see two foreign teams play in this year's game on May 22nd in Madrid.

Comment by Max Payne 2010-04-12 04:27:26

Might be a blessing in disguise come world cup time. At least Rooney, Terry et al will have a longer break to refresh.

Comment by Lincoln 2010-04-12 13:45:31

As a fan of a team not involved in The Champion's League I don't care who goes through, I just enjoy watching good football. Shame football always has to be about wanting someone to win, more shamefully it has to be about someone losing to enjoy it.

Comment by NiceOneCenturian 2010-04-12 23:48:37

A a non-fan of Manchester United and a fan of 1860 Munich, I was in the position of wishing both teams would lose.

Comment by pip 2010-04-13 07:54:56

"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"

Can this be tattooed on every fuckwit commentator from Alan Green to Johnathan Pierce who do this? It's like they've never seen a football match before.

Comment by AFanning 2010-04-13 09:04:44

Before Bayern scored their second I distinctly remember early in the second half Peter Drury saying that “no-one can be enjoying this” as Manchester United gamely battled to stay ahead in the tie. For the neutral, such as myself, it was a hugely entertaining game and totally presumptuous of the commentator to assume everyone was rooting for just Manchester United. It does have to kept in mind though that a lot of the teams “the 4” are up against in Europe are merely foreign versions of the same thing - largely unloved at home by the neutral, Bayern being a good example. Teams like Ruban Kazan, Wolfsburg and Fulham are a healthy and refreshing change.

To my mind the main problem with Drury & Tydesley is that they feel the ghost of Kenneth Wolstenholme at their shoulder. Everything they say is delivered with a this could be my “they think it’s all over” moment so each and every sentence is over-dramatised, portentous and seriously irritating. I'm not holding out great hopes for decent World Cup commentary.

Comment by baltimore sun 2010-04-14 09:43:46

If I can avoid Sky or ITV I will, I try and watch Champion League on RTE, that'd be the Irish channels lads, if you've got cable, you can google how to tune them into your receiver, not sure about satellite but it can probably be done, the halftime pundits are grumpy auld lads and they are far more objective than the commentators on British TV. Graham Souness has been on a few times and since then you can hear him becoming more vocal and less MOR when he appears on Sky now

But I gotta say, as bad an all as the English commentators are they're nothing compared to ones from the States/South Africa/Dubai & Australia, I watch a fair few streams and they truly suck ass from the high heavens.

Back to the original point, it's completely fair to shout for European teams over an English team if you don't like them and commentators should remain objective, they've paid to tell us how has the ball etc not their lousy opinions

Comment by jordandub 2010-04-14 16:52:36

The commentary was exactly the same one-sided hyperbole spouted by ITV during the Man U vs Leeds game in the FA Cup. ITV clearly assumed the majority of their audience would be supporting Man U, and therefore angled their commentary towards them.

The same happened in the game in question, with Drury commenting on Munich were doing well because they were harrassing the referee, and that Man U weren't playing well. Not the fact that Munich played well and scored more away goals or anything like that.

Comment by sudkurve 2010-04-16 09:26:15

Jingoism plays a very large part in many Scots wanting England to fail.
I really like some of the England team when they play for their clubs
However the hysteria and arrogance of the commentators/pundits when it comes to the England team,makes me support anyone but England.

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