29 August ~ “And remember, away goals count double.” I can’t recall which delicately poised second leg was about to begin when Richard Keys brought me that wisdom, but internally, a few of my gears began to grind. I wanted to grab him and say, in the same way he said of Theo Walcott when he thought his mic was off: “You’ve been shite, son. Don’t you realise that if away goals did count double, a team that loses an away leg 3-2 will go through with a 0-0 draw?”
The hairy-handed one is not alone, however. There are numerous examples of things said by commentators that, one feels, would never be uttered by someone who had thought about what they were saying. The excuse, no doubt, is that we all know what is meant by away goals counting double, but why double? Why not triple, or quadruple? Or 1.00000000001?
I’m not talking about the gaffes (David Pleat saying “The sight is in end”) or the mispronunciations (Pleat again, when he talks about “Pascal Chimbomba”) or even the inanities (Mark Lawrenson with the unsurpassable “If anything, he’s hit too well”). I’m not even referring to Andy Gray and his famous “footballers’ conversations” – “Frank Lampard says to Drogba: ‘Go on son, I’ve just played you in, have a goal for yourself.’ And Drogba says: ‘Thanks very much Frankie, don’t mind if I do.’ But Edwin van der Sar’s got other ideas, he’s saying: ‘What ya reckon Didier, I’ve won the Champions League with different clubs and set a clean-sheet record.’ Drogba’s having none of it, though: ‘Don’t care, big man, I’m just going to slide it under your legs.’”
No, it’s those sayings that are just incorrect. Under a player’s legs, for example, is fine, as that’s physically possible. The ball being caught under someone’s feet is a different matter. Does the game stop as a man comes onto the pitch to dig it out? When a commentator tells us that “Liverpool are all in red”, he should be urgently trying to contact the officials to tell them that this is in contravention of the rule which states that goalkeepers must wear a different top. Or else he should learn to talk properly by saying that Liverpool are in “all-red”.
Simple counting remains a problem. “Three games in seven days” is a common description of a fixture backlog, but more often than not what is being referred to is Saturday, Wednesday and Saturday – eight days. How often have you heard a commentator say that a team should be three up, when they have had three chances in a few minutes? Surely I am not the only one who understands that when a goal is scored the game resumes with a kick-off, resulting in a completely different set of happenings than when restarted with a goal-kick.
All of this makes you wonder how easy it is to become a commentator. This feeling increases when a shot that hits the crossbar or the post is said to have beaten the goalkeeper. I don’t think the keeper is worried that he has been “beaten”, given that the shot did not reach its intended target of the goal, of which the woodwork is not strictly a part. When the goals do go in, it does not mean that this nonsense ends, especially when they are “goals either side of half-time”. ‘Either’ means one or the other, not both, or each. “The final ball is lacking” – of course it is, the same way something you find is in the last place you look. “They’re passing in nice triangles” – any three players on a pitch will form a triangle, once they’re not standing in a perfectly straight line. And finally, there's the examining of a replay of a dangerous tackle (by a player who’s “not that type”, of course) and proclaiming that “It looks worse than it is”. It looks exactly the same, only slower. Denis Hurley