Ian Plenderleith uses websites like YouTube to discover a metaphorical gold mine of bad punditry from around the world

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.

From WSC 277 March 2010

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