Chris Goreham: Commentary is about instinct - and a great deal of care
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Finding and then choosing the right words at the right time is pretty basic when it comes to football commentary, but the importance of engaging the brain before opening one’s mouth has never been clearer.
It’s been a challenge to keep it broadcastable while watching Norwich City play behind closed doors. Thankfully, the BBC Radio Norfolk swear box remains as empty as the stands at Carrow Road, but it’s difficult to remember a more frustrating run of games.
The Canaries poor form isn’t the only thing occupying my mind at the moment. Those of us in the industry like to give the impression that football commentary is the rawest form of journalism, describing the action as it unfolds before your very eyes. In reality, it’s somewhere between that and being a contestant on the ITV game show ‘Catchphrase’, trying hard to say what you see and not go out in the first round.
There was an interesting study published last week which looked at the bias that exists in commentary relating to the skin tone of players. The research, by Danish firm RunRepeat in conjunction with the PFA, concluded that players with darker skin tones were likely to be referred to in line with their physical characteristics such as pace and power. White players, on the other hand, were more often praised for their hard work and intelligence.
We have all been thinking a lot more carefully about what we say about and to people in recent weeks. Or at least we should have been. Seeing players take a knee before each Premier League game since the restart has served as a reminder that racism is a big issue for football, just as it is for society.
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There aren’t many training courses on offer specifically for football commentary. It’s a task that relies so much on instinct that preparing a student for every eventuality is nigh-on impossible. The fact you are walking a verbal tightrope whenever the ball goes into the penalty area is what makes it thrilling and nerve shredding in equal measure. I have regularly lost sleep over misidentifying a goal scorer or failing to choose the right words to capture a particular moment. It’s certainly not as crucial or as meaningful as the work being done by proper key workers over the past few months, but it’s a job that can really get under your skin.
When it comes to radio commentary, in particular, colour is important. Not in terms of whether a player is black or white, but it’s the little details that help a listener to picture the scene. On Saturday, Onel Hernandez was wearing bright pink football boots and that is the sort of fact I always enjoy picking up on. Without them, the commentary could become very bland and just be a big list of names as each player touches the ball.
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A couple of seasons ago a listener got in touch to ask why I often referred to Harrison Reed, who was on loan from Southampton at the time, as having ginger hair. To me this was not meant as any form of judgment, but a way of describing why he was distinctive from his team-mates on the pitch. In a spell of play where he had several touches it was a handy way of avoiding saying something like “Here’s Reed, Reed and Reed again”.
It seems incredible now, but I remember chants of “Bruno” being aimed in the direction of QPR’s six-foot three-inch striker Devon White when he played at Carrow Road in the 1990s. It was seen as ‘affectionate’ at the time because Frank Bruno was one of the best loved sport starts in the country. When Adrian Forbes made his Norwich City debut as a 17-year old it wasn’t long before the crowd were singing “Ru-ell” because of a supposed resemblance to Ruel Fox.
The journey since is not political correctness gone mad, it’s simply correctness. However, we still have a way to go and it’s clear that commentators have a role to play in making matches colourful in the right way.
It’s all about timing
Jamie Vardy scored his 100th Premier League goal at the weekend when he netted for Leicester City against Crystal Palace.
His entry into the 100 club tells a story about what it’s really like for Norwich City in the top flight. It’s something that goes deeper than their current chronic lack of goals.
Three of the 29 centurions – Harry Kane, Peter Crouch and Dion Dublin – have played for Norwich at some point in their careers. The fact that not a single one of any of their plentiful supply of Premier League goals was actually scored for the Canaries sums up the challenges the club has always faced.
Of the three, only Kane actually even played in the top flight for Norwich. The story of his less-than-promising loan spell back in 2012-13 has been well told. Crouch had a more successful brief period with the club when they were promoted under Nigel Worthington in 2003/04. Dublin was also with City as a youngster but he only actually played for the first team at the end of his career after scoring the last of those 111 goals.
The Canary conclusion to be drawn here is that Norwich City have, over the years, had the nous in the transfer market to sign some tremendous Premier League talent. The trouble is they only actually ever come to us when they are relatively untried youngsters at that level or when the halcyon days are behind them.
It’s a reminder that this season’s transfer troubles are nothing new. Getting players who are genuinely at their peak to take part in what tends to be a relegation battle is a very difficult task.
Perhaps the best hope is that Harry Kane does a Dion Dublin and comes back to Carrow Road at the end of his career to settle some unfinished business. I think he’d get in the team. Whether Kane has what it takes to front a daytime TV show about selling houses is another matter.