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The English guy doing hockey for the BBC coverage of the Olympics can’t stop himself from commenting on every dropped stick or abandoned glove. He’s absolutely spellbound by equipment loosed from its owner. This fascinated me too… when I was six years old and my father would take me regularly to New Jersey Devils games. My father refused to respond and so I quickly learned, rightly, to stop talking about it. It’s not important.

I should have called the BBC last week and offered my services. I’ve been told I have a lovely radio voice, and I suppose the loveliness would hold for television. I promise, unlike the guys they have doing it, I’d even learn the names of the players for both teams. Some German skates over, tries to take the puck from Crosby, oooo look there! Someone’s dropped their stick! That’s going to interfere with play! Someone’s going to trip if they’re not careful! And there’s another German, skating around with the puck and trying to shoot it into the net….

But I’ll admit that I’m happy to be watching it at all, and on my computer no less, when in an unreceptive country. But some of my earliest memories involve trying to get to sleep at night with the calm cadences of the hockey broadcasts my father was watching in the living room dully droning through my bedroom door… And so I’m sensitive to wrongness on this front.

… and it looks like the Canadians will be playing Russia tomorrow, which purists know is more important and more interesting than when they play the USA.

Written by adswithoutproducts

February 24, 2010 at 3:32 am

Posted in sport, sports

15 Responses

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  1. Oh! A kindred soul. I was really excited about ice hockey at the olympics but in NZ for some cruel twist of fate we get the UK commentary and it’s just excruciating. Aside from the horrid habit shared by British commentators in all sports of asking endless questions instead of calling the game – along the lines of “is this the power play when they finally score?” just wait and see you drongo – the vocabulary is just all wrong. “A lovely blast from Crosby” *Lovely*? What is this, Thomas the Tank Engine?

    At the end of the opening Canadian game they proposed that Babcock would have been “thrilled to bits” and I nearly threw something at the television.


    February 24, 2010 at 7:02 am

  2. It’s horrible. If I could find a working Canadian proxy I’d certainly be watching the CBC feed. And you’re exactly right about the endless questioning.

    I understand that, you know, if North Americans were doing cricket or something we’d get it wrong too. But it does make it painful to watch – and this is my favorite thing to watch, only comes around every 4 years, etc etc.

    Glad you’re watching too, G…


    February 24, 2010 at 11:26 am

  3. Rising tide of anglophobia on this blog…

    Do you imagine American commentary on football (soccer) sounds any better or more fluent? He shoots the free! He nets the rebound! They’ve won by two soccer points to zero!

    British TV sports commentary is terrible, but it wasn’t always thus. To refer to my own childhood memories of Olympics, when living in the US during the 88 Games, my expat parents would often complain about the incredibly partisan style of coverage and commentary on American TV. If the US weren’t competing events weren’t covered. If they weren’t among the medals, it was barely mentioned. By contrast, such a nationalist perspective was frowned on by the BBC, still operating with lingering Corinthian ideals, and any kind of partisan, patriotic cheerleading or editorial policy was avoided. This all changed ovr the ensuing 20yrs, under the pressure of Murdoch’s Sky and the parallel pressure to be more ‘commercial’ and thus adopt the populist model of American coverage.

    The worst thing in UK sports coverage at the moment is the sheer desperation to find a human interest narrative that exceeds sport itself. It’s truly embarassing the extent to which any plucky british performance must apparently have ‘captured the hearts’ of the natoin etc etc. EG: the gold medal in the skeleton bob – the winner is about to be smothered in popular adulation if you beleve the media. A mild, curious, limited pride would be far more accurate. The adulation will be entirely on the part of the frothing-at-the-mouth interviewers who will continue to ask her inane, open, emotive questons for the next three weeks.


    February 24, 2010 at 2:24 pm

    • Do you imagine American commentary on football (soccer) sounds any better or more fluent? He shoots the free! He nets the rebound! They’ve won by two soccer points to zero!

      Actually, I have to say that the MLS commentary is far superior to anything I’ve heard from bSkyb (in New Zealand we get mostly the latter). That said, the US-based ESPN soccer commentary team is the most awful thing on earth, no question.


      February 28, 2010 at 2:52 am

      • But Giovanni, you are – no joke intended here – changing the goalposts. The Sky commentators (I’m assuming you mean Martin Tyler, Andy Gray et al) are indeed awful, but not in the sense that you & Ads are saying the BBC ice hockey commentary is awful. The Sky lot know the laws, the terminology, the names of the players, and even, in this newly cosmopolitan Premier League, by and large how to pronounce them. The way in which they are unbearable is all about, again, purest imported American commentary-as-marketing. Every incident has to be magnified, the stakes in every game ramped up, the most minor comment turned into a ‘blast’ at another manager or player. It’s all about selling the product.

        It’s long been beyond parody really, but this is a pretty strong effort:

        And while I’m here, a minor classic of US soccer commentary


        March 3, 2010 at 2:14 pm

      • “Every incident has to be magnified, the stakes in every game ramped up, the most minor comment turned into a ‘blast’ at another manager or player. It’s all about selling the product.”

        Sorry anon, but if you object to the bombast I’m pretty sure that the following bit of commentary from 1985 by Sid Waddell following a Eric Bristow darts tournament victory was all British, and I dare you to find its match across the pond, before or after:

        “When Alexander of Macedonia was 33 he cried salt tears because there were no more worlds to conquer – Bristow is only 27!”


        March 5, 2010 at 1:57 am

  4. As an Englishman with a passing interest in ice hockey I have to agree that the BBC commentary is hilariously poor. But unfortunatley it has to respect the second function (like most Olympic commentary) of introducing a completely unfamiliar sport to the audience. Luckily ice hockey is relatively intuitive to the football fan mind so they don’t have to try too hard, but it does kind of hinder any attempt to be interesting (no excuse for the meandering pointlessness of the BBC hockey bloke though).

    I actually think British sports commentary in general is becoming increasingly Americanised, as anon indicates. When I were a lad nobody got ‘an assist’ in football, I don’t believe it was even a British English noun, now I believe they keep count. Certainly British commentary on all sports is absolutely besotted with reading off recently-learnt statistics from powerful databases. My impression of French football commentary was that it was much less statistical and more ‘psychological,’ but I didn’t watch that much. Certainly the tennis commentary was less irritatingly fixated on the Great National Hope.

    I also agree with anon about the ‘inane, open, emotive questions’. The usual formula is ‘Talk us through how it felt to score the winning goal / put on a vital century stand / get a birdie on the final hole / come in under 54 seconds and win the game.’ I am yet to hear a response that can be reduced to something other than ‘Good.’

    Thankfully English cricket commentary itself — Test Match Special at least — is still a bastion of something truly special.


    February 24, 2010 at 2:45 pm

    • As an Englishman with a passing interest in ice hockey I have to agree that the BBC commentary is hilariously poor. But unfortunatley it has to respect the second function (like most Olympic commentary) of introducing a completely unfamiliar sport to the audience.

      Yes, but they don’t do that either. I don’t recall them ever explaining icing, or offside, or the cause of most infractions. It’s obvious at this point they don’t even know what the referee signals mean since they always name the wrong penalty until it shows up on the screen. (Yes, when the referee mimes holding a stick and the act of pulling, it’s hooking – who’d have thunk it!?)

      More egregiously, they’ve seemed able to name the players in the anglo-sounding teams, which reached truly grotesque proportions in the two semifinals. When the Slovaks and the Finns attacked, the play wasn’t called until an American or Canadian defender touched the puck, for heaven’s sake. They should be okay for the final, thank christ.


      February 28, 2010 at 3:00 am

      • by which I mean “they’ve only been able” etc.


        February 28, 2010 at 3:03 am

      • Hah! Yes, it has something Alan Partridge about it actually. Other reasons to be thankful the BBC coverage is over:

        – No more of that smug rich-boy pair who narrate the snowboarding and skiing and did that sub-Top Gear (and that’s saying something) buddy documentary on British Columbia as a companion piece. They both have an unbelievably self-satisfied perma-smile which comes through in their voices and makes me want to smash my own head open.

        – No more of that Canadian skiier woman who uses the word ‘heart’ in every sentence and seems incapable of giving any reason for any kind of victory which does not attribute it to ‘heart’ and ‘determination’. To the point where, during the coverage last night, she actually failed to answer a fairly straightforward question about the Canadian Olympic Committee’s technical preparations cos all she could talk about was ‘heart’. I actually cannot stand to hear her say that word again.


        March 1, 2010 at 12:13 pm

  5. Incidentally Ads, it strikes me that as a recent immigrant you may not be familiar with the ‘Colemanballs’ section of Private Eye, which serves up a regular selection of nonsensical statements, mixed metaphors, tautologies and banal analogies from sports commentary. The latest one is here, though you can see highlights of previous ones on various bits of the net.


    February 24, 2010 at 2:50 pm

  6. A hockey post! I was just in Tokyo and mesmerized by the Olympic hockey commentary: something about the harmonic between the fastest language narrating the fastest game… Now I’m in Vancouver and more intrigued by NBC’s coverage of the Canada/US game — which seemed oddly propulsive, driven perhaps by America fetishizing their underdog hockey status. The frozen logic of 1980/Miracle-on-Ice constantly replayed on a perpetual loop…


    February 24, 2010 at 3:19 pm

  7. “He’s lost his stick again, Ovechkin! Again! It’s like a pole vault competition out there!”


    February 25, 2010 at 2:59 am

  8. There we go…. And nice that it got exciting at the end – was strangely uncompelling, the game, until the Americans tied it up.


    March 1, 2010 at 12:58 am

    • Trying to reply to Giovanni here but can’t seem to put the reply under his comment…

      re Waddell, for you to use that quote in that context with that intention represents a massive interpretive FAIL. Proceed to Reading & Interpretation 101 and after that a refresher in British Popular Culture.

      You might as well complain that Pope overeggs his style in The Rape of the Lock, cause it’s just a squabble about some hair.


      March 8, 2010 at 6:19 pm

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