Unseen, but ReverberatingFebruary 12, 2015
“…England trail by two goals to one. (David) Beckham could raise the roof here with a goal. (Beckham scores from the free kick). I don’t believe it! David Beckham scores the goal to take England all the way to the World Cup finals! Give that man a knighthood!”
Remember those words, and the occasion they captured? Yeah, you’re spot on. That’s in 2001 at Old Trafford, Manchester in England’s crucial final World Cup qualifier against Greece, with automatic qualification to the global showpiece at Korea/Japan very much at stake. The hosts were trailing the Greeks 1-2 and needed a goal to get out of jail. Into stoppage time, up steps the captain to take a free kick when everyone at the stadium is losing hope. Then the above happened, ensuring that Beckham’s legendary status in the annals of the English game is assured forever.
I remember that moment mostly because of one thing. The commentary. I don’t know who that was and I won’t bother to ask, but those words, the way he said them, the way they came out, were golden and duly captured my imagination. Most football fans prefer to watch matches in the stadium, to savour and revel in the atmosphere generated. And that’s all good. I prefer to watch on tv. Yes, you heard right. Why? So that I don’t miss commentary gold such as in Beckham’s cited case. It’s probably why I recall in excruciating details football matches that took place almost two decades ago. To put this in perspective, I’ve only lived on this earth for just over a two decades.
“He’s done it again! Give him the stage, and Wayne Rooney will perform.” I like that line and for sure I’m guilty of using it a lot of times in different circumstances to refer to myself. Sue me. Ha! Those were the words of the commentator during the night of Rooney’s Manchester United debut at Old Trafford against Fenerbahce over ten years ago. To this date, it remains my kind of dream debut. No one has debuted better since, and if there is, I doubt it. A 17-year old, precocious talent, whose transfer to the biggest club in England was protracted, and whose debut was delayed even more, netting a sublime hat trick…no, nothing beats that. And thank God for the commentator because he nailed it. Then when Rooney nets a fine free kick for his treble, the voice is at it again: “It’s Rooney. (Goal). It’s inevitable! Some things are just meant to be. Wayne Rooney has saved his first senior hat trick for his Manchester United debut in the Champions League.” Wow! Amazing. And I’m not referring to the three goals.
Arsenal’s Invincible season in 2004-05 probably remains their finest ‘hour’ in football. The football was breathtaking. The results were jaw-dropping. The experience was mind numbing. Indeed, a once-in-a-lifetime thing. Even more, the words of the matches’ commentary are forever etched in indelible ink in the hearts of many. In mine too.
“…Won by (Patrick) Vieira, touched on by (Dennis) Bergkamp, down the line for Vieira who hasn’t stopped moving here for Arsenal. Vieira…and Thierry Henry! (Scores). They’re flying away! It’s not close to five past three yet (camera shows the time on the Highbury clock). The clock can’t catch up with the team it’s watched at this ground for the greater part of a century…” And my word! The clock couldn’t catch up. That was Henry scoring in a 2-1 home win over Charlton.
“…Edu…Bergkamp, touched back for (Robert) Pires (Goal). Robert Pires! Fantastic! Every goal a special moment. Do they do ordinary? Highbury rises again. Highbury just does not tire of watching football of this immaculate order.” Damn it! Highbury was a lucky bastard, being treated to all that celestial football unending. To be honest, the goal was a beauty – but then again, it was Robert Pires, the master of the aesthetically pleasing. Arsenal won that one too 2-1, against Bolton Wanderers.
“I’ve seen most things in this league for the last twenty five years. I haven’t seen anything like him. I said he was special but at the end of the game he’s more than that. He’s irreplaceable.” Andy Gray there, waxing lyrical about Henry after his fourth goal in an incredible virtuoso display v Leeds United. To be honest, if you ever needed to describe who Thierry Henry was, to, say, your grandkids, you’ve got to say those exact words. Whenever Henry has borne the brunt of disparaging criticism in his careers, I’ve always reflected on what Andy said that day. And then gone on to wonder what the critics have been smoking.
After all that though, my all-time favourite commentary performance was bizarrely in a match where my preferred team was crushed to smithereens in almighty thrashing that will no doubt echo through the future. Yeah, Barcelona’s 5-0 Clasico annihilation of Real Madrid at the Camp Nou in 2010. How I wish I knew the identities of those two commentators for Sky on the night. I loved their infusion of that annoying Scottish accent. Talk about adding spice.
“Look at how instantaneously he magnetizes this ball with a one touch! It’s fabulous by (Andres) Iniesta. Wonderful. Don Andres sees him, asks him, ‘can you?’ You bet he can.” That’s the man’s description of the first goal scored by Xavi off an Iniesta pass. The goal hurt but I was just there marvelling at those words. Later on there was a scuffle between the two sides after Cristiano Ronaldo pushed then Barca boss Pep Guardiola who was holding on to the ball rather unnecessarily long. “Been in so many Clasicos himself, Guardiola and this time he turns into the jester. He becomes the little mischief maker. It’s usually the other guy, (Jose) Mourinho but then Valdes comes out and spits the verbals like Mussolini at the balcony. I love it!” Is how that unknown speaker captured the brawl. Kind of hard to determine whether he was against the fight or otherwise.
Then there was Barcelona’s fourth goal, scored by David Villa (his second). At the time as a Madridista at 0-4 down I’m fuming with rage, my stomach churning in disgust. But take a look at this: “…Real Madrid’s defense stretched down like spandex on Miami Beach and (Iker) Casillas is left naked. Again, it’s the visionary genius of Lionel Messi and the precise width of the pass that opens the white shirts up like a fresh fish…but here you see David Villa disappears like a ghost into the fog because of the pass of Lionel Messi. It’s like playing poker with a witch – you’re gonna lose. What a pass! Absolutely brilliant, dynamic. He doesn’t need two touches. He doesn’t need to control it because this piece of orgasmic passing is perfection. He sees through three white shirts on the run, and there’s the finish.” Has a goal been described any better? At the end of the match I rose to applaud not only the conquerors of Madrid, but also the two men whose tongue weaved endless magic throughout the 90 minutes.
Most people just watch the football and that’s why they go to pubs that during the whole time are blaring loud music purportedly to accentuate the ambience. What rubbish! When I watch football I want to hear everything; the fans’ roars, groans, songs and whistles…and more importantly the commentators take to help me capture the whole experience so I can have something to mull over later. So next weekend you want to go to the pub to watch Premier League football, do pause a little and weigh the sound options.