Football commentators are responsible for being the direct link between match and TV screen, but which ones are the best and worst?
Last year I gave my top 10 best and worst commentators or co-commentators but there have been plenty of changes in football broadcasting since then so here is an updated top six for the 2014/15 season.
We’ll start with the good ones (they are a dying breed)…
- John Murray – BBC 5Live – new entry for 2014/15
There are plenty of people who believe that commentating on the radio is the hardest job of all because the listeners cannot see the match. What Murray does so effectively is to call a game so snappily that the listener feels as if they are watching every pass unfold. The pace with which he commentates is exciting and all the while he utters few mistakes, meaning Murray propels himself to number six on the 2014/15 list as a new entry.
- Martin Fisher – BBC & CBC – new entry
As someone who gets the scraps on Match of the Day, Fisher has made a name for himself as an emerging commentary talent. He is one of the more frenetic commentators but that certainly helps bring a dull game to life and, with his matches often being towards the end of the show, he manages to engage the viewers well. Gradually Fisher is being recognised as a good commentator and was rewarded when Canada’s CBC channel picked him as one of their commentators during the 2014 World Cup – a richly deserved prize.
- Darren Fletcher – BT Sport – new entry
As the mainstream broadcasters rested on their laurels and fell behind in popularity, BT Sport were busy cherry-picking the commentators they knew would help get their new channel off to an excellent start. Fletcher, who had previously worked for BBC Radio 5Live, has made the transition to TV look seamless with his concise, clear and precise calling of BT Sport’s handpicked Premier League matches.
- Gary Neville – Sky Sports – new entry
Despite being more at home as a pundit as opposed to a commentator, Gary Neville is still one of the better callers of the unseen happenings during a game with his best observations usually made on tactics and defensive positioning. What lets him down is the fact he is too patient to have his say, often waiting until the lead commentator has finished speaking or when a there is a break in play.
- Danny Murphy – BBC – new entry
With regular stints on Match of the Day as a pundit, few would have predicted the success that Murphy enjoyed crossing over to the co-commentator’s microphone during the World Cup. Murphy freshened up the commentary by making quick observations and crucially saying them as soon as he had the chance, rather than the usual co-commentators dithering after a TV replay. This, added to his insightful, relaxed and often humorous reading of the game has made him a valuable addition to the BBC. Let’s hope he retains his co-commentary role when the BBC host live FA Cup matches this season.
- Steve Wilson – BBC – up 3 places on 2013/14
If ever there was an all-rounder’s position in football commentary, Steve Wilson would fit in nice and snug. He has picked up the mantle of statistician guru from John Motson, makes very few mistakes and is a very good reader of the difficult decisions and situations in games. What Wilson does spectacularly well is to keep up with play, often meaning he is more concise. Another of his talents is to let the sound of goal celebrations do a lot of the work for him. What helps him do that is a David Coleman-like announcement of the score, such as “1-0!” All things considered, Wilson is the yardstick as the most complete commentator out there.
Now we move on to the worst commentators. You’ll never guess who’s top…
- Guy Mowbray – BBC – up 4 places on 2013/14
It continues to baffle me why the BBC persist with Guy Mowbray. His outdated, cliché-ridden and mistake-laden commentary is evidently good enough for the BBC as he was given the World Cup final. He has in the past wished injury on Ignazio Abate during the 2012 Euros and has been guilty of blatant sexism while commentating on women’s FA Cup matches. In mitigation he is responsible for the occasional brilliant one-liner, but his overall commentary leaves a lot to be desired.
- Sam Matterface – ITV & Talksport – new entry
ITV are grooming Matterface for big things, but his commentary should not have warranted a space on the World Cup airwaves this summer. His disinterested style, coupled with a knack of stating the obvious, has been boring ITV viewers ever since he came to prominence. Talksport are the other unfortunate beneficiaries of Matterface’s commentary and, when you compare him to the BBC 5Live team, you can see why he works for Talksport. Finally, this is perhaps his worst line ever: “Well here we are above Goodison where there are some lovely fluffy blue clouds.” Get the picture?
- Niall Quinn – Sky Sports – new entry
Quinn gets the occasional gig on Sky Sports when they have a triple-header of live games on Sunday. Some football fans would argue that that is still far too often to endure Quinn’s nightmarish co-commentary which regularly underwhelms and irritates. Offering close to no technical insight at all, Quinn is shamefully biased – particularly in matches involving Manchester City and Sunderland – two of his former clubs.
- Andy Townsend – ITV – same position
Along with Mowbray, the other long-term commentary mystery is Andy Townsend. Why ITV have continued to partner him with Clive Tyldesley is unknown, but if football fans had their wish he would disappear far quicker than he could give some insightful commentary. Perhaps ITV just keep him for the publicity? Or maybe it’s the fact he chooses to sit on the fence with almost every debatable decision? Either way, it doesn’t look like Townsend and his lack of flair will be going anywhere soon.
- Phil Neville – BBC – new entry
With the BBC receiving 445 complaints about his commentary of England’s 2-1 defeat against Italy at the World Cup, Neville’s drab style is clearly not agreeable. He also has a hard act to follow as Gary, his brother, has been a revolutionary pundit for Sky Sports. Phil’s monotone and sleep-inducing style did not endear himself to very many people but, in fairness, he looks more at home as a pundit rather than as a co-commentator. One infamous tweet of his came after the community shield when a second-string Manchester City side were beaten 3-0 by Arsenal: “Put Aguero, Kompany, Zabaleta and Hart in this City team and they will look different.” Amen to that, Phil.
- Michael Owen – BT Sport – new entry
We finish on a bad note with Michael Owen. With no previous commentary experience, BT Sport elected to bring in Michael Owen as the co-commentator for their new Premier League coverage last season. That was an ignominious mistake. So bad is Owen’s commentary he often trends on Twitter when he commentates, with one of his awful lines being: “It’s a good run but it’s a poor run, if you know what I mean?”. Owen’s commentary is full of obvious conclusions, mis-pronunciations and a lack of knowledge. But the last words have to go to the man himself, who once quipped: “To stay in the game, you have to stay in the game.”
- You can follow me on Twitter @NeilWalton89