The art of commentary and punditry is something which everyone has an opinion on, but few people have genuine experience and understanding of. Nonetheless we are all quick to jump on the bandwagon when a commentator or pundit says something wrong, or makes a lame joke. It is a big part of what makes the game so beloved, along with harassing referees, and moaning about your team’s useless centre back or overweight striker.
Despite this national pastime, there are many online lists out there highlighting the best commentators, but very few picking out the very worst.
It is easy to look back nostalgically at the likes of Kenneth Wolstenholme and Motty in his pomp, but what we all really want to be remembering, is who was the very worst.
So here is our run down of the top ten football commentators, and co-commentators, we all love to hate:
- John Motson, BBC
Controversial as it may seem, we have to start with one of the undoubted greats. An iconic figure in his sheepskin coat on FA Cup 3rd round day, and the first name on many people’s when they think of commentators, Motty is now, to put it mildly, well past his prime. At 69 years of age, and reduced to commentating on second string games for Match of the Day, the sparkle and enthusiasm that once peppered his voice has long gone.
These days he is reading scripted lines and mispronouncing the names of players that everyone watching knows themselves, and in doing so betrays what we suspect is a lack of interest in what top flight football has become in the money-laden days of Oligarch owners and billion pound TV deals.
With each passing year his reputation diminishes and it is sad to see one of the finest commentators the sport has ever seen diminish in such a way. Retire now, Motty, please, and take your rightful place in the history of football broadcasting, before it’s too late.
- Jonathan Pearce, BBC
One of the new generation of commentators to take the reins of big games for the BBC, and rightly the butt of much criticism and humour for his World Cup gaff during the France v. Honduras game, when he was possibly the only person watching who couldn’t deduce the painfully simple goal line technology being used.
But there is more to dislike about Pearce than occasional moments of ineptitude. His tone of voice drifts up and down seemingly randomly, and his propensity for shouting leads many viewers to turn down the volume when his matches kick off.
He also fancies himself as a bit of an oracle, and whilst he clearly does possess a good depth of football knowledge, he finds it difficult to pass this off without liberally littering it with opinion, which he presumes the majority of his audience will agree with. Well we don’t agree with you Jonathan. Now stop shouting, we’re trying to enjoy the game!
- Alan Green, BBC 5Live
Alan Green is probably the single biggest reason why TalkSport has managed to establish itself so successful into the ‘football on the radio’ space once monopolised by the BBC. He is actually one of the more articulate radio commentators out there, but his criticisms of players and managers have a habit of lingering far longer than they should, often to the detriment of big sections of the game.
As with many seasoned commentators there is an arrogance and self-indulgence that comes across in much of his commentary, particularly his efforts at irreverence, which is not justified by the quality of his output and makes him appear brash, aloof, and even ignorant to listeners. He is also frequently accused of bias, especially towards Manchester United (although interestingly he is apparently a Liverpool fan).
Certainly when combined with his accent he can be hugely irritating, and the option of a non-Alan Green commentated game on the other channel is often an appealing one. Recently promoted to Match of Day after decades on the radio, you can’t help but feel that may be another nail in the coffin of another great BBC institution.
- Martin Keown, BBC
Keown is the classic example of a co-commentator who has made it to where he is because of his successful footballing career, rather than any natural ability behind a microphone.
Whilst obviously an intelligent and well-spoken man, despite his tough-tackling centre back reputation, Keown is one of several in the job these days who seem to struggle with the pronunciation of foreign names that the rest of the country are all familiar with already. Unfortunately he couples this flaw with countless mistakes and is one of the worst purveyors of commentator’s clichés out there.
Even the most diehard of Arsenal fans would admit that rather than dumbing down TV coverage, Keown’s knowledge and opinions about the game might be better employed out of the public eye.
- Phil Neville, BBC
The latest victim of the twitterati’s ongoing campaign against poor commentary, poor old Phil Neville, never exactly a fans favourite as a player, made his debut during the 2014 World Cup with catastrophic consequences.
To say he was panned for his debut would be an understatement. The BBC received more than 400 complaints and social media flew into a frenzy. His quiet withdrawn style was not popular, and accusations of being monotone were quickly rife. But the main criticism was one that can be levelled at many of the current crop of ex-players moving into commentary. He was just plain dull. Not only did he not have anything particularly astute or enlightening to say, he had nothing of interest to say whatsoever. He simply read from the Mediocre Commentators Book of Stock Phrases and Clichés.
He continues to commentate, slightly better with some practice, but still just spouting the same banal nonsense that tells viewers nothing at all.
- Michael Owen, BT Sport
Muck like the previous entry, Owen’s commentary can best be described using the same word as you would his personality. Boring. The problem is that Michael Owen is a big name in the game, and was the marquee signing for BT Sports when they launched as the main rival to Sky Sports dominance of live game coverage.
A quick Google search will turn out Michael’s top ten inane comments on numerous sites, as well as an excellent twitter parody account Comparisons with comedy character Alan Partridge are not without foundation and his highly dodgy adverts only add to this image.
When will producers learn that just because someone was a good player, it doesn’t mean they will make a good commentator? Usually, as in this case, quite the reverse is true!
- Robbie Savage, BBC 5Live
Quite how midfield hacker Robbie Savage has cultivated a commentary career is beyond the understanding of most fans.
His style is frenzied, verging on manic, but with little substance behind the bluster. By far his worst trait though is his propensity to drop his owns opinions into commentary. This wouldn’t be so unreasonable were the majority of his views not so ignorant and dim-witted as to drive viewers and listeners hunting for the remote.
He couples this with scant insight and analysis seemingly thinking his strong personality alone will help him blunder through. Well when it comes to commentary, it simply doesn’t. Although on 5Live’s 606 programme, he is almost the ideal foil to the dozens of other ignorant opinions that get given an airing.
- Mark Bright, BBC
The problem with ‘Brighty’ is that you want to like him. He comes across as such a nice bloke. But he was the weaker half of a short-lived strike force at Crystal Palace, and when it comes to commentary, he remains the weaker half, no matter who he is paired with.
There is no other word for his commentary than poor. His words not only bore you, but they confuse you, and drive you screaming from the room. He’s another ex-player admirably demonstrating why they should be barred from the commentary box. Hospitality or youth coaching would be much more his thing.
- Andy Townsend, ITV
Forever associated with his ‘tactics truck’, an ill-thought-through one season innovation that ITV soon regretted and quickly dropped, their only mistake was not to send Townsend packing with it.
Until Adrian Chiles cropped up, he was the main reason why ITV’s football coverage was so universally derided. In ever match he endlessly states the obvious, spouts banal cliché’s, and even seems to irritate the commentators sitting next to him.
Supporters rejoiced recently when it was announced that both Townsend and Chiles had been dropped by ITV. In Townsend’s case, it’s only a decade or so too late, but you just know he will crop up again somewhere.
- Mark Lawrenson, BBC
Dreadful. Just dreadful. There is no other word to describe ‘Lawro’ in either his moustache or post-moustache years. His ignorant, ill-informed commentary is made all the more unbearable by his appalling puns and seeming conviction that footballs gain has been stand-up comedy’s loss.
He was a carbuncle on the Match of the Day sofa for too many years, but when he left, celebrations were cut short when he reappeared in the commentary boxes again, and people realised they had to put up with him all through the game as well.
He sums up the malaise in football coverage at the BBC and why Sky Sports are now so far ahead in terms of quality and innovative coverage. The worst of the worst!