Criticism of Phil Neville’s sleep-inducing co-commentary at this World Cup has obscured the fact that our current crop of announcers have, so far, failed to produce any real zingers that will stand the test of time.
While they pull their socks up, we’ve delved into the archives to bring you some of the best lines of commentary – that aren’t They Think It’s All Over – of all time.
“Oh, that’s brilliant! Oh, that’s wonderful!”
Barry Davies, Holland v Argentina 1998
Coming as an accompaniment to what is, scientifically, the best World Cup goal ever scored (think about it: it involved controlling a 40-yard pass in the 89th-minute of a World Cup quarter-final against Argentina) Davies broke free from the sanctimonious schoolmaster routine that had become very much his thing, to lose himself in the sheer exuberant joy that only a World Cup goal can bring. Davies, at his best, could conjure a wonderful cadence to his commentary and, combined here with that guttural rasp of excitement, his words achieved a spine-tingling significance.
“Oh my word, have you ever seen anything like that?”
David Coleman, Portugal v Brazil 1966
You get the feeling David Coleman rather enjoyed himself at Goodison Park on the 19th July 1966. Coleman later became famous for his understated, staccato style – in football commentary at least – but in this, earlier, example of his work, the more youthful man allows himself to be carried away by the vim of an excellent Portugal side and, of course, the chief architect of this defeat of Brazil, Eusebio. Indeed, before the line in question, Coleman is already in raptures about “the way this man hits a ball” and when the little lion from Lisbon hits his second goal of the game, Coleman practically purrs: “Oh my word, have you ever seen anything like that?” The phrasing is given all the more resonance given that in those, more parochial, days his audience probably hadn’t.
“England have done it… in the last minute of exta-time.”
John Motson, England v Belgium 1990
The best thing about this now classic (it was featured on Baddiel & Skinner’s Three Lions in case you missed it) piece of commentary from John Motson is it’s slow build, as though half way through his sentence Motty realised he hadn’t gone big enough. Obviously he’d gone big – with a level of bigness appropriate to an FA Cup semi-final winning goal, say – but not big big (to borrow from punditry parlance), in a manner that truly befits a last-minute winner in a World Cup knockout game. He rectified this, in a way that only Motty knows how: by going soprano. As his voice crackles in those final few syllables the nation comes round to realising in, unison with Motty, that this goal was, indeed, very, very big.
John Motson, Brazil v Northern Ireland 1986
Josimar is a fun name to say. Try it. Now imagine bellowing it at the top of your lungs, with added vibrato, in a stadium full of Brazilians. Feels good, right? This must have been the thought process of John Motson as he stood in front of his hotel mirror, mic in hand, possibly sheepskinned, during his pre-match warm-up routine for Brazil versus Northern Ireland in Guadalajara, 1986. Not content with his first expression, after the rangy defender lashed one into the top corner on his debut, Motty leans back, clears his throat and, just in time for the action replay, lets rip again, this time with gusto and a slight Brazilian affectation: Josimarrr! Just as he’d dreamt it.
“You have to say that’s magnificent!”
Barry Davies, Brazil v Northern Ireland 1986
Back to the grand old paternalist now for a goal that would have tested every fibre of his neutrality, what with all that seething indignation bubbling away as a result of a Diego Mardona’s Hand of God moment earlier in the game. Credit has to go to Davies for calling it as it was, without prejudgment, as a magnificent goal. Even more credit for his qualifying precursor. The ‘you have to say’ said everything. I have to say this, I really, really have to say this, but you at home should know I’m not happy about it. Don’t worry, Barry, we knew and, of course, we were with you.