Football commentary

I’d placed a small wager on teaching last week with one of my students who is very bright, but very bored. We’ve been studying the excellent ‘Knife of Never Letting Go’ which he has been enjoying. However, it was time for a bit of a break from routine. We were discussing who would win in the Portugal/Spain match, and I said Portugal. If it was Portugal, Abid was going to have to study Shakespeare next. If it was Spain, Abid would be doing a ‘mini-break’ World-Cup-based activity. He won.

I’d planned on writing some commentary, since the match commentary for the football has been dire, and I’m a huge fan of commentators in general, usually. I love Brian Moore’s rugby commentary, Murray Walker’s F1 commentary and Benoit’s commentary at the cricket. In fact, sometimes we listen to the cricket commentary of the match we’re actually at, we enjoy it that much. A good commentator can make or break the match. England’s commentary has been as dull as their play.

So… we discussed what the purpose of commentary is, including to inform (more so on radio) to explain (definitely with the cricket) and to entertain. I used a couple of famous examples, including the Norwegian commentary of the 1981 match…

“England, England… Lord Nelson… Lord Beaverbrook… Sir Winston Churchill… Sir Anthony Eden… Clement Atlee… Henry Cooper… Lady Diana… Maggie Thatcher… Can you hear me?? Your boys took a hell of a beating!”

And Kenneth Wolstenholme’s oft-quoted “There’s some people on the pitch, they think it’s all over… it is now!” from the World Cup final 1966 is also an excellent example of what good commentary does – inspires, entertains and reports.

We also discussed the audience: a nation of people who are already interested and knowledgeable. When we’d decided that, we thought about what they wanted from a commentary.

I modelled a bit of my own commentary, picking up on key points of the convention:

  • it’s designed to sound like spontaneous spoken English
  • it’s in the present tense
  • Football commentary is notoriously bad: “Rooney… to Giggs… back to Rooney”
  • we need to include pauses, sentence fragments and some ellipsis, but maybe also questions
  • it should include our opinions on moves and players
  • it should be biased if it’s national level
  • we can vary the length of our sentences so that we can speed up with short, dramatic sentences, have slow-motion sentences with many verbs and commas in one long continuous action and have long sentences ‘outside of the game’ to build up tension through delay

We both read aloud our commentaries alongside clips we were watching of various sporting manoeuvres. I took Jonny Wilkinson’s drop goal against Australia in 2003. I have to say, not only was it very enjoyable, but we really came out with some memorable commentary!

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