Jack Bell Is A Wanker, Part II


It’s pretty sad when two soccer columnists who represent what is supposedly one of the nation’s top newspapers are so incompetent and out-of-touch with reality.
Last November, I called New York Times soccer columnist Jack Bell a wanker for writing an idiotic article criticizing Fox Soccer Channel for broadcasting the Premier League, the world’s most popular sports league. Now Bell is criticizing ESPN for its Euro 2008 coverage.

Bell this time aims his criticism at ESPN’s decision to feature Euro 2008 commentators with British and Irish accents instead of those that are American. Jack Bell backs up his claims by including quotes from sometimes New York Times columnist Greg Lalas, better known as the brother of another doofus, Alexi Lalas.

Here are their inane comments:

  1. “ESPN’s decision to import the Scotsman Andy Gray as an analyst has added a whiff of authority and some good insight. But would that insight be absent, for example, if Americans like Shep Messing or John Harkes were at the microphones instead?” — Jack, the answer is a definite yes. I loved John Harkes as a player, but he’s one of the most boring football commentators I’ve ever had the displeasure of hearing. Shep Messing is okay, but Andy Gray is better than Messing by a country mile. Gray’s ability to provide listeners insight into tactics and formations is fantastic as well as his ability to be direct with his criticism, which is so refreshing to hear.
  2. “There’s nothing offensive about Derek Rae, the Scottish play-by-play guy. But is he any better than J.P. Dellacamera, the voice of M.L.S. and the U.S. national team on ESPN?” — Again Jack, the answer is yes. How incompetent can Bell be not to realize the world-class commentary that Rae provides and to suggest that Dellacamera could do better? I’m a big fan of JP, but Dellacamera has only recently returned to the game after being out for quite some time commentating hockey matches. Dellacamera, alongside Seamus Malin and Phil Schoen, are three of the best U.S. soccer commentators the country has to offer, but all of them pale in comparison compared to Derek Rae and Andy Gray. In a recent interview I conducted with Dellacamera, he himself admitted that he wasn’t on top of the latest European news since being out of the game for so long.
  3. “ESPN has made it clear to its roster of mostly competent American soccer dudes that they need not apply for any job outside broadcasting Major League Soccer games” — That’s a ridiculous and childish statement to make. Rather than to go home and cry to mommy, Bell should realize that American commentators need to improve their work so they can compete against people such as Adrian Healey, Tommy Smyth, Rae and Gray. Would Bell and Lalas be more satisfied if we brought back Marcelo Balboa and Dave O’Brien? Both of them were an abomination in World Cup 2006. And do they realize how many American viewers ESPN and ABC lost because they switched to the Spanish language network Univision for better commentary?

Obviously ESPN knows what they’re doing. ESPN’s Euro 2008, with a few exceptions, has been spectacular and the ratings have been higher than ever. Instead of being so negative in a national soccer column, Lalas and Bell should be embracing the game not ridiculing it.

30 thoughts on “Jack Bell Is A Wanker, Part II”

  1. I respect your view, but I actually two days ago when Bell wrote the piece sent him a note thanking him for his courage and asking him to be on my show.

    I believe his point is that American sports producers and editors automatically determine that if you are from the British Isles you are more qualified to discuss football than someone with an American accent. Paul Gardner even admitted this to you, Gaffer in your interview with him where he said the paper assumed he knew the sport because of his accent. Now Gardner is a great writer but other writers and commentators that hail from the British Isles and arrive on our shores are overally condescending to our domestic scene. Adrian Healy whose background is in covering MLS and US Soccer is a very notable exception.

    What that amounts to is a subtle form of discrimination. Like all other discrimination it should not be tolerated.

  2. When ever I read the GOAL section in the Times, I always am left with why did I even bother. Its simply a recap of what any football fan in America already knows. There is no insight.

    But how classic to ‘prove’ his point, really expose his audience, tells the tale of a little kids league where English thugs have taken over.

    Funny thing is, the Guardian is up in arms over Chn 5’s Sunday Night baseball with American accents. as if.

    I forget who the baseball announcer was in the last world cup, who was more interested in Joe Cole calling Prince William a geezer, and calling Wayne Rooney, David Rooney.

    You hire people who have a day to day relationship with the topics they cover. And its its football on an international stage or in this case European stage, you hire those with thus experience.

    Not some idiot who will talk about Landon Donovan and team USA circa 1994 like that pony tailed idiot.

  3. ohh yeah, and I guess ESPN/deportes gets a pass…

    and Kartick, I don’t think its the fact they have accents, but decades of experience.

    Besides, just how great was it to hear Andy Gray talk about who would win the NBA final Celtics of Lakers, and Gray said ‘I’ll have to go with the Lakers, and there is no way I’d ever support a team with Celtic in its name.

    It played to the educated football fan, who gets the old firm reference, and doesn’t cave into pandering to the ignorant. If they don’t get it, then if they are really interested they’ll learn.

    For too long we have lived in a bubble of soccer being something you take your kids to on weekends and maybe watch a match every four years when they put the world cup on a Saturday afternoon. Time to join the international dance, and if its starts with accents, whatever.

  4. We have plenty of commentators with American commentators who understand world football.

    The point is ESPN has hired the most “european” sounding announcers. They have made every effort to marginalize their American commentators from calling European matches. Even with their studio that is the case. Janusz Michalik who btw played for the US National Team is on the set during the CL because of his polish accent and some other former US team mates of his who know more were certainly not considered because they don’t fit the “profile,” meaning they have the wrong accent. Part of this is the continued self hating mentality of some American fans who assume if you watch MLS or are Americanized in your descriptions of the game you are some how inferior in football knowledge or understanding that someone who looks down upon MLS and US Soccer and uses anglicized terms to describe the game.

    The Deportes announcers are actually more in tune believe it or not with the domestic scene here which is more Latinized than Anglocized despite the seeming ignorance of our media. The average Mexican Primera match gets 5 X the viewers of the average EPL match. Our Americanized commentators do not speak Espanol well enough to be on the air there. When Landon Donovan retires that another story but right now Deportes and mainline ESPN are two different issues entirely.

  5. Apparently, my innocuous comment on this issue wasn’t worth putting up on the Times.

    I really don’t think that this is some profound conspiracy to keep American commentators off the air. I think that it was more of a “we can get Andy f-ing Gray” type business decision. And one that may be helpful in the future if they bid for Premier League rights.

    I don’t see how it is a mistake to go out and get the best color guy in the world to cover players he covers every weekend in the Premier League. And, unlike most American announcers, he actually researched and watched film to understand the players he wasn’t familiar with.

    And, when GOAL does something else besides recycle stale soccer news from Europe, watered down by the Times Style Book, I would like to read it.

  6. Andy Gray is absolutely fantastic where he provides insight from a “practitioner” point of view. In one game he rightly commented on how instead of forcing a header the forward could have stepped back, chested and tried a shot at the goal as he had the time – you don’t get these comments from our MLS experts. However, I do think Smyth and Rae can be replaced as they very frequently state the obvious. Tommy maybe more entertaining but time and again states what we just saw.
    Andy Gray is a breath of fresh air. Foudy, on the other hand, has to go!

  7. Also, in the interests of journalistic credibility, shouldn’t Bell have, you know, interviewed someone at ESPN since he is a respectable journalist and everything. Or, he could have provided some context as to why a Lalas brother would think that way, given that Lalas brothers have made money in the past from ESPN covering international soccer.

  8. I have to also point out Goal breaks lots of stories: They broke the Jozy transfer deal and a number of other stories related to the Red Bulls. It’s too bad they cannot break Man U stories because the Red Bull not some EPL side is their HOME team.

    My co-host is from ESPN. He works for the Disney networks covering all sports including Soccer. I’ll ask him to defend it if he cares to. My guess is that he’ll take a pass.

    Regarding Andy Gray, his knowledge of European football outside England is limited. He has so little knowledge about the majority of players on the Germany side who play in the Bundesliga it is criminal he is calling the final. Plus his biases for Man U against Chelsea and against leagues outside the EPL are so obvious it hurts his credibility.

  9. Kartik – I think GOAL does an excellent job covering MLS. I have a problem with them recycling week old European news on the assumption that they are breaking “fresh” news to an ignorant American audience. If you and Brant can do it at the Sentinel, the “paper of record” can do that as well.

    I disagree about the sentiment. Bell is entitled to his opinion.

    But, that article was written unfairly. He didn’t get a response from ESPN before attacking them. He didn’t question the bias from his own sources, Americans who would have been eligible for lucrative pay days had ESPN gone all American for their coverage.

  10. Now that I reread that he did get a response, but not for the direct accusation that there was a conspiracy to hire American announcers.

    And I don’t think that Greg Lalas “is the stereotypical American fan” if there is such a thing.

  11. if discrimination should not be tolerated kartik, then why should your discrimination of anything european be tolerated?

  12. Greg Lalas is a good guy. Actually he knows world football well. Follows South American and Spanish football closely. Simply because he’s not enamored with the English game he is marginalized.

    Alan Shearer is a doofus: If I said that all fury would come down on me as it should. I think Alexi Lalas is a poor GM, but was an outstanding player. Maybe some here are still bitter about that goal who scored to beat England 15 years back?

  13. if discrimination should not be tolerated kartik, then why should your discrimination of anything european be tolerated?
    why is kartik ignoring every agrument that he cant address?

    so what kartik and jack bell really are suggesting is to stop watching the premier league or any football from europe. that would then mean that this site has no purpose in extisting.

    but i really hope that this site does stick around and that people like kartik and jack bell dont influence people to reject anything that is better than what america has to offer. espn should not be influenced by bell’s ignorance and should hire derek rae and andy gray for the world cup. i just dont understand why when everything else is being globalized and when kartik has no problem with the spread of american media across the world, why he is so against the admiration that many americans have for the english premier league and other european leagues. brits and europeans watch american movies and television and are fine with it, why shouldnt americans watch european sport coverage? why should brits know who jennifer aniston or jay leno are, but americans shouldnt know who steven gerrard or andy gray are?

    as john lennon said,
    Imagine there’s no countries
    It isn’t hard to do
    Nothing to kill or die for
    And no religion too
    Imagine all the people
    Living life in peace…

  14. Look. Those of us of a certain age who grew up in major TV markets had one outlet for soccer, and it was on Sunday on PBS where some German expats funded a show called Soccer made in Germany. It was a highlight show of the German league and I remember some World Cup high lights as well. The guy’s name escapes me at the moment, but that show and the commentary was what I came to expect. I don’t care about bias or accent, just that its not just banter to fill the air. Andy Gray is top class.

    Come on Spain!!!!

  15. Arthur,

    Let’s review for a minute and then I will address your concerns.

    The point that was initially made by Bell and Lalas is that ESPN and other networks hire English and Irish accented comments to say the same thing American commentators would say because they have an accent and command authority for that reason.

    I have furthered the point by stating Andy Gray knows nothing about the Bundesliga or Serie A as well an precious little about La Liga. His expertise is the Premier League and most of my English contacts insist he is very biased even in that regard.

    I have also stated that Jansuz Michalak was a longtime US NT and MLS players who has gotten the Press Pass gig because of his accent. Plenty of his team mates from the Crew and National Team are stuck commenting on local television on MLS or worse USL matches because they have an American accent even if they somehow know more about the international game.

    I have also stated I like Adrian Healey. He’s an Englishman who came to US and embraced our soccer culture instead of those who lecture to us about how backwards we are and how we know nothing. I was thrilled, or actually beyond thrilled that he called the final and Derek Rae did not. I also thank Healey for his devotion to our domestic game and the plugs he gave it during the Euros, plugs Rae would not give.

    Now back to your point. Is proliferation of American culture abroad acceptable. Of course it is. Do I mind British commentators on British matches here. Of course not. I do mind British commentators who know ZILCH about German football and clearly show a bias against the style the Germans play calling those matches. I mind a British commentator who knows ZILCH about Italian Football calling those matches and disparaging the Italian players and in some ways the nation by extension. I mind a commentator whose sole purpose is to promote a specific league or product.

    My point is and the point I believe Bell and Lalas are also making. We have those commentators here. They know the European game better than Andy Gray in many ways. Sure they don’t know the British game, but they know many of these players and watch them week in and week out which Gray does not.

    If you are part of the American Soccer Community like me, you are tired of being lectured by many British ex-pats that we play the game wrong, that our domestic league stinks, that our national team is poor, our training methods are poorer (even though European Continentals say the very same things about the British….the domestic league argument has gone away the last few years but they say the same things about the English and the Scots) and that we should stick to other sports. It’s a constant theme. The hiring of Andy Gray simply reinforced that for many of us.

    Now we don’t presume to have Americans calls Basketball on European channels. When they pick up the American feed that’s one thing. In addition, CNN has recently begun nativizing their CNN international setup unlike the BBC. Now CNN international has offshoots in many countries with local anchors and localized news.

    Now Rupert Murdoch and News Corp I will not defend. You’ve got me there but remember he’s an Aussie. :)

  16. I think getting Andy Gray was brilliant for one reason that gets overlooked a lot: he’s the longtime voice of EA Sports’ FIFA video game series.

    If you think that doesn’t make a difference to the old 18-36 male viewer demographic ESPN thrives on (who do not by and large remember a time that we weren’t playing sports video games) then you don’t know us very well. To a lot of us, he /is/ the voice of big-time soccer.

    So if you’re trying to make something a big deal, Andy Gray has the widespread name (and voice) recognition that the random ESPN in house guys just plain don’t. Furthermore, because we watch a lot of ESPN anyway, we already associate Rece Davis et al with the ESPN B-team, so we’re not going to be terribly impressed by people we’ve heard even less of than him.

    It’s too bad for the “American Soccer Community” that they have their panties in a bunch because it wasn’t one of “their” guys picked, but… well, sucks to be you, I guess.

  17. I think it best that anyone who is commenting on this piece read the whole post. Frankly, the selected comments do not do the whole piece justice. The importance of the whole piece is that ESPN should have given “American Voices” a chance to work the games. That is a 100% on target comment.

    ESPN, I believe felt, wrongly that an English voice give some glamor to it’s broadcast. Having a large team, say with Andy Gray in studio and Derek Rae working with an American may have had better results. In, the long run American soccer broadcasts, even of international events need American broadcasters.

  18. It seems that, at the very least, Andy Gray has been among the best, if not the best that ESPN has provided over recent years. In this respect, providing viewers with the best possible announcing crew is something ESPN should do, especially since they can afford it.

    If you think others are more capable, that’s fine, or if ESPN truly is only recruiting based on accent, then you can argue that. But I don’t think we need American announcers just for the sake of it. Also, if you don’t think Gray is among the best, and so ESPN should provide someone else, that is also a good argument. But he’s much better than we’ve had, so I don’t see having him on as a problem — YMMV.

  19. The over riding issue besides the obvious not hiring of Americans is that Andy Gray fits a niche with a very Premier League oriented standpoint.

    Again, I repeat (and I can say this because I actually prefer the Bundelsiga to the PL or La Liga) that Gray knows nothing about German Football. This doesn’t just apply to the German team, but large numbers of players for Turkey, Croatia, Poland, Switzerland, Austria who Gray knew nothing about. He’s Andy Gray so he didn’t feel like he had to be bothered to do any research either on these players either.

    Again, he’s probably decent for the PL. But if a guy didn’t play in England or for AC Milan, Real, Barca, or Inter he knew nothing about them. That’s sloppy. On the other hand Tommy Smyth who I don’t care for either, was much more in tune with these players, their club success or failures and was in a better position to analyze the tournament.

  20. Kartik, what are you on about ….

    Where not talken German Cup here, its the Euros and anyone, ANYONE who follows football knows the names on the German team.

    How can you suggest that Gray doesn’t know about Bastian Schweinsteiger or say Clemens Fritz… I never watch German football. But I know these guys through internationals.

    now if René Adler was brought on… Yeah they’d probaly struggle. But I pretty much would bet my life savings that ESPN provides some pretty in depth talking points on every player on the team, well before kick off.

    And these guys are all in Bristol, CT in a studio with all the ESPN staff. not on site. So if anything happens they have the full resources of ESPN to talk in their ear.

    If you don’t like the English or Scots just say it.

    But attacking Andy Gray’s professionalism/experience, is just idiotic. and makes you look really dim. or better yet ignorant.

    and as stated above the WORLD knows this guy from the games they play everyday.

    I just don’t get how this is even a topic for discussion….

  21. Final word on this matter.

    In my blog whose latest headline was devoted to the DC-LA game but whose greatest part was spent on Gray, here is what I write:

    I am thrilled that Andy Gray won’t be seen on these shores until World Cup 2010 at the earliest. For all the accolades given him by a generally Premier League affected oriented soccer blogger community, I feel he was exceedingly biased, poorly prepared for matches that did not involve many players in the Premier League and condescending to boot. ESPN has plenty of good soccer commentators in its midst to not have to pull Gray from Sky Sports. Perhaps Shaka Hislop or Robbie Mustoe would have been better suited to cover the event if it was British accents the powers that be at ESPN were looking for as the New York Times Jack Bell feels in this piece. In fact Mustoe and Hislop both meet my litmus test for foreign commentators: they understand the American game and the American soccer audience. Hislop went to college in the US, and Mustoe now coaches college and runs coaching clinics in the U.S. Moreover, neither player has the obvious biases that Gray demonstrates.

    So again, I’m not against British accents. I’ll take Mustoe or Hislop. I just won’t take a biased commentator who talks down to us. Is that reasonable?

  22. Before you people accuse Kartik of not liking Brits I’d check out his blog. Maybe he should be blamed for reacting poorly to you guys, but in his most recent posts he suggests several british commentators he prefers to Gray and would have liked to have seen working for ESPN.

    He also wrote a post that I ripped on Big Soccer for talking about how Euro 2008 wasn’t a good event because England whom he considers to be the best team in the world wasn’t at the event because of artificial turf. Not a good post in my book, but certainly something that debunks the myth some here are spreading that he is somehow anti-British.

  23. Kartik,

    You’ve lost your marbles on this one. Robbie Mustoe and Shaka Hislop?? They’re both awful commentators. I remember Mustoe doing a horrible commentary recently during the Liverpool against Chelsea Champions League semi-final.

    Obviously you see faults in Gray where I see strengths. He’s one of the most gifted co-commentators we’ve had the pleasure of hearing on ESPN and for that he should be praised not kicked into touch.

    The Gaffer

  24. Gaffer:

    I said above I thought anyone should read the whole piece and not just attack it based on extracted pieces. That is intended to for the audience here, I know you read the piece as you always do you homework well.

    I find Hislop refreshing, he’s very informative without talking down to the audience and doesn’t mumble through things like a certain ex-Newcastle star. Hislop has good future in the booth. Let’s hope ESPN’s future broadcasts will be live from the stadium.

  25. Kartik,

    “If you are part of the American Soccer Community like me, you are tired of being lectured by many British ex-pats that we play the game wrong, that our domestic league stinks, that our national team is poor, our training methods are poorer ”

    boy you’ve said a mouthful, I’m thinking this mentality is almost genetic, it comes from the fact of America being one of a few colonial powers which took it’s independence, the British never got over that. “Down the British”, and of course “Up the Rebels”.

    Now as far as , “I’ll take Mustoe or Hislop” you have got to be cracked. Hislop is simply aweful as a commentator and it doesn’t matter what the sport.

    If I wanted comedy hour assign Hislop and Seamus Malin together for a broadcast and see if I keep the volume on.

  26. Call me a Premiership Snob but when I am watching a game I like my commentators from the UK. The accent works for me as does the cadence at which they call the game and knowing when to let the game breath and let the crowd provide the sound of the game. Like people have posted hearing a guy from England calling baseball or gridiron would just be weird! I am a sucker for a English accent when I am watching Golf, Soccer, and F1.

    I agree with Kartik that Gray was unprepared for anything that wasn’t Premiership or one of the top sides in Europe however what he lacked in preperation he more than made up with it in personality and passion.

    I hope in the World Cup that ESPN uses 3 or 4 commentary teams one of which is an american team that is dedicated to following Team USA around. I think it is important to have American’s calling Team USA’s games. I really hope ESPN continues to build up the World Cup throughout the next 2 years Team USA as well as the rest of the world.

  27. As an american (gasp, yes, one of those…), let me first say Jack Bell is a wanker, but Greg Lalas is not. Although the brother of idiot LA general manager Alexi, the guy is a very capable writer & insightful observer of the game. As for the ESPN commentating team, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Andy Gray does a nice job & provides insight. Are there americans as capable? How about hispanics? Yes on both accounts. What does that have to do with the price of tea in China? The idea that we have to have americans calling games in america or involving american teams is downright imbecilic.

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