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Why Soccer Sounds Better With British Commentators

brian moore commentator Why Soccer Sounds Better With British Commentators

It’s been one of those weeks when business meetings got in my way of watching the mid-week Champions League playoff games, so I finally had a chance to sit down Wednesday evening to speed through five or more games that were waiting for me on my DVR player.

Fox’s production aside (I thought they did a spectacular job for the first dip of their toe in the water; small improvements are still needed before the next round), the games for me seemed to have a magical quality about them. I didn’t figure out why that was at first, but it soon suddenly dawned on me. It was the football commentators.

There’s something about a British football commentator that accentuates the game of soccer. When done correctly, the commentary from the mouth of an Englishman, Scot, Welshman or Northern Irishman (or from Eire, for that matter) can sound like poetry, rolling off the tongue and punctuating the game at just the right moments. There’s the tempo. The vocabulary they use. And the pinpoint accuracy they use when saying the right things at the right time.

That’s not to say that every Brit is a decent commentator. Indeed, there are plenty of awful British commentators. But give me a Martin Tyler, a Paul Breen-Turner, Alan Parry, Barry Davies, Mike Ingham or Jon Champion any day of the week.

Fox made the wise decision earlier this year to only use the commentators from the international feed instead of their homegrown talent. It was a brave decision, but the correct one in my opinion. There’s something about a British accent that elevates the importance of a game and takes what is essentially a dress-rehearsal of a Champions League match and turns it into something gripping and wonderful to watch and listen to.

Many Americans have had a fascination about British accents for decades. Pay attention to television next time and you’ll begin to hear how many British accents are used in television commercials, on news channels and in movies, just for starters.

The British accent adds an air of authority, too. The comment I hear often is that Brits could be saying something stupid, but it sounds utterly convincing when it’s said with an English accent.

The crop of Brits doing the international feeds for the different games Fox showed were far from being legendary football commentators. But still, they were a joy to listen to, and were instantly likable. They were also a stark contrast to Fox presenter Jon Herz who stepped in on two of the games to provide temporary commentary until UEFA’s technical issues with the audio of the commentary feed could be sorted. Going from Herz to the British commentators, you could hear how the commentating immediately improved. But it wasn’t just the fact that these commentators had more experience than Herz. The voice makes that much of a difference, even on these occasions.

I have nothing against American commentators. I often praise Phil Schoen from GolTV as the best in the business this side of the pond, but the caliber of commentators in the U.S. is lacking and hopefully new blood will come in to the game.

Lastly, let me leave you with an audio recording of the football commentator Peter Jones and a collection of snippets from some classic FA Cup Final moments. Enjoy.

This entry was posted in General, Leagues: EPL. Bookmark the permalink.

About Christopher Harris

Founder and publisher of World Soccer Talk, Christopher Harris is the managing editor of the site. He has been interviewed by The New York Times, The Guardian and several other publications. Plus he has made appearances on NPR, BBC World, CBC, BBC Five Live, talkSPORT and beIN SPORT. Harris, who has lived in Florida since 1984, has supported Swansea City since 1979. He's also an expert on soccer in South Florida, and got engaged during half-time of a MLS game. Harris launched EPL Talk in 2005, which was rebranded as World Soccer Talk in 2013.
View all posts by Christopher Harris →

48 Responses to Why Soccer Sounds Better With British Commentators

  1. Rick says:

    Gaffer, as an American I absolutely agree with your comments. British commentators are usually brilliant. They know the game, the tempo, and the names. It’s not they Americans can’t do it, but haven’t had as much practice.

  2. eplnfl says:

    Right now the experience difference is such a factor. An American broadcaster has had to develop his style in other sports. Few can claim a soccer only experience in their resume.

    As that happens I think you will see a great difference. Also, a English or Irish voice makes a EPL broadcast sound more true to form. When you go over to a event like a CL game between an Italian and Spanish side the accent is less of an issue. A good example for everyone might be a English commentator for an MLS game, word it work? Maybe not as well as Max Bretos and Chris Sullivan. Think of having an Aussie broadcast a MLB game, not the same is it.

    So the moral of the story is a get a commentator who fits the league and sides best and everyone is better off.

  3. Matthew N says:

    I think British people are much better commentators just because of their broader vocabulary. Americans, in general, have a very small lexicon and our commentators must cater to this least common denominator. I don’t know if everyone in England regularly uses a very diverse set of words, but the gentlemen who are on the international feed of most EPL matches certainly make use of their education.

    • b says:

      This is complete and utter nonsense. American soccer commentators thus far may leave something to be desired. But all of our sports commentators are inferior? Because of vocabulary? Vin Scully is a god among men. Bob Costas should do the play by play for everyone’s life. Before Marv Albert started biting backs, he was a legend. Roughly 1/3 of America learned to talk listening to Haray Caray. There are countless baseball announcers who have been rightly immortalized in the Hall of Fame for their contributions to the game.

      I’ll leave your comment about our countries relative lexicons alone and just assume you’ve never spent much time around many Brits. Hint: we’re all equally crass and stupid.

      • Lyle says:

        I’m with you. It has nothing to do ones vocabulary or education. Baseball commentary reminds me a lot of English football commentary. Personalities have been doing it since they could put on radio and have simply learned how to do it over time and have simply passed the tradition down the line.

  4. I think it also tends to be the “less is more” approach. Often television announcers seem to forget they’re not doing a radio broadcast. My favourite moments tend to be those leading up to a goal where all you’ll hear are the names of the players passing between one another until the final moment, punctuated by the obvious, “what a strike from [insert name here]!”

    • MarkB says:

      Richard, I agree with your assessment 100%. I’m surprised that the howls of “eurosnob” havn’t reared their ugly heads yet.

  5. JW says:

    I’m not sure I agree with the Brits’ bigger and better lexicon idea. It’s just different–hence the term lexicon.

    Because of that, I completely agree with eplnfl above–there is just little to no experience with American broadcasters tackling real soccer. It would sound just as goofy and awkward if Brits–or anyone not American raised, for that matter–tried to broadcast baseball or hockey, for example.

    I personally love hearing British commentators on EPL and Champions League broadcasts–I don’t think they’d have the same feel of “gravity” without them.

  6. Jason D says:

    That’s absolutely ridiculous Matthew. It has nothing to do with vocabulary.

    As eplnfl said, it’s a matter of experience. American announcers cut their teeth on baseball and football, and unfortunately, that’s frustratingly obvious when they call soccer matches.

    Hopefully, it will get better.

    • Matthew N says:

      I can’t be the only one who thinks this. Having listened to American sports announcers my whole life, I definitely think British English speakers do a much better job describing a football match in a unique and interesting way. Watch an MLS game with Harkes/Dellacamera and then watch any EPL match using the international feed and it is easy to notice different word choice, subtle differences in phrasing, etc. I have discussed this same idea with others, so I can’t really believe how someone has the audacity to say my idea is ridiculous.

  7. Phillip says:

    Put me down who tolerates British announcers.

    Most put me to sleep.

    Give me Cantor any day of the week. (And I don’t even understand Spanish)

  8. Dave G says:

    I would love to line up every american soccer commentator that has attempted to commentate on Premier League/Champions league/Euro’s and World Cups and ask them to name the gentleman in the picture above.
    Those that cannot name him don’t deserve to commentate or get to wear his rivals sheepskin coat ;)

  9. Again, if Harkes/Delecamara were the standard, we’d have no argument.

    People on this site complain about Max Bretos without acknowledging he is a Latino, raised here in South Florida, where football is religious, and Latin commentators tend to be very excitable and descriptive in their commentary. Now for some who are anglicized or have bought into the myth that to properly cover a football match, one must speak with a British accent, Bretos is offensive.

    But the majority of football support in the United States is Latino, and Bretos is in fact the people’s voice for the sport in this country, unlike the British accented commentators who don’t describe the match properly for Latino tastes.

    British commentators calling matches from Spain and Italy is borderline offensive. As offensive as an American calling Premier League matches.

    Some British commentators do a good job in the US with our leagues. Andrew Bell, who covers the USL for FSC and USL Live is outstanding. Adrian Healey has incorporated the best of both British and American styles when in the past he has done USL or MLS matches. (Healey used to be the PR director/match announcer for a USL team)

    But by and large British commentators come with a style that does not fit the game and the culture of the sport in this hemisphere.

    I agree that having British accented commentators is critical for games originating from the British Isles or Northern Europe, but in this hemisphere or the Mediterranean world it is borderline blasphemy, unless we’re talking about someone like a James Richardson who despite being British has almost adopted an Italian style in his presentation.

  10. Slightyly different topic, but I find the quality of the co-commentators varies increadibly.

    My bugbear is the ‘say what you see’ guy, who says the following while we’re watching the replay of a goal: “And the cross comes in…and the striker gets a good jump…gets his head on the ball…and it’s in the back of the net”. I have the name Trevor Francis in my head for some reason.

    My favorites are the ones who are able to tell you something about the tactics that are being employed, which are often hard to discern when you can’t see the whole pitch. People like David Pleat and Robbie Earle.

  11. Leafsfan1967 says:

    Oh my…. hearing Peter Jones again! He was THE best on BBC radio. It’s tragic he died so young…. :-(

  12. Joaq says:

    Completely agree with ya Gaf. Since football is a gentleman’s game, there is nothing like an English gentleman to articulate the action that is taking place on the pitch.

  13. Rob says:

    I’ll miss Derek Rae from ESPN on the Champions League broadcasts this year, he is class – hopefully ESPN will get him involved in their new PL coverage. Tommy Smyth is not bad either, a little over the top – but overall the Brits at ESPN do a great job… Adrian Healy included..jury still out for me at the format Fox has adopted for the CL but I guess we don’t really have a choice, although thankfully they are not using their own announcers..

    • Panda says:

      Derek Rae is gone from ESPN…USA that is. He’s the lead broadcaster for ESPN UK’s SPL broadcasts and is their second choice BPL announcer behind Jon Champion. I hope he does do something with the Premier League here though.

  14. NewtonHeath says:

    agreed re: brit accents. for whatever reason, it just complements the game better. just after all these years of soccer not being a mainstream sport in america, it’s had an ‘international’ feel and the accents/commentary play right into this. i honestly think it has to do with the sound of the accent. listen to american voices talking over soccer and it sounds boring. for whatever reason, brit voices just sound right. tough to explain. but for the record there have been improvements in the american commentators and hopefully they continue to evolve.

  15. b says:

    I think it’s more than just the British accent. It’s the fact that when you use the international feed THE ANNOUNCERS ARE ACTUALLY THERE.

    It drives me nuts when Fox and ESPN use announcers sitting in a studio somewhere on the East Coast. You just lose so much of the atmosphere both sonically and emotionally. And that includes using guys with British accents sitting in studios. Granted, their knowledge of the game can help, but they’re still watching the same feed as us, removed from the stadium just like us.

    At the beginning of Fox’s coverage of Arsenal-Celtic (which was actually on Comcast Sportsnet for me) they were having problems with the International feed, so just used nothing. It was pretty great just getting the sounds of the stadium without someone yammering away….

    • SSReporters says:

      To let you in on a not-so secret some of those guys you hear on the Premier League are commentating from a London studio.

      For example those Monday night games with Martin Tyler and Paul Walsh are from TWI studios in London.

      Some of those guys you heard on the CL last night were also in a studio, namely the Atletico Madrid game. They just do a much better job with not making it bleeding obvious.

  16. I guess it’s what you are used to. John Motson and Barry Davies are great commentators, real stars. I love their occasional gaffs too, all part of the joy of the game.

  17. softmax says:

    The development of the ESPN style of commentary over the last twenty years or so does not work well with such a dynamic game as soccer/football. I would point to the disaster of Dave O’Brien calling the Champions league games a couple of years ago (I turned the sound off). It works with games such as baseball and American football ( throwball ) because of the deadly boring downtimes these games have these days. The British commentators have maintained the style of calling a game that developed in response to listeners not being able to see what was going on i. e. radio. A good sports commentator would be able to call a game so that a listener familiar with the players and the game would be able to know exactly what was going on while they ate dinner, sat on the porch with a beer, or painted the ceiling. Jack Buck, Phil Rizzuto, and Harry Caray could all bring a game alive by their commentary.

  18. John says:

    I haven’t seen a more idiotic piece on this website.

    First the eurosnobbery, now “Brit accent must be used for soccer”?

    Get out of here.

  19. SSReporters says:

    The dude that said Trevor Francis speaks the obvious is on the money. Dude is starting to annoy me. David Platt is the most boring man in history though. He says very little and he sounds like he’s in a library.

    It’s not a matter of accents though. I just want someone who can do the following:

    * Eloquently and articulately describe the action on the pitch.
    * Don’t talk for the sake of talking.
    * Understand the game (something many of these guys don’t when they confuse corner kicks with goal kicks).
    * Let the game breathe.
    * Get excited when necessary.
    * Don’t go talking about something irrelevant to the game or the teams in the game (like Dellacamera and Harkes talking about AC/DC songs).

    In that regard very few American commentators meet those requirements. Bretos is terrible. He’s got a weird shrieky voice and gets excited for no reason. Dellacamera and Harkes just can’t STFU and they fawn over Landon Donovan the same way Andy Gray loves Steven Gerrard.

    I love listening to the British commentators (most of them) because they know when to shut up and when to talk. Some of them do not and some just are human dictionaries……Peter Drury springs to mind. The screaming of Bretos but with a deeper voice and treating the game like a Shakespearean play.

    But for the most part the likes of Martin Tyler, Ian Darke, Alan Parry, Peter Brackley, and Jon Champion blow the doors out of the stunningly bad talking heads we have.

    It’s not a matter of Eurosnobbery. It is a matter of who is competent and who is not.

  20. ifotbol.com says:

    Over in Argentina you can’t fault the passion of the commentators. Especially on the radio they go at ten to the dozen for the whole 90 minutes. Back in England Alan Green is head and shoulders above the rest, really calls it as he sees it. You can catch him on the 606 podcast from BBC Radio 5. Further a field tune into the BBC’s coverage of cricket for a real commentary masterclass

  21. F1Mikal says:

    Can we get back to calling it football.
    Please.

    Pretty Please.
    Do your part in helping the USA join the rest of the world.

    Thank you for your support

    • The Gaffer says:

      Hi Mikal, I usually use the word “football” but in this case, I used “soccer” because the headline would have been confusing otherwise. If people saw the headline in Google as “Why Football Sounds Better With British Commentators,” some people would have thought it was about pigskin football.

      Cheers,
      The Gaffer

  22. The Gaffer says:

    Another comment about football commentators – whether they’re American, British or another nationality – is that the sound of their voice is crucial. Sure, they need to be able to commentate a game well, but they also need a unmistakable voice that’s pleasing to the ear. It’s the soccer equivalent of a good radio voice.

    Jon Herz is not a commentator, but when he temporarily stepped in to fill in for the first 20 minutes of commentating for the Celtic v Arsenal game, that was a perfect example of a voice that’s not meant for commentating. No offence Jon.

    Cheers,
    The Gaffer

    • RedMD says:

      Gaffer,

      Any idea what ever happened to Mike Hill, covering the Champions League, La Liga, and The Premiership on ESPN in the mid-1990′s? He’s the earliest voice I can recall enjoying commentating football matches here.

      • The Gaffer says:

        RedMD, ah yes, Mike Hill. I remember the name very well. I can’t hear his voice in my head right now, but I’m sure I would immediately recognize it if I heard his voice.

        Great question. Unfortunately I’ve lost track of Mike Hill and not sure where he is. If anyone can track him down, I’d love to interview him for the EPL Talk Podcast.

        Cheers,
        The Gaffer

  23. Gaffer,

    You hit the nail right on the head with this one. British commentators’ appreciation, enthusiasm, knowledge of history, and overall understanding of ‘the beautiful game, is clearly illustrated through their speech. I find most American commentators to sound choppy and mechanical and ultimately very flat when commentating an organic and sophisticated game like soccer.

  24. dlink09 says:

    Jon Herz is not a commentator, but when he temporarily stepped in to fill in for the first 20 minutes of commentating for the Celtic v Arsenal game, that was a perfect example of a voice that’s not meant for commentating. No offence Jon.

    —-
    he is more annoying that max.. he said lets go and join blaa blaa and then after a while he started commenting.. he didn’t even say we are having tech.. issues..

  25. Cam says:

    I kinda find this piece insulting to every other non-british commentator out there! There are some really bad British commentators who I would not watch (and wont name) because they are either clueless, bias or just blab on about irrelevant information. I believe what makes a good commentator is the content, not the sound of their voice! Some of the worst commentary I have ever heard has come from the mouth of a British commentator…Sorry Gaffer, I like your stories normally, but this is just stupid!

  26. brn442 says:

    I would agree yes but it depends on what football they’re commenting on. For English Football hands down as thats what we’re used to. The same way I can tolerate Bretos and Sullivan calling a, MLS, concacaf or south american match as that’s what I’m used to.

  27. Christian says:

    I pray every day that ESPN doesn’t substitute the English feed with some yahoos who spend time talking about other sports during the game, and have NO CLUE about the Premier League. Think I heard some of that last year during Champions League. Pathetic.

  28. Pakapala says:

    This article is not a good one. Obviously you prefer listening to british commentators because you grew up listening to them. I’ve been an avid football fan for all my life. Listened to the game commented in French, Kreyol, Spanish, English (US and UK commentators), and I always found the UK commentators left a lot to be desired. After spending most of my life listening to french, haitian kreyol and spanish commentators mostly, it’s hard to find british commentary anythjing but a bore.

  29. Gideon says:

    I couldn’t disagree more: Jon Champion epitomises everything bad about British commentators, who are generally excellent. Indeed, it is difficult to understand how anyone could put Jon Champion in the same league with Martin Tyler: One is a BBC old boy with a verneer of phony British eloquence and the other is a professional. (Never mind Champion, in fact, I am more worried at the lack of good editorial staff at the BBC who need to take away his thesaurus.) As many have pointed out, there are many poor English commentators and several excellent Americans. American broadcasters seem to have the wrong criteria when selecting commentators like Tommie Smyth and Bretos: They choose what passes for “personality” over refined style and substance. Champion’s voice and tone are shrill and schoolmarmish, his accent affected. His word choice is poor: He is verbose, not eloquent. Worst of all, his commentary is not substantive and not professional: Who wants to hear his schoolmarmish finger-waging, as when he opines that a player is “embarrassed” or glad “to be off the pitch” (-as he said about Lucas during Liverpool’s game against Villa). I remember the sycophantic squeals of delight that came from him when commenting on a Ryan Giggs-Simon Davies challenge once: He said something to the effect of “let him (Davies) just TRY and get past Ryan Giggs, good luck with that!” There are so many British commentators who would simply say “he should have done better” or “he will be disappointed.”
    More annoying than this lack of professionalism is his off-key vocabulary: “Insipid” is not a good word to use to describe a poor football performance. I believe it is Champion who used to say that a player was giving the referee a “wonton” look (or is it wantin’) whenever a player looked at a referee expectantly or incredulously. In moments like these, never mind Champion: Does the BBC not have editorial staff?
    At one point in the Liverpool game, I thought I was listening to a description of some war in the Lord of the Rings when he said, “It is as if the Kop are WILLING the ball toward them.”

    Champion’s enthusiasm is reserved for himself: His comments about players and teams are often jarringly negative, more appropriate for a schoolteacher screaming in the background of a Pink Floyd song than for a football match. As in the above comment about Giggs, his approval is reserved for the bandwagon. Those British commentators who bend over backward to attempt polished English are definitely the worst of the bunch: Their ridiculous flow of purple prose is just one example of commentator’s need to run their mouths when they have nothing to say, ramble, or use circumlocuitous phrasing in an attempt to spice up their speech. Again, he is typical of one sort of British commentator, completely unlike the plain-spoken, but eloquent sort that Sky seems to prefer (I won’t even go into the lack of substance and knowledge that commentators like Champion display–That is another can of worms.) People like Champion flatter only themselves, some stuck-up but undiscerning Brits, and some Americans and Euros who don’t know any better.

  30. Gideon says:

    Gaffer, perhaps you would like to have Mr. Belvedere (see youtube) do your football commentary, and Stephen Fry can dress up as Jeeves and do the play-by-play?

  31. Koos Fourie says:

    I agree with you wholeheartedly. As a matter of fact, not much that the Brits don’t do well
    Watched the Arsenal/Birmingham game last night. Please propose to the commentators that they pronounce Kuyt as Kite. The sound is so near that most Dutch speaking will not notice the difference.

  32. hp says:

    I agree, theres something about the British accent that flows so well in football/soccer. I don’t dislike all American commentators, I infact think they do well in commentating in tennis , f1, moto gp, baseball, their own football code, and boxing.

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