Why It’s Time for ESPN to Say Goodbye to John Harkes

Sporting events and commentary go in hand in hand with each other. How odd would it be to watch a soccer, football, and baseball or hockey game without someone offering analysis and play by play action of the game? As a fan of several sports I have been subjected to many announcers in games; some good and some that weren’t so good.  I have to say I have never felt I had to mute the TV because of announcer. Well that was until I heard John Harkes.

In recent years I have become a fan of Major League Soccer and games are either shown on my local channel in Seattle, as well as ESPN or Fox Soccer Channel. I was first introduced to Harkes as announcer during the last World Cup in South Africa and quickly realized he must be regarded as one of the worst announcers I have ever heard in any sporting event. Every time I watch a MLS match on ESPN I hope John Harkes will not be announcing or, if he is, I immediately hit the mute button. There isn’t anything pleasant or engaging about this man as an announcer.

Of course networks or other sporting outlets naturally select individuals with a strong background in the sport and many but not all are former athletics or coaches. It makes sense since you want the individual to have a command of the game. However, that is only part of the deal because you want an individual that can communicate to the viewing audience and have that special connection. You want a person that has passion for the sport in what he or she does. One of my favorite announcers was John Madden. This guy who just loves the NFL and everything about it. When he spoke, he had a complete command of the game and with a witty down to earth personality, it’s no wonder he was so successful in connecting with the audience. When he decided to leave his job to spend more time with his family, it was like losing a friend.

Looking at John Harkes it is the complete opposite, I would be happy to lose him as a friend.

I am not going to analyze John Harkes’s playing career because that is not the focus of the story. However, considering his impressive playing career, you think he would know a little more about the game than he presently does. During the matches before I employed the mute button, I noticed how very little Harkes comments on the game but would divert his attention elsewhere. Talking about unrelated things and taking the focus away from the game and directing elsewhere, mainly towards himself.

When I have heard Harkes comment on games, he does so in a very negative fashion. For example if a goal is scored, it’s not a good goal shot but he instead dwells on the negative aspect of the event. The defenders or the goalkeeper screwed up. The striker got lucky. It couldn’t be the fact it just was a good goal. Then he gives the audience a lecture as if we care about his glory days and how he would have done it differently. He constantly reminds the viewers of his former playing days and how he is better than anyone else on the field and provides little or no comments on the game.

Harkes loves to call soccer shoes “boots,” the common term in England. Well, in the United States people call them shoes (or cleats). There is a reason why they are called boots in England.  In the 19th century, men in Britain would play soccer in their work boots. Later came the leather shoe or boot, which was introduced.

It just makes him sound so phony and unconvincing.

We all use clichés at times in everyday conversation but this guy is the master of them. He could try to be a little more original in his presentation. During the World Cup, Martin Tyler made a comment about him using a cliché in reference to Peter Crouch. Harkes said, “Crouch is tall and looks like he’d be good in the air, but pundits say that he’s actually quite skilful with his feet.” Tyler laughed and said, “A bit of a cliché, good feet for a big man.” Then there was silence with Harkes presumably annoyed.

Furthermore the man has no connection with the fans in my opinion. Yes he can speak English but he doesn’t have a personality besides an inflated opinion of himself. In those rare occasions he comments on the game he states the obvious. I don’t need to be told the object of the game is to get the ball in the net. I just thought the players would all run around the field for ninety minutes kicking the ball aimlessly around. Of course the US men’s team would be just fine if he was playing again. It’s time to move on Harkesy.

I have been a fan of Ian Darke, Martin Tyler and Ray Wilkins. Having said that I don’t think you need to have an English accent to be a good soccer announcer. I have listened to soccer announcers from various countries. You want quality and a person who has a personality, which Harkes completely lacks. I think instead of being a soccer announcer Harkes would have a very promising career in a soap opera with his cheesy grin and orange tan.

I want to listen to an individual who has passion for the game, a good personality, who can communicate and has knowledge of the sport. Also, I want a person who is just a pleasant individual. So, if the person has an American, Spanish, Russian, Italian, French, German or English accent, I don’t care. But for the love of God show this man the door.

62 thoughts on “Why It’s Time for ESPN to Say Goodbye to John Harkes”

  1. I agree i don’t like harkes, i like when TT or Alexi are in the booth, they both have passion, let the game breath.

    1. TT and Alexi are just as bad. If not worse. Alexi especially.

      Give me Dellacamera if it has to be an American announcer. Or *maybe* even Kyle Martino.

      We admittedly don’t have very many to choose from, but there’s got to be *something* better out there than the three main guys that we have now.

      1. Alexi annoys me with his constant England bashing. OK we get it, England are not as good as some of their media hype them up to be. But the way he always rants about it makes me think he’s a little bitter about something. Perhaps he wishes he’d had a chance to play in England during his playing days.

    1. seriously.
      as I was reading this article I kept waiting for the author to ask for Hudson to be brought over from Gol. Hudson is the only commentator I mute a broadcast over.

      1. Agreed, I hate Hudson – but have you forgotten Tommy Smyth, another man who was the reason they invented the mute button?

        Both of them strike me as trying way to hard to have some kind of “quirky/eccentric” style, like they want to be remembered as “that guy who says crazy things.” I’d rather they just calm down, act normal and let the game be the center of attention.

  2. Taylor Twellman is far worse in my opinion. His cockiness is unimaginable and if someone gets hit in the head by a ball its all “Concussions, Concussions, Concussions” for the next half hour.

    I can tolerate Lalas and Harkes, but I don’t especially like either.

    Eric Wynalda was decent in Harkes position before the contract dispute sent him to FSC.

    Matt – I wonder what your take on Arlo White is? Also being from Seattle I feel he does an excellent job, however at times another person in the booth is needed……

  3. I totally agree as well. Harkes acts like he doesn’t want to be there commentating and is completely uninterested in most games. I want an announcer who entertains me while I watch a game, not bore me to sleep.

  4. As an FC Dallas fan, i get to listen to Bobby Rhine most of the time, unless the game is broadcast on a different network, and to be honest he is one of my favorites to listen to.

  5. oh man i think Ray Hudson is great!! ESPN should get him as they got Max Brettos from FSC, Ray Hudson that guy has some passion for the sport, its never a dull moment when your listening to him. Do you think Ray should replace John?

  6. Been saying this for years! Can’t stand the guy, he brings nothing to the table whatsoever.

    I agree that I don’t care what nationality the guy is, but I can’t think of a non-British commentator I actually enjoy. I’m not sure who I would like to replace him, but I really don’t care. I can’t stand the other guys much but anyone rather than Harkes.

    Any game on ESPN that’s MLS or USA Harkes is automatically in, I already plan on it so I don’t get disappointed. Not sure who ESPN would go to in place of him, but Ian Darke would be nice. He had all the USWNT games in the WWC so it looks like he’s becoming their go-to-guy for ESPN USA. He has all the Prem games so I’m sure once their season starts he won’t be able to do MLS, but if Harkes goes, I’d love to see Darke do our national games.

    1. Ian Darke is the play by play guy for USMNT games on ESPN and has been since the end of the world cup in south africa…He was hired as the full time play by play guy for EPL, USMNT on ES{N after the world cup because they liked him a lot, & does some MLS games but only when the EPL is in the close season…he did the game tonight with Harkes and the Mexican announcer who works on ESPN deportes.

  7. Did you write this while you were on your period? You need to step back and re-write this argument. Your rant seems almost childish. I agree with the surface of your position: he is an egotistical person, he needs to be replaced. However, your article was very poorly written. You went personal at the end, which caused me to lose all respect for the argument.

    1. Yes, you are right I did write this on my period and it is the first recorded event of a male doing so. Like I am going to take writing advice from a guy who calls himself the “Weak-O-Meter.” That is rich.

  8. Add me to the people that love Ray Hudson, though I can’t see him doing MLS matches. I’m not really a fan of Harkes either, but he definitely doesn’t make me mute the TV. It could be worse. Remember when Arena was in the booth? Absolutely awful.

  9. I wouldn’t cry if he never did another match. I also agree about sounding a little phony. I know many Americans are trying to get into the game, you don’t have to completely adopt the Brits slang to enjoy the sport. Especially when MLS is so different from the rest of the leagues as far as structure. Call it soccer, call shoes cleats, etc. Just put quality football…err soccer on the pitch…err field.

  10. Please no Ray Hudson… he is good but whenever I hear him speak during the Barcelona games on GOL TV I always think he is wanking…

    To Xavi, NOW TO INIESTA!!!!, TO MESSI!!!!!!!!!! :D, HE SHOOTS AND SCORES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! OH ITS EVERYWHERE!

  11. To be honest, I’m not really that bothered by who commentates on games, as long as it’s not someone going out of their way to get “noticed”, like I mentioned with Ray Hudson and Tommy Smyth. I also used to hate the guy on Channel 5 in Britain who used to be annoyingly over-the-top in a coarse, bloke-down-at-the-pub style (although I think he calmed down after a few years) – British readers might remember him as the one who was always going on about “Ready Steady Teddy Sheringham” and such nonsense.

    Just be glad Judy Foudy isn’t involved – she is truely terrible. I’ve heard her commentate on games where she’s made it her knowledge of men’s football is no better than my mum’s.

    Also, I think you’re a little harsh on Harkes using the word “boots”. He played in England for a while, didn’t he? Perhaps he just picked it up. I know it might sound a little contrived to American ears, but if that’s one of the main criticisms of the guy, then he can’t be that bad.

    1. I understand what you are saying. I was raised by an English mother and grandmother and throughout my life have spent a lot of time in England. Yes, I can catch myself doing it. But I have just encountered so many people who like to talk in that fashion to set themselves apart and demonstrate how different or special they are compared to other people. In addition I think it goes to his ego and how important he views himself. I don’t see it being genuine but rather phony. My two cents.

      1. So because I say football, pitch, fixtures, table, etc.. I’m trying to set myself apart & show how special I am….please….how bout I follow the EPL, Bundesliga, Serie A, La LIga, etc & read English websites like the Guardian & Telegraph plus European blogs & podcasts to get my football news as the coverage is better and more in depth overseas then here in the states.

        I agree with you on the Harkes argument, he dumb downs the analysis & talks about stuff that has nothing to do with the game…provides no info on what tactics either manager is using or what tactical changes need to be made as the game progresses…instead talks about how amazing the crowds are & how he wishes it was like that when he played…It’s great that the atmosphere at some MLS stadiums has improved but we get it & don’t need to hear it 10 times during the broadcast

          1. Yeah I know what you mean – it can grate on your ears a little when people use language that sounds contrived. I saw the Spice Girls at MSG a few years ago (I swear to god, I only went because my wife made me)…Ginger Spice said “Hello New York Ciddy” in that wannabe-American way (pronouncing Ts like Ds) and I thought it sounded horrible to my English ears. Although having lived here for 5 yrs, no doubt my friends think the same when I go home with my mixed up accent. I say “sneakers” sometimes too.

            On the issue of saying “pitch” though – that’s what the actual rules of the game call it, so I think you ought to forgive anyone who uses the term. .

  12. it could be worse…im a u.s. fan and when we play mexico..the mexican announcers and pundits…well i will leave it up to you guys to guess.

    1. I, for one, like the Univision/Telefutura announcers, Bracamontes & Ramirez. They’re passionate, knowledgeable and entertaining.

      1. but those two aren’t Mexican. They’re in Miami.

        He means the Mexican press and all their hype and bluster and jingoism. Kind of like the English, or Italian sporting press.

  13. He doesn’t bother me all that much, apart from him stating the obvious as though it’s some sort of revelation. How about Ian Darke? Mr. Negative. Always pointing out the worst in teams. Smythe is like the Dick Vitale of soccer. Now there’s a guy who needs a mute button.

    Anyway, we don’t have much choice. JP Dellacamera and BobLey are probably the two least offensive, but I think that’s mainly to do with the fact that they know they aren’t experts and don’t try to be.

  14. I do agree about Harkes often making the game about him. I also don’t like how he cynically talks about referees as fools to be manipulated. Can’t he try to put a more positive spin on it? Maybe point out that diving, whining, baiting the ref, etc. is part of the dark, ugly side of the game and should be stamped out?

    I do think that Kyle Martino is a rising star and Taylor Twellman is a solid young broadcaster. They’re both more positive towards the game and the players.

    1. Twellman hasn’t quite gotten his technique down yet, but I like his analysis and he’s getting better. Too bad the guy couldn’t keep playing. Quite the goal scorer, he was. That’s something we’re missing on the national team.

  15. I hate when Harkes says “He did well there” over and over.
    I like Glen Davis for any MLS or USA game. He knows more about the American game, the current players, history etc. than anyone else.

    1. Hooray! I was waiting for someone to mention Glen Davis. He is truly a gift to American Soccer. I don’t know about his playing career, but the amount of effort he has put in to promoting soccer through his various TV shows, radio programs, website, and on-air work covering games has been fantastic. He has always been about supporting and promoting the growth of the sport at all levels, and on top of it he’s probably the best on-air personality in the ESPN or FOX stable.

  16. Great article – Harkes is horrible- and Rich, your correct Rogondino is horrible and comes across as the biggest brown nosing puffer in broadcasting.

    Too bad Allen Hopkins wasn’t given the PBP Booth @ ESPN – IMO …he does a really good job.

    1. Harkes straight sucks. What’s wrong with saying that? Certainly isn’t snobby to do so. I think Joe Buck is a piece. Am I a football snob too?

  17. Yes, Harkes is kinda a douchbag. Just ask Eric Wynalda.

    Yes, he’s kinda boring as an announcer, but so what? As for his negativity, well, maybe what he’s saying is true. Hell, many, if not most goals are due to a defensive error (just like in all sports). What’s a “good goal shot” anyways?

    Your panties are in a wad over saying “boots.” WGAS.

    1. Haha, I’m no Harkes apologist, but I stopped reading after “good goal shot.” I’m glad I looked back at the boots complaint. Grew up playing in the US. Played in college. We call them boots too.

    2. Not only is Harkes a douchbag, he’s also a motherf**ker , just ask
      Eric Wynalda. Wynalda was much more interesting than Harkes anyway.
      Just ask Harkes about team rapport and team commitment.

  18. I stopped reading after “One of my favorite announcers was John Madden.” You lost all credibility with that gem.

      1. Don’t get me wrong, Harkes is terrible! BOOM! But so are you if you want a “John Madden” type replacement. BOOM!

        1. I see Madden as a down to earth type of guy. Nothing phony about him and the man has passion which I like. To each their own.

  19. I went to the San Jose vs New York game in Palo Alto last month and I remember when they replayed the game on TV, he said exactly how Lenhart’s goal was more Tim Ream’s mistake, even though Ream was near Lenhart. That guy is not suitable for announcing professional, mainstream games.

    1. Harkes is plain awful. He talks over/ignores critical game action and he completely ignores skillful plays and or moves — for him it’s all tactics and formations. If the pertinent game is being broadcast on a Spanish station I switch to that to get the crowd noises. Someone should stuff a sock in his mouth and just pull it out once or twice a game.

  20. Allow me to disagree. Is Harkes the best color guy we got here? No. I prefer the outloud passion of Hudson, and the Martino is growing excellent in that role.

    But I don’t find Harkes to be overly egotistical. I can’t recall a game where he came out and said how much better he was then everybody on the field. That seems like the author is extrapolating something from between the lines to justify his own dislike of Harkes.

    You want bad? Listen to some of the regional guys out there. The San Jose color guy sucks. Just about anybody on a Rapids broadcast sucks.

    Harkes has knowledge of the game. Yes, maybe he over-uses the English terms. But don’t forget he had a very good career in England. Nothing wrong with that sticking in his head.

  21. Harkes is awful, and the head apologist for the Bradley family. You are absolutely right in that all he does is bleach the passion out of the game. He is a bitter little peacock. The problem is that he is the only guy from that generation with real depth in playing experience, a facsimile of a personality, and more than an iota of corporate savvy.

    I wish Dunseth could get a chance in the booth, because he is great from the touch line, and on radio. I like Twellman as well, and Alexi always brings the passion. We will probably be searching for the definitive American Voice for a little bit more, although I think Conrad or Bocanegra could grab the job and make it theirs when they retire.

  22. Anyone with ears has to agree that Harkes is terrible. In a
    profession dominated by arrogant pr*cks, he dwarfs them all. That
    said, it’s odd for you to call him out for using the word “boots.”
    Even in America, the term boots is the most common among soccer
    circles. Many people also say cleats, but no one, repeat NO ONE,
    calls them “soccer shoes.” No one writing on a soccer blog should
    make that mistake.

  23. Soccer in the US is gaining momentum, Harkes is not helping. He
    flat out sucks. I was just watching the Red Bulls v. Phila game,
    and Harkes was so over the top annoying that I tried to find a
    forum to post a gripe to. He’s a self-absorbed throwback from an
    era of utterly bland soccer. His inflection and over-pronunciation
    of Spanish and Mexican names makes me want to punch a wall. I can
    deal with the “onion bag”, but not this douche bag.

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