Why Many Americans Will Miss Ian Darke’s EPL Commentaries on ESPN

Landon Donovan’s stoppage time goal against Algeria in the 2010 World Cup was fateful in many, many ways. One of the most tangible consequences? It kickstarted the Ian Darke phenomenon.

In 2010, Darke was one of UK’s lead soccer and boxing announcers. After ESPN’s commentary debacle in the 2006 World Cup, featuring Dave O’Brien – the equivalent of Gus Johnson minus the enthusiasm – as the companies’ lead announcer, ESPN decided to bring in British announcers to commentate on the World Cup in South Africa.

Martin Tyler was the star. Heralded as a soccer messiah, a grizzled, timeless voice of British soccer and the World Cup, Tyler was promoted, given commercials to promote the tournament, and made lead announcer.

Very few people in American’s mainstream had ever heard of Ian Darke. That would change very quickly. Tyler, who deserved the plaudits, was assigned to call the USA’s first game against England, but after that, the Americans played two relatively low-profile games against Slovenia and Algeria.

You know what happened next. Darke’s commentary on two of the most exciting and intense games captivated America. The culmination was Donovan’s goal against Algeria, which was met with an iconic call from Darke, so full of energy, wonder and joy, it was almost impossible to believe Darke, who hails from Portsmouth, wasn’t an American.

As the play, and accompanying call went viral, Darke’s star grew in the United States. By the time he branded Giovanni Van Bronkhorst’s wonder-goal for the Netherlands against Uruguay in the semi-finals an “absolute firecracker,” Darke’s rise as a cult figure in America was quickly growing too.

Darke was, almost on accident, the voice of US Soccer. With ESPN needing a permanent man to head up its newly-acquired Premier League coverage, and Darke stuck behind Tyler at Sky, the Englishman was an obvious choice. The country was in love.

Darke’s style of commentary is perfectly suited to America. While Martin Tyler and many commentators like him are cerebral, calm, and often detached, Darke is excitable, loud, and involved in the game. That isn’t to say Darke doesn’t have the vocabulary and panache of all the great British soccer announcers – he does – but he also exhilarates the match he is calling.

MORE — Ian Darke & Steve McManaman Join BT Sport’s EPL Coverage Beginning With 2013-14 Season.

Americans like passionate announcers. Gus Johnson, for example. It was Darke’s ability to combine that enthusiasm with his ability to weave a narrative like he was writing poetry that set him apart from all his counterparts in the country. Marv Albert’s signature call is “Yes!”, Darke described Spain’s passing in the final of Euro 2012 as the team “caressing the ball across the pitch”.

In their three years as the voice of the Premier League in America, Darke, and commentary partner Steve McManaman have become beloved, cultish figures.

So many American soccer fans woke up early on Saturday mornings with Darke and Macca, not because they were calling the biggest game of the weekend, but because that was tradition.

Darke must be slightly bewildered by the love and adoration he receives in the United States – after all, he never was so cherished in his homeland. But Darke’s career path in the US has been closely accompanied by the growth of the Premier League in the States.

For many people, especially those who don’t have FOX Soccer, Darke was the voice, the only voice of the Premier League. Without the success of the EPL on ESPN, it’s possible that NBC’s record-breaking deal to show the Premier League starting in August never would have happened.

Darke and Macca were the stars of those ESPN broadcasts. Many people would watch just to hear them. That’s the Gus Johnson Effect that FOX has been lusting after. A broadcaster so compelling and appealing that people would tune in just to hear him.

NBC’s Premier League coverage promises to be groundbreaking and outstanding, but there is nowhere to go down but down on the match commentary. Arlo White is qualified, but he’s no Darke. ESPN’s coverage of the world’s most popular league will be missed.

Of course, everyone’s favorite Brit will still be heard on American airwaves from time to time. He’ll still be covering the USA national team – who he has seemingly given mind-boggling luck to since the 2010 World Cup – the Confederations Cup this summer, and the World Cup in 2014. Tyler will also be back for that tournament. It will be interesting to see who calls the final.

Soccer in America, most of all the Premier League, is growing very quickly. Maybe Donovan’s goal was fated in more ways than one. Because when we think about the fathers of the Premier League in America, Darke springs to mind. He narrated beautifully, and put himself on the Rushmore of Soccer in America.

29 thoughts on “Why Many Americans Will Miss Ian Darke’s EPL Commentaries on ESPN”

  1. I wasn’t a huge fan of his when he started, I just knew he was a commentator. He showed very quickly that he’s one of the best. He knows when to let the game speak for itself, he works well with whoever they pair him in the both with, and he knows how to “call” big moments in a match.

  2. The expression is “by accident” not “on accident”. One does something “on purpose” or “by accident”.

      1. Recall that NBC has a production partnership with BT Sport.

        Because Arlo White can only call one match each day (with the exception of some Saturdays on which he can call both the 1245 and 1730 London Time matches if both matches were in the same city), NBC Sports Network can take commentary from BT Sport, especially for the Saturday 1245 London Time matches, saving Arlo White for the 1730 London Time matches (which will be on NBC free to air.)

        1. NBC is not planning on using the BT Sport feed. They’ve said they’re planning on using the international feed when they don’t have their commentators at the ground.

          The Gaffer

  3. Major compliments to Abe Asher for his writing. This was a well-organized, informative piece. That Abe is still in high school makes the story even more remarkable. Well, done Abe!
    I am one of millions of Yanks who will greatly miss Ian Darke and to a lesser extent Macca. Here in San Diego, there were many 0430 wake-up calls for PL games–the early hour made more tolerable by the exquisite play-by-play and commentating by Ian. I particularly enjoyed his pregame feature when he was on the street outside the venues.
    He never lets himself get in front of the game he is calling; however, he has a glorious gift of bringing smiles to my face as I listen to his delightful word pictures of the beautiful game.
    He has a natural, understated sense of humor and other than showing great respect for the game, does not take himself too seriously .
    My only complaint with Abe Asher’s observations is that Martin Tyler has clearly seen and called his better days. He may have been at the top of his profession, however, he has regressed into nasal mumbling that is almost indecipherable. With that said, I will take him any day over the curse of football broadcasting, the wretched Gus FIRES!!!! Johnson.
    I, too, wish that somehow Ian Darke could be salvaged for PL games for those of us in America. I am thankful that we have him on ESPN for international matches, but it is not enough.
    I have grave doubts about the quality of announcing that awaits us on NBC August 18. There should be a rule of thumb and that is, if you don’t have a British accent, do not apply for the job.
    Thank you, Ian Darke for the many hours of pleasure you gave to those of us in the colonies.

      1. Gaffer,
        Thanks for the quick response.
        I had seen the piece you referenced. Some of the things that concern me in addition to not having the wonderful voices of Jon Champion, Alan Parry, Peter Drury, etc. include the uncertainty that all of NBC’s channels will be picked up by my cable provider in San Diego, Time-Warner.
        I had FSC (805) in the sports package and Fox Soccer Plus (804) as a premium, but when I contacted Time Warner, the customer service rep was not sure about all the NBC channels mentioned in the link above. She said Time Warner would “do their best to meet customer requests.” Right.
        For two years, those of us in San Diego on Time Warner have been unable to watch any of the San Diego Padres baseball games, home or away. Unbelievable for a major league team in a market this size to have a huge segment of the TV audience out of the loop. Of course, that is baseball and hardly my passion–but it tells you something about Time Warner.
        I wish I had your positive feelings about what is ahead.

        I really enjoy your website. I do a blog for ESPNFC, so I especially appreciate all that you put into your endeavor.

        1. John, no worries, we will have the voices of Drury, Champion, Parry, Tyler and company. NBC will use their own English commentators on 2-3 matches a weekend, and then we’ll have 7-8 of them featuring the native commentators via the international feed we’re all so used to hearing.

          Read this article to find out what you need to tell Time Warner: http://epltalk.com/2013/04/23/want-access-to-all-of-nbcs-epl-coverage-its-time-to-take-action/

          If Time-Warner won’t give you what you need, it’s time to tell them that you plan on switching TV providers. They need to get the picture.

          Thanks for the kind words John.

          The Gaffer

          1. Gaffer,
            I hope you are correct. Here is an email that I just sent to TW, minus my phone number and e-mail address:
            Dear Jeff,

            I am greatly concerned about NBC’s upcoming coverage of EPL games and Time Warner providing those games to the San Diego market.

            Please know how important it is to me and thousands of others in San Diego that we receive NBC Sports Live Extra and Premier League Extra.

            I recently called one of your customer service reps and she was not quiet clear that you would have all the NBC channels in a sports package. I am willing to pay extra to make sure I get every PL game.

            While baseball is a minor concern of mine, it troubles me that Time Warner is in its second year of not providing TV coverage of Padres games. That is unbelievable in a market this size. Surely Cox Cable is not in a better financial position than TW to explain why they carry the games.

            That being said, the Padres are a take-it-or-leave-it with me, but that is not the case with English Premier League Football.

            Don’t force me to consider other alternatives.

  4. Ian Darke was the best commentator on TV. He always had a neutral view on everything and had great insight from both teams when playing. Also, Macca was a great partner as well. Calling the game as it is! They will be missed!

  5. I love Ian Darke, best commentator around. Most sky sports commentators are so un-excitable. Sky sports need Ian Darke for football not boxing!!!!

  6. I liked Darke before he got ESPNized. Now he’s too much Gus Johnson for me. Too much yuk yukking with Macca. A “just the facts, ma’am” approach is what I’ve come to appreciate about the presentation of Premier League matches and come to loathe about the Jeff Van Gundys and Gus Johnsons and Chris Collinsworths of the world. Darke changed after being infected with the ESPN virus and while that may have made him appeal to more Americans, hmph – I didn’t like it. I understand I’m definitely in the minority.

    I used to dread Arsenal games ending up on ESPN. They mentioned Robin Van Persie on almost every broadcast this year. Maybe that’s the producer and not Darke, but either way I preferred games on Fox and just muted the halftime.

  7. FYI Abe Asher:

    I understand from a very reliable source that Martin Tyler is under contract to call the 2014 World Cup Final for ESPN U.S.

    Presumably Ian Darke will call two (or three) round of 16 matches, one (or two) quarterfinal(s), one semifinal, and all the matches involving the U.S.

    Don’t know whether Derek Rae will be back to call matches on ESPN U.S., as his deal with ESPN UK will soon expire and he presumably is headed to BT Sport to call SPL matches.

  8. Please don’t compare knowledgeable commentary about football(soccer)by Ian Darke,Martin Tyler….and Gus Johnson yelling and apparently reading cue cards about USELESS stats.
    I muted any games that Gus Johnson was working and accesses Talksport UK for their informed commentary
    Nonetheless John Motson where are you?!!!?

  9. Gaffer,
    Can you also make sure David “Rambling” Pleat is never heard from again as a co-commentator….HAHA

    One serious suggestion for a co-commentator,maybe for one game,how about a former Premier League Referee(Graham Poll,Dermot Gallagher)with Arlo White to provide feedback about decisions,the new goal line technology and any new laws or updated laws of the game.
    Instead of questioning or rambling by David Pleat.
    Cheers Gaffer…off to my Boddingtons

  10. I hope NBC has been reading these letters from all the sport forums that have been very pro Darke. The man is a sensation and a huge benefit to the game of football. They need to get Darke back at some point.

  11. I will miss Darke and Macca a lot. Their chemistry was perfect. I loved listening to them before, during, and after matches. I thought Macca was hilarious–especially if you’re familiar with the Premier League’s history in 1990’s and 2000’s. Wish them both the best and that somehow I’ll get to hear them together again some day.

  12. The gus effect that Fox lusted after fired in reverse. People turn off the matches to NOT hear that self involved twit. Fox gets what they deserve for shoving that imbecile down our throats.

  13. a sad morning 8/17/13. can’t even get nbc streaming with my verizon dsl package, they don’t have fios in my area. is there any way to pay a few pounds to stream bt in the U.S.? i’ll pay for ian and macca!

  14. I was wondering why I was not enjoying watching the EPL games as much as I used to, even though I am a soccer fanatic. Suddenly it came to me that I was seriously missing Ian Darke and Steve McManaman. I find I am doing something else while I lift my eyes now and then to watch the games. The commentary never penetrates my consciousness anymore. So sad. Ian’s commentary was fair and insightful, sprinkled with knowledge gleaned over the years, and Steve pulled no punches, just told it like it was. The two of them together were the perfect blend. I hope I will get to enjoy their commentary at some time again. Til then, I wish the best to both of them.

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