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.
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”.