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Move over David Pleat – football broadcasting has a new figure of fun

April 6, 2011

Now they are hidden away on TalkSport, it’s easy to forget about Richard Keys and Andy Gray. Keys has been replaced without alarm. The likes of Ed Chamberlain, David Jones and Jeff Stelling have slotted effortlessly into the role of fronting live coverage of the biggest games, adding a degree of freshness to a distinctly stale studio environment. Gray’s shoes have proved a tad harder to fill. Since his sacking, Sky have shuffled their batch of co-commentators, bringing in new faces, such as Kevin Phillips and Sam Allardyce as well as giving further opportunities to the likes of Alan McInally and Ray Wilkins.

Ah yes, Ray Wilkins. Rather a lot of people have been talking (or tweeting, if the two are not synonymous these days) about him recently. For some of us, the bald Londoner will always remain part of the memory that is Football Italia on Channel 4. Since Gray shuffled off to radio, Wilkins has had several opportunities to fill the Scot’s shoes, and having seemingly put in a decent shift he was asked to do the job at the Bernabéu on Tuesday night.

An early red card for Peter Crouch meant the home side would play the majority of the match with a man advantage. Most people suspected Real would have little trouble in rubbing North London noses in the dirt, and so it proved. But anyone fearful of the game becoming less of a spectacle need not have worried, for Wilkins’s interjections provided a helpful distraction from Tottenham’s travails.

It is hard to identify the most noteworthy aspect of Wilkins’s commentary. Was it the propensity to state the bleedin’ obvious? It is an affliction amongst co-commentators not unique to Wilkins, but one from which he does not hide his suffering. It was also possibly the constant references to “we” and “us” (a turn of phrase annoying enough in its own right and rather odd for a man who can count Spurs amongst the few London clubs he has not worked for). Or could it have been the failure to recognise the gulf in class between the two sides? Tottenham defended “stoically” and were unlucky to lose by four, apparently.

Perhaps it was the way in which he commentated as though speaking directly to the players. A part of Wilkins probably still yearns for the days of barking instructions from the touchline whilst donned in a tracksuit, and he appeared to be trying manfully to combine the roles of coach and commentator. One suspects he would have been equally at home in many pubs however, standing imposingly at the bar with a pint of Carling, bellowing at the players on the TV screen to “stay on your feet”. When he wasn’t filling this role, he was the matter-of-fact seen-it-all-before bloke nearby, telling anyone who’d listen that “it will be hot at White Hart Lane” in the return leg. Not since David Pleat’s last outing behind the mic had viewers had been treated to such amusingly random comments. A lie-down might not have been a bad idea, but on this evidence of his commentary, I think we know what Wilkins would have preferred to do.

It should be noted that there was more than one ex-footballer unintentionally offering amusement in Madrid. Alongside Stelling and Glenn Hoddle, Jamie Redknapp did admirably well to avoid criticising any aspect of Tottenham’s play. If you are wondering why that may have been the case, one particular post-match comment should shed some light on the situation. “I know my dad very well,” he claimed, when asked a question about the Spurs manager. Clearly this was a man who refused to be outdone in a contest of stating the obvious.

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