By Paul Gardner
Presumably, Tottenham is already out of the Champions league. That 4-0 loss to Real Madrid makes the return game something of a non-event -- certainly a shame for Spurs' fans, and for those of us who might have been looking forward to a rousing decider.
A shame, yes ... but a tragedy? I ask after listening to the Brit television commentary that we were forced to put up with during the game. I have had plenty to say recently about the way that American television foists these Brit commentators on us -- specifically the way that ESPN has snubbed American talent and has turned itself into the English Soccer Promotional Network.
But this time it was Fox Soccer Channel. There is the glimmer of a slight extenuating circumstance here -- for, no doubt, FSC was picking up a British feed designed for British audiences. I would like to know why they do that, though I can probably guess the reason.
Whatever. On the Fox telecast we got two very experienced guys: play-by-play guy Alan Parry, who has been a soccer commentator for over 30 years, and analyst Ray Wilkins, a former player with Chelsea, Manchester United and AC Milan, with 84 appearances for England. And the result of all that knowledge and experience was quite the worst, the most biased, television commentary I have heard in decades, probably the worst ever.
There will be Spurs fans listening in the States, of course there will. But there will also be plenty of Real fans, and plenty of others just wanting to enjoy a good game between two top teams.
Yet this commentary was drenched in mawkish sympathy for Spurs, from start to finish. As the game started we had Wilkins inciting Spurs to “have a go at them,” Gareth Bale should run at Sergio Ramos, while Parry chimed in, speculating that Real could be afraid of Peter Crouch’s “skill on the ground and power in the air.” Parry, surely aware that this was overkill, then mentioned the likely excuse, should things go wrong, pointing out that Spurs were “at full stretch” because of all the injured players not available.
Alas for the Parry-Wilkins duo, things started to go wrong very quickly. Real took the lead after just four minutes. Never mind -- it was all about Spurs, anyway. I quote: “That was the last thing Tottenham needed at this moment in time,” said Wilkins. Really? And “at this moment in time,” which can be reduced to one word -- “now.” Not to worry -- Spurs have the ability to come back, they need to keep calm and start passing the ball, to keep the ball, to maintain possession ... and so on, with Wilkins offering kindly advice to Spurs. He was quickly into what ought to be a screaming no-no for any serious commentator -- he was using “we” to refer to Tottenham, and “they” for Real Madrid. Appalling.
Things, you felt, would have to get atrociously bad for a word of criticism against Spurs to be uttered. Things got that bad. Crouch slid in, twice, crudely, within the space of seven minutes, and got himself ejected 14 minutes into the game. “Poor challenge” said Ray, of the first yellow, then a first-name admonition on the second yellow, “You can’t do it, Peter.” Shortly after that, we got Wilkins as the Spurs cheer leader, urging Bale on, “Go, Gareth, go!” Next, we got Real’s Ronaldo going down under a challenge from Sandro -- the ref waved play on, “Excellent, referee, well done,” enthused Wilkins. That “Well done!” kept returning, Well done Tottenham, Well done Michael (Dawson), Well played Gomez (the Spurs goalkeeper) and on it went.
On the half-four mark, it was Wilkins’ opinion that “We’ve got to get Bale into the game ...” but when Bale hit an awful pass to no one, there was total silence from both Parry and Wilkins. A hand ball by Dawson in the Spurs area was waved off by the referee -- “Good refereeing” said Wilkins, before seeing the replay and admitting that it should have been a PK.
That worried Wilkins so much that he came up with an appeal to the almighty: “Please God one of these Tottenham guys doesn’t go to ground and makes a challenge or there’s a hand ball, because the next one willbe a penalty kick.”
Just before halftime, Wilkins was suddenly struck (or maybe his director told him) that all this “We” stuff needed an explanation -- “I say “We” as an Englishman,” he announced. Passing over the fact that the Tottenham lineup included only three English players, Wilkins plowed on, “We need to get to halftime and we need to get there at one-zero.”
“We” did. Wilkins was slightly better, a bit less of a Spurs fan, in the second half. Did someone tell him to cool it? But we still got the “Well done, Tottenham,” and the “Well done, Jermain” comments. Plus a grudging admiration for Real’s third goal -- “A wonderful goal -- but given away by Tottenham.”
Every so often Wilkins reminded us that Real is a great team -- thanks, Ray -- but the tear-jerking sorrow at Tottenham’s downfall went on -- “Such a great shame, Peter being sent off so early,” and then three times in quick succession, each time with added emphasis, “Tottenham do not deserve to be four-nil down ... do not deserve ... do not deserve ... they’ve worked so hard. I’m convinced that if Peter would have stayed on the pitch, Tottenham would have scored and not been beaten four-nil tonight, maybe 2-1, maybe 3-1.”
Well, maybe. But the point is that, by the time Wilkins made that remark near the end of the game, he’d lost all credibility and revealed himself as nothing better than the most crass of homers.
Alan Parry may not have been as biased as Wilkins, but his blithe insensitivity to pronouncing foreign names correctly takes some beating. Sergio Ramos suffered most, with the first name being pronounced as though it were Italian, and the second coming over as “Ra-MOSS.” Kaka appeared later as “Kacker,” then “Kackar,” a slight improvement. Angel Di Maria’s first name gave Parry a problem -- even while an on-screen graphic was clearly showing the name with an obvious accent on the first syllable, Parry was stressing the second syllable, calling him An-HELL.
Worse was to come, much worse. Throughout, Parry had been mispronouncing the stadium name, calling the Bernabeu the Burn-a-bow -- how anyone can take a word ending with the letters “eu” and make it rhyme with “cow” is quite beyond me. But this is not just a stadium name - this is the name of Santiago Bernabeu, one of the greatest men in soccer history, a legendary name. And Parry can’t bother to get it right.
Actually, such is the depth of Parry’s ignorance, that he seems to believe his mangled version is the correct one! After yet another rendition of Burn-a-bow, Parry added, “Or Burn-a-bay-you, as they call it here in the Spanish capital.” Right, Alan -- what the hell would the Spanish know about pronouncing their own language, eh? -- the hell with them, you just go on calling it the Burn-a-bow.
After 90-plus minutes of Brit ignorance and arrogance and maudlin moaning for the woes of poor Tottenham, Parry signed off with this: “A devastatingly disappointing night for Tottenham from start to finish. And now Tottenham have surely seen the end of their European adventure.”
Real had won the game, had scored four goals, one of them a magnificent shot from Di Maria. Not a mention. In the Parry-Wilkins script, the game was all about The Tragedy of Tottenham.