British Ignorance, British Arrogance

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 will be 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.

22 comments about "British Ignorance, British Arrogance".
  1. John Munnell, April 7, 2011 at 8:27 a.m.

    Along with the many howlers mentioned were the many exhortations to "keep your feet" while defending. Tottenham earned great praise in one defensive sequence for such fine technique from Wilkins, talking over a replay showing defenders sliding into tackle after block. Not only were the comments biased and almost useless, I often wondered if he was watching the same game!

  2. Mark Edge, April 7, 2011 at 8:32 a.m.

    So the US don't have the on air talent to attract an audience. Most would have preferred to listen to it in Spanish, even if they don't speak it, rather than the constant drivel coming from the US commentary. Don't blame the Brits for that.
    The broadcast was directed at the UK audience, just as the Spanish commentary was partisan towards their audience.The UK have a primary responsibility to their own. If you choose to buy it overseas, you pay your money you take your chances. Can't wait to hear the US commentary on the Olympics this summer. Their commentary will be picked up all over the world, but I'm reasonably sure the American athletes will have the lion's share of the attention.

  3. Joe Shoulders, April 7, 2011 at 8:43 a.m.

    I was sure PG would write this one up! I watched this game and felt the same way. In fact, I switched to the Spanish language commentary because it was so irritating - and don't speak Spanish! I do understand a little soccer-spanish, but I would have preferred to hear some impartial English commentary. It was so bad that I thought FSC was picking the SpursTV feed. We can always count on PG call out the Brits out on their undeserved soccer arrogance.

  4. Soccer Innovations, April 7, 2011 at 9:11 a.m.

    RM completely outclassed their opponent in this one. It was quite impressive, 10 men or not I am afraid the result would have been similar. I have never seen a team of 10 at this level get outplayed so badly. The English commentators did not bother me as I figured by their accent who they would favor. Certainly some interesting comments, as mentioned above. Excellent defending? They were being pummeled and had 9 men defending! But look at RM's team...Unbelievable talent.

  5. Soccer Bloke, April 7, 2011 at 9:21 a.m.

    Of course Wilkins was biased. He admitted it during the game. He was speaking forBritish distribution. Not his fault Fox picked it up.

    But come on, it was refreshing to hear someone speaking his mind rather than the mindless prattle you get from MLS commentators.

  6. Albert Harris, April 7, 2011 at 9:24 a.m.

    I'm sure the Brit readers of the column will be plunging in shortly with their defense, but I have to admit that I was shocked at the lack of journalistic professionalism shown by the commentary, even by sports standards. As rightly pointed out, American coverage of the Olympics will focus on Americans so I'm not so much upset by the commentators seeing the match through UK eyes, but hearing we, us, and them is a bit of a no-no these days even in American broadcasting which prior to this I thought of as homerism personified. Bad show, chaps!

  7. Charles O'Cain, April 7, 2011 at 10:27 a.m.

    What would Mr Gardner have to write about if it weren't for the EPL and British football? I thought this was "Soccer America", but 8 of his last 15 columns have focused in some way on his country of origin, and even in the others there is usually some disparaging remark alluding to British influence on "American soccer". If he hates it so much, why does he pay it so much attention? Perhaps he can direct us to the knowledgable and articulate American commentator. Which league would His Eminency have us watch? Which would he prefer to watch? Why doesn't he write about that? We're all well aware of his antipathy toward the EPL, but it seems to be how he pays his bills. Does anyone in England give him the time of day? I doubt it.

  8. Bob Escobar, April 7, 2011 at 10:28 a.m.

    Very true Mr Gardner, I was lucky enough to switch it to a spanish speaking play-by-play. I happen to be a Barcelona fan, but also like Real Madrid when they play English team, with the exception of Manchester United (they tried and play good passing soccer year after year. and they do it because of Sir Ferguson...with young and older players). Tottenham was humiliated, mayme the injured players would've made a difference, maybe a little, but Real is a much better team, even with Mourinho coaching (I hate that prick). Wilkins and Parry should be neutral, for Christ sake most of the listeners are not from England and even less Tottenham fans. In the spanish speaking channel, the commentators are very neutral, if they see a good play by either team they mention it...and they definitely know the English names very well.

  9. lorenzo murillo, April 7, 2011 at 11:11 a.m.

    If you get Brits commentators they're gonna be biased. If you put on Justin TV and get a Spaniard channel, they will be biased. Remember there is a long history of politics and warfare between these two countries.

    If you get ESPN Deportes or Fox Deportes, it will be neutral, to an extent, we are after all, descendants of the mother country, Spain.

    Now lets move on the next big game, Barca - Real Madrid. This is the derby of the world, el super clasico, and we can live to tell our grandchildren we saw them play five times in one month...

  10. Carl Walther, April 7, 2011 at 11:43 a.m.

    Not only are Brit commentators so bad - worse they're boring. I can forgive a person for saying something stupid, but not for being a boring human being.

  11. David Sirias, April 7, 2011 at 12:05 p.m.

    Ok all has a been said above, but one thing to keep in mind, at least the Brit PBP guy calls out the names of the player having touches That is a peeve of mine. I grew up listening to Bob Miller call the Los Angeles Kings games. He could make a boring hockey game seem interesting by describing who was having touches of the puck. American soccer PBP guys should call games like Hockey is called, at least to some extent. It would really help. Ands yes, I am coming to hate Brit accents on telecasts, unless its Ray Hudson who everyone hates, but I love.

  12. John Soares, April 7, 2011 at 12:51 p.m.

    I thought they did a great job....
    Had it been a local High School game!

  13. Bill Koeppen, April 7, 2011 at 1:07 p.m.

    Mark Edge...your comment is absolutely priceless. I can tell you with 100% certainty that the US viewers' pre-game dialogue debating to watch or not watch goes like this..."Are you watching today's Champion's League match?"..."Not sure, who is the broadcast team?"..." It's Ray Wilkins and Alan Parry"..."Oooohh, can't wait to hear what they have to say, I'll tune in for sure! Ray's command of the language is so neat...don't you just love their accent?"

    Like the title of the article states...British Ignorance, British Arrogance.

  14. Chris Ogle, April 7, 2011 at 2:52 p.m.

    It's this kind of revolting bias that viewers of European soccer have to put up with on every network and website except GOL TV.ESPN uses British announcers during the broadcasts of Spanish football who are so smug and arrogant in their belief in British superiority,calling La Liga "Scotland in the sun." Unbelievable, equating the most successful and skillful league in Europe to miserable Scotland, not to mention the fact that Spain are current European and World champions,producing some of the best players in the world. It's the same during the WC broadcasts, ignorant Englishmen constantly talking about the EPL even though neither team is England.Can't they find non British announcers for non British games?

  15. Pj Bridgen, April 7, 2011 at 4:29 p.m.

    "British Ignorance, British Arrogance" - that's a laugh coming from someone who represents the country that calls it's national playoffs the WORLD Series!!!!!

  16. Andres Yturralde, April 7, 2011 at 4:43 p.m.

    I gotta show Paul some love: The man presents his case, breaks it down, and cites examples. I gotta respect that— even if I disagree a priori. And that’s because ignorant and arrogant bias comes out of all feeds— England and Spain, the USA and Mexico, Argentina and Brazil, etc, etc, etc. Good thing the market is much bigger and much smarter than all of that. All I gotta do is fill up my glass, hit the mute button, and enjoy the game as is. Because in my world, the good master told me, nothing can go wrong. To which I said: Yeah, especially if the score is going my way. Heck, at that point, all languages and all commentary sound beautiful to me.

  17. jordao jordao, April 7, 2011 at 5:23 p.m.

    @Andres, you say it right.
    Ideally, for the Real Madrid fans, we should be listening to it in Spanish. Maybe Paul should learn Spanish and widen out.
    Actually, Paul, you call them arrogant, but they are our cousins, and Americans are just as arrogant and ignorant. And you Paul, are a prime example of that.
    Perhaps you should focus on football, or call ESPN and Fox and keep the smug nationalistic stuff out of your column.
    Actually, never mind. I guess I can just switch your channel off (hit the mute).

  18. Richard Cheese, April 7, 2011 at 6:41 p.m.

    Gardner, you are so funny to have a go at the English not pronouncing foreign names correctly when the whole of America pronounces 50% of English words incorrectly. Attempts at Arsenal and Premier as in Premier League are always good for a laugh. And what about Christopher Sullivan going on about Manchester all the time yesterday, was he referring to City? Not getting the team's name right is also insulting! ,

  19. Loren C. Klein, April 7, 2011 at 8:57 p.m.

    "British Ignorance, British Arrogance" --since when does Paul talk about himself in this column?

  20. Harry Dieterich, April 8, 2011 at 5:14 p.m.

    I watched and thought the same thing... I couldn't believe my ears...

  21. Stevie G, April 9, 2011 at 10:54 a.m.

    Once again Gardner devotes his entire column to the match commentary. WHO CARES? Tell us something about the game.

    Why does SoccerAmerica continue to carry this pointless drivel?

  22. Brian Something, April 9, 2011 at 2:34 p.m.

    Exactly what American talent was being snubbed? Christopher "that open header from 3 yards out was a world class goal... WORLD CLASS!" Sullivan? Brian "I get paid by the word" Dunseth? JP "Let's chat about David Beckham's favorite brand of Kleenex while someone's scoring a goal" Dellacamera? John "I'll talk about all my old buddies instead of the match in question" Harkes?

    ESPN already has Glenn Davis who is good. And Greg Lalas, who is also excellent, isn't doing broadcasting at the moment. What other American talent is being snubbed?

    Yes, many English commentators are awful and even the good ones tend to have a bias toward robust soccer rather than the skilled version. But at least there's more than one good one.

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