Back to basics
Matthew Richardson thinks the taller posts makes the goals look skinnier.
Welcome to what passes for expert commentary in the AFL in 2012. If it ain’t skinny goals, it’s fat fingers, and that’s just dealing with some of the stuff Richo has brought up this year.
Some may say it’s become the local pastime to bash those who describe the game in the media, but where there is smoke, there’s the other thing.
Back to Richo. He’s a great bloke. That’s why he’s on television. You know what? Shane Crawford is a great bloke, and it’s why he’s also on television. However, Crawford doesn’t provide expert commentary on football on the TV; he acts the fool on The Footy Show and stays in Bed and Breakfasts around Victoria on Postcards. And it’s where he belongs.
Richo provides little insight into what is going on in the game. At their best, expert commentators either bring us a unique perspective on the play (think Malcolm Blight), or they tell us why what is happening is happening but showing us what we can’t see. How a defender takes out a key forward by ensuring body contact before the forward can run at the ball. Why a midfielder always starts in the same place at every stoppage. Stuff like that.
What we don’t particularly want to hear them talk about is, first and foremost, themselves.
You may retort that commentators have been larger-than-life characters in Australian Football since the game made its way onto television and before, and you’d be right. But Butch Gale never spoke about himself except to suggest to the audience that he was about to have a heart attack calling a close game. Same with Lou and the Chimp.
Now when you flick on to the footy, it’s often about the talent in the commentary box rather than in front of it. Saturday nights are particularly bad, with Richo’s discussion of Brian Taylor’s digits, to BT’s commitment to speaking all the time, regardless of moment in the match or subject matter.
If anything, Taylor needs to watch some soccer matches called by Martin Tyler, the best soccer caller in the business. If Taylor is Spector’s Wall of Sound, Tyler is the opposite, choosing to speak sparsely and let the action and crowd noise speak for themselves.
We know on Friday nights Bruce McAvaney gets excited, and it’s supposed to be event television. The thing that makes Friday Night Football most watchable is the oldest expert commentator on television right now: Leigh Matthews, who rarely speaks out of turn and provides insights into the football action that most viewers wouldn’t appreciated if not explained to him. Credit needs to go to Tom Harley; he’s a good foil for Matthews and is speaking less than his first two years in the box.
I had the misfortune of watching the comical introduction offered by Brett Kirk in the first edition of Saturday Afternoon Football. Combine his effort with a sub-par calling team (Hamish McLachlan & Basil Zempilas) and you can tell Channel 7 doesn’t take Saturday arvo seriously. Even Mick Malthouse sounds like he’d rather be somewhere else.
The interludes between quarters don’t offer much either. They bely the fact that people want to watch the football for the football; not for the back story of how a player got to the AFL, not to find out how a footballer met his fiance, not to see some band they’ve never heard of playing in front of the scoreboard at the Ponsford Stand end of the MCG.
Peter Landy once said that viewers wanted to know “what the score was, which way the teams were kicking, and who won the 4th at Flemington”. Landy is a product of a bygone era, but his style would probably be popular with today’s hard core footy fans. Landy was renowned for not getting in the way of the action or his colleagues (more often than not Lou Richards and Bob Skilton), while accurately conveying the excitement of league football. No one on the commentary landscape is anything like him any more, and it’s likely that there never will be, as networks like stars that are promotable across a number of demographics, and also like young expert commentators not long out of the game. With the possible exceptions of Nathan Buckley and Matthew Lloyd, these recent retirees have generally been disappointing. On the bright side, Tom Harley has proven that it is possible to break bad habits and get better at your craft.
Having said all that, there is one clear thing going for Channel 7: they don’t employ Dwayne Russell. Let’s hope it gets better as the season goes on.