41. QATAR, NOVEMBER - A PODIUM FOR BLOOPER RIGHTS?
The World Cup has arrived, a tournament that is so high on hype, it provides a temporary and perhaps convenient smoke screen for all the ills in the world - war, conflict, recession, human rights. But it also allows us, lest we forget, to luxuriate in a gush of commentary and quotes that sometimes makes a comedy caper of language. So, whether or not the visual spectacle of the football lives up to expectations, we can be assured that what we hear may have us rolling around the floor with laughter.
Mute the mic!
Back in July last year, Josh wrote a blog about the language of football clichés. This blog considers the kinds of funnies we are likely to come across when our expert pundits, more often than not ex high-profile professional footballers, are invited to share their views with a microphone in the vicinity of their mouths. Let's begin with a typical take on the grammar of the tense, often by but not restricted to the usage employed by an ex-international often Scottish, footballers, no names mentioned:
"I think Christian Pulisic should have went for it. He was looking to go down for a penalty."
I suppose the danger of this is that the indiscriminate listener adopts this same grammar because it comes from the mouth of an 'expert'. Neither can the expert disguise his or her shortcomings when taking the pen rather than the mic as the medium:
"I questioned recently whether Erik Ten Hag had what it takes to manage Manchester United and I was scathing about the performance of Lisandro Martinez against Brentford. Well, both came up trumps against Liverpool. Ten Hag showed real metal to leave out Harry Maguire and Cristiano Ronaldo and instead invested in youth, while Martinez looked like a centre-back who had finally come to terms with the physicality of the Premier League."
The danger in copying heroes
It's one thing for the pundit to misspell, it's another for the editor not to notice the error. Language experts even suggest that on-air and on-paper howlers and mangling of the English language are having a serious impact on the way schoolchildren speak. Blunders such as: "He's went down the wing," and "The boy done well," have been ruled offside by researchers studying the effect of TV and radio dialogue on youngsters. Of course, the experience of watching or listening to a match can be enriched by the 'colour' of authenticity - "At this moment in time, the game's no going according to plan" - but language experts at Glasgow University are probing the extent to which children's grammar and speech is influenced by their TV and sporting heroes. They are using recordings of hundreds of children's voices to study how their accents and phrasing change when they are regularly exposed to soaps and other popular TV and radio programmes. Researcher Claire Timmins, an ESRC fellow at Glasgow University, said: "It's extremely likely that children's grammar is influenced by poor use of language by football pundits on the box and radio." However, a BBC Scotland spokesman was unrepentant about the verbal failings of their football experts. He said: "We hire our pundits and commentators to guide listeners and viewers through a football match, not to give classroom lectures on grammar. It is a difficult task commentating on a live game and not everything everyone says is grammatically correct." Point taken, I suppose.
Too funny to be true?
But let's turn from analysis to take a look at the humour of some of the more infamous quotes, either by footballers or about football. Here's my top ten - see if you can spot the anomaly:
- "I definitely want Brooklyn to be christened, but I don't know into what religion yet." (David Beckham)
- When asked by an interviewer: "Would it be fair to describe you as a volatile player?" Beckham replies: "Well, I can play in the centre, on the right and occasionally on the left side."
- "He dribbles a lot, and the opposition don't like it - you can see it all over their faces." (Ron Atkinson)
- "I couldn't settle in Italy. It was like living in a foreign country." (Ian Rush)
- "We must have had 99 percent of the match. It was the other three percent that cost us." (Ruud Gullit)
- "If you don't believe you can win, there is no point in getting out of bed at the end of the day." (Neville Southall)
- "I can see the carrot at the end of the tunnel." (Stuart Pearce)
- "I'd like to play for an Italian club, like Barcelona." (Mark Draper)
- "For those of you watching in black and white, Spurs are in the all-yellow strip." (John Motson)
- "I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars. The rest I just squandered." (George Best)
The last quote is pure indulgence on my part. Even on the football pitch this Irish genius had his tongue in his cheek - he certainly put many of his opponents entertainingly (for the spectator at least) on the back foot or backside! You don't come across his laissez-faire and somewhat brutal style much these days.
Will we get any classic bloopers this time around in Qatar? I, for one, will be watching and listening closely. And, by the way, for aficionados of sporting commentary bloopers, take a look at the commentary king himself, the late David Coleman's best 'Colemanballs'.