Sport on TV: Eddie in a league of his own until fans put the boot in
Sunday 12 September 2010
It's ironic that Super League should have adopted all its razzmatazz, with fireworks and booming pop songs and dancing girls, 20 years after 11,000 rugby league fans petitioned the BBC to remove Eddie Waring from the commentary box because they thought his showmanship denigrated the gritty northern game.
It was because they couldn't see the difference between his rugby rantings and his It's a Knockout ravings. Some of them signed their names in blood, but there would be no substitute for Eddie. League may now have picked up the sponsor's ball and run with it, but it's no longer the mainstay of Saturday afternoon viewing. Like the fat men in tights who cavorted on ITV, they've gone to the happy grunting ground in the Sky and all but disappeared from view.
Eddie Waring – Mr Rugby League (BBC4, Tuesday) showed he could be very wearing at times. But like a prop forward covered in mud, league fans could not see the guiding force behind the game's progress, always pushing, pushing... No doubt Waring was pushy but this was the man who brought baseball, tractor-racing and Cossack dancing to West Yorkshire. It was enthusiasm on a grand scale, and rugby league might have been grateful that he concentrated most of his remarkable energies in that field.
From the Queens Hotel in Leeds, he almost ran the game single-handed, striking contractual deals for the players while fulfilling all the media commitments – and no doubt letting the players empty his minibar. No wonder the BBC backed him; they would have been deep in the league mire if he had checked out.
Apart from his expertise, there's the quality of his delivery. His nephew Harry confided that Eddie received a letter from a "lady" who said that his "commentary was just like an orgasm". Now that sounds like quite an achievement.
So what if he drifted into caricature at times? Few people pilloried Brian Johnston for sounding absurdly public-schooly on Test Match Special, or decried Murray Walker for actually sounding like a Formula One car. Waring may have accentuated his northern-ness but you might say that he was glorifying his roots where others couldn't see the wood for the trees.
His nephew said Eddie's attitude to his viewers was that "he felt like he should act in a polite and courteous manner, as if he was walking through their front door". What a shame that so many saw fit to slam it in his face.
Talking of polite pundits... One of the most popular these days is John McEnroe, the former enfant terrible of tennis. Few could have foreseen that while he was yelling at umpires. As the comedian observed on Alan Davies – Teenage Revolution (Channel 4, Thursday), in the 1980s McEnroe "just drove my dad bonkers, he was a bad man, possibly evil, and should be thrown out". His father said: "He typified everything that was wrong about youth attitudes to the establishment." Jeff Tarango, another harangue artist, is also part of the BBC establishment's coverage of Wimbledon. Can we look forward to unrivalled analysis from Wayne Rooney in 30 years' time? Probably not, but he might be asked on to one of those daytime agony shows. No doubt it will be hosted by Coleen.
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