Saturday night not all right as Davies departs

The man who became the voice of 'Match of the Day' tells Brian Viner why it is time to put down the mike
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The Independent Football

It began in black and white on 9 August 1969, with Crystal Palace vs Manchester United; it is ending today in glorious technicolour, with Manchester City vs Arsenal.

It began in black and white on 9 August 1969, with Crystal Palace vs Manchester United; it is ending today in glorious technicolour, with Manchester City vs Arsenal.

For more than 35 years, Barry Davies has been, if not the voice, then certainly the most urbane voice of the BBC's football coverage. And before that he worked as a commentator for ITV. Indeed, to paraphrase a cute advertising slogan, 1966 was a great year for English football: Barry Davies gave his first commentary. It was a European tie between Chelsea and AC Milan, and he had Jimmy Greaves, who had played for both clubs, as his sidekick.

But it is Match of the Day with which Davies is most strongly associated, and which he is leaving because, as he elegantly puts it: "There is a time to leave the party before you are invited to go. And I think it is better to be asked why you are retiring, than when."

He is not, he hastens to add, retiring as a broadcaster. We will still hear him enthusing about cross-court backhands and double pike dismounts, to say nothing of women in mermaid costumes doing improbable things with hula hoops, or whatever the organisers of future opening ceremonies of sporting events cook up for us. Davies imbues opening ceremonies with a gravitas they do not always deserve.

It is the breadth of his repertoire, in fact, which has perhaps prevented Davies, who turns 67 next month, from getting his rightful share of top football matches. He has covered 10 World Cups, a record, and some unforgettable games, including the "Hand of God" quarter-final in 1986 ("you have to say that's magnificent" is forever destined to be the soundtrack to Maradona's second goal). But he took the microphone for only one final, between Brazil and Italy in 1994. And bagged only two FA Cup finals.

Moreover, he was not given any England games during Euro 2004, and, choosing his words carefully, says that he is leaving the football arena "having had an opportunity to do some big matches over the years, and knowing that the opportunity is not there any more".

Still, as the proud father of two high-achieving children - son Mark is the managing director of Betfair.com, daughter Gisele the International Olympic Committee's communications director - Davies knows that young talent must have its day. Where he gets just a little Victor Meldrewish is with the non-stop talking in the TV commentary box these days, and with the jingoism of some commentators during England matches. When I asked him yesterday to name the biggest change in his profession since 1966, he ventured that "the producers who produced then would now be shouting 'shut up' much of the time".

Of course, there are those who have willed Davies himself to shut up. Like all commentators, he has had his critics. But just as there are leg men and breast men (I refer, of course, to which part of the roast chicken they prefer), so there are John Motson men and Barry Davies men. And, I don't doubt, women.

Much as I enjoy the odd burst of Motty, I am unequivocally a Davies man and will watch Match of the Day tonight with a glistening eye. Arsenal fans, on the other hand, can watch in a stew of indignation, for Davies confessed to me yesterday, after 38 years of having to conceal his own affiliations, that he is a lifelong supporter of ... Tottenham Hotspur.

Barry Davies' Football Memories

Best match

"The 3-3 draw between Manchester United and Oldham in the 1990 FA Cup semi-final."

Hardest match

"Undoubtedly the 1985 European Cup final at Heysel. I was on the air for four hours. I had to describe a riot, a tragedy and then a football match."

Best goal

"It has to be Paul Gascoigne's free-kick against Arsenal in the 1991 FA Cup semi-final, when I said: 'Is he going to have a go? He is, you know'."

Worst refereeing decision

"It wasn't actually a decision, but when Paolo di Canio pushed over the referee [Paul Alcock, refereeing Sheffield Wednesday against Arsenal in 1998], I did think that had the referee been a player, he would have been booked for diving."

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