Sport on Radio: Jaundiced shades of Green obscure the picture
Saturday 03 May 2008
What are radio football commentators for? To put the world to rights, fearlessly exposing the sick, dark heart of our national sport? To rage against the essential amorality of human nature? Or – radical idea, this – to tell the listener what's happening on the pitch?
I only ask because, finally, Alan Green has got to me. He's always been, shall we say, a trifle gobby, but over the years he's gradually morphed into the Victor Meldrew of Radio 5. Or Ian Paisley. Like his fellow Ulsterman, Green doesn't speak so much as thunder from on high. He seems incapable of making a simple statement of fact – every observation is filtered through the kaleidoscope of his mordant opinions. It's like having a hanging judge in the commentary box.
Arguably, comment and editorialising sit more easily on TV, where you can see for yourself what's going on, with commentators liberated from straightforward narrative to deliver opinions and judgements (though they tend to leave that to the summariser). On radio, they have no such freedom: they are there to describe the action. But compare Green with his R5 colleague Mike Ingham, whose commentaries are models of crisp observation.
It's not that I particularly disagree with Green, whose nostrils must be permanently aquiver in a fog of anger. I share his moral stance on football's iniquities. But his moral stance is beside the point. I want to know if someone's won a "soft" penalty with a minute to go; but I'm not remotely interested in Green's disgust at aspects of the modern game.
Just one example from the last week: when the referee blew for offside during the Man Utd v Barcelona game, the Barça coach, Frank Rijkaard, was irate. Green, watching the replay, could see the decision was correct.
But he's not capable of simply reporting that fact. Instead, he crows about it: "It was offside – you're wrong, Frank!" It's that "You're wrong, Frank!" spat out in a triumphalist sneer, that nearly saw my radio hurled against the kitchen wall.
His motormouth has got him in trouble before, of course. In 2004 he had his wrists slapped by Ofcom, the broadcasting standards watchdog, for remarking, when Manchester United's Eric Djemba-Djemba was protesting his innocence to the referee, "Me no cheat".
Ofcom's verdict? "The suggestion that a black player was incapable of speaking grammatical English was inappropriate, particularly given the drive to eradicate racist attitudes in football". Not to say that Green is racist, of course – just a motormouth in need of a little self-restraint.
In 2006, he was interviewed by Brian Viner for this paper, and reported that Radio 5's controller Bob Shennan told him that the day he began holding back "is the day you're finished as a commentator". But opinion and reportage are two different things. It's all very well provoking the plebs on 6-0-6, but commentating is a different job altogether. He's not there to get a heated debate going – he's there to tell us what's happening. It's as simple as that.
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