The 10 Greatest Bits of Commentary Ever

'Ali looks as though he can barely lift his arms up. Oh, he's got him with a right hand! He's got him!'
Click to follow
The Independent Online

This predilection for lists, is it something common to all countries, or is it just a British, or at least English-speaking thing? Do newspapers in Denmark publish lists of the 100 greatest Danes? Somehow, I suspect that people in other countries have better things to do with their time. It's a preposterous business, really, and yet irresistible. And the more subjective the list, the more irresistible it becomes.

This predilection for lists, is it something common to all countries, or is it just a British, or at least English-speaking thing? Do newspapers in Denmark publish lists of the 100 greatest Danes? Somehow, I suspect that people in other countries have better things to do with their time. It's a preposterous business, really, and yet irresistible. And the more subjective the list, the more irresistible it becomes.

Sport lends itself particularly well to this carry-on. Never mind the factual lists of the 10 most capped Scottish footballers, or the 10 most bemedalled Olympians; they provoke no debate. What we want instead are lists so absurdly subjective that they are hardly worth arguing about for more than an entire evening down the pub.

Which brings me to last week's OSM magazine, and its list of the 10 Greatest Bits of Commentary Ever. Third on the list was Jonathan Agnew's observation of Ian Botham that "he didn't quite manage to get his leg over", which caused Brian Johnston – "do stop it Aggers" – such helpless mirth.

Now, I yield to nobody in my appreciation of Johnners and Aggers cracking up so unforgettably, but third on the list of the 10 Greatest Bits of Commentary Ever? I don't think so. And as for Dan Maskell's regular exclamation "Oh I say!", rated ninth, by what mysterious criteria can that be placed on the list at all? Nonsense.

So here is the definitive list of the 10 Greatest Bits of Commentary Ever. My list, in other words.

1) "That's it! Everton have beaten Liverpool, Andy King the scorer. Seven is his number, and seven years it is since this last happened . . . Liverpool's run of 23 league games unbeaten is over." John Motson on Match of the Day, Goodison Park, October 1978. I was there, then I went home and watched it all over again.

2) "Suddenly Ali looks very tired indeed. In fact Ali, at times now, looks as though he can barely lift his arms up . . . Oh, he's got him with a right hand! He's got him! Oh, you can't believe it. And I don't think Foreman's going to get up. He's trying to beat the count. And he's out! Oh my God, he's won the title back at 32!" Harry Carpenter, ringside at the "Rumble in the Jungle" in Kinshasa, Zaire, October 1974. My favourite piece of commentary not involving Everton FC.

3) "There are some people on the pitch, they think it's all over . . . It is now!" Ken Wolstenholme at the World Cup final, Wembley, July 1966.

Still worthy of a high ranking, even though familiarity has bred a certain contempt, not helped by a tiresome television quiz show well past its laugh-by date.

4) "No point looking for that, let alone chasing it . . . It's gone into the confectionery stall and back out again." Richie Benaud after Ian Botham had thumped Terry Alderman for an enormous six, Headingley, July 1981.

5) "I think that's where the famous confectionery stall used to be." Benaud again, years later, when another six flew into the Headingley crowd.

6) "This is what people dream about . . . that you've got this one with a left-hand borrow, downhill, on the last green at St Andrews, to win the Open . . . missed it . . . and there but for the grace of God...' Henry Longhurst at the 1970 Open Championship, as a purple-clad Doug Sanders contemplated and then missed his short putt to win.

7) "This is great stuff, Phil Bennett covering, brilliant, that's brilliant, John Williams, Brian Williams, Pullen, John Dawes, great dummy, David, Tom David, the half-way line, brilliant by Quinnell, this is Gareth Edwards . . . a dramatic start . . . WHAT A SCORE!" Cliff Morgan at Cardiff Arms Park, Barbarians v All Blacks, 1973.

Great rugby rather than great commentary, but none the less evocative for it. I had the words slightly wrong, which was frustrating because in my student days – reliving this commentary frequently on the way home from the pub, with a beer can for a ball – we were all word-perfect. So my thanks to my old friend Angus, who can still recite it off the top of his head (an area considerably less hirsute, he will forgive me for saying, than it was 20 years ago).

8) "What I really want to know, Bill, is if England bowl their overs at the same rate as Australia did, and if Brearley and Boycott survive the opening spell, and assuming that the number of no-balls is limited to 10 in the innings, and that my car does 33.8 miles per gallon and my home is 67.3 miles from the ground, what time does my wife have to put the casserole in?" John Arlott on Test Match Special, match unknown, and lifted, I confess, from David Rayvern Allen's masterly biography of the great man.

9)"Lord Nelson! Lord Beaverbrook! Sir Winston Churchill! Sir Anthony Eden! Clement Attlee! Henry Cooper! Lady Diana! Maggie Thatcher . . . Can you hear me, Maggie Thatcher! Your boys took one hell of a beating! Your boys took one hell of a beating!' Bjorn Minge on Norwegian TV, downplaying Norway's 2-1 defeat of England in a World Cup qualifier, September 1981.

10) "But now here is Paul McGinley, in the sunshine at the Brabazon course, at the Belfry . . . nine-footer, to win the Ryder Cup for Europe . . . He sends it on its way . . . YEEEEGGGHHHHSSSS!" Tony Adamson on Radio Five Live, September 2002.

b.viner@independent.co.uk

Comments