Monday, June 30, 2008

American English is an accent

Jack Bell rails at the preference of some for all things English.

My gripe about American announcers, however, is that too many of them are tied up in the insular soccer structure of the U.S. to have any independent opinions. It was painful to hear John Harkes try to be objective about DC United when commenting on their match versus the LA Galaxy. It was almost a relief when he finally just gave in to talking about his days with a young, pre-injury Ben Olsen and speculating about Moreno's thoughts while on the bench. I certainly didn't expect someone that tied in with the Washington club to give an objective assessment of Gallardo's elbow to Landon Donovan.
Greg Lalas, meanwhile, has his own credibility issues, as not only a former Revs player, but as the brother of the LA Galaxy's GM, Alexi.
At least those with direct ties to the people in the league have an excuse for pulling punches - some announcers are just so neutral about every aspect of a match that it sounds like announcing via the school of court reporting. Who passed to whom and who scored without ever any nuance or insightful observation, or interesting tidbit, or anything.
But far and away the biggest sin for me is that American announcers all too often sound so terrifically bored. That laid-back style is fine for the pace of baseball, but in soccer, players are tearing up and down the field with the ball while an announcing team discusses trivia like they're feeding ducks at the park. It sets my teeth on edge.
Granted, I grew up watching a lot of soccer in Spanish, and the goal calls that annoy some people are a classic essential for me. Different strokes, I realize.


Anonymous said...

Count me as a "different strokes" person, AC.

I watched the KC game on direct kick the other night and was annoyed that the play-by-play guy was talking too much.

I don't need it. I agree with you that too often the conversations are stories and other things not relevant to the action on the field.

What I enjoy is a quiet buildup, so that when the game is calmer, the announcing is calmer, and more sparse. And when the game springs into action and a goal is coming, the announcing reflects that.

Too often today we are left with guys telling stories about players' histories or whatever, or just rambling on with complete nonsense (see the Rapids' just-awful broadcasters).

I don't need announcers talking up a storm to make the game dramatic for me. It already is.

A.C. said...

Yeah, I was surprised to find the less-is-more style of announcing rules in Germany. Games would go on for stretches with respectful silence or quick names only. "Ballack. Lahmm. Metzelder. Ballack. Lahmm. Ballack! Ballack! Tor! Tor!"
I remember thinking, "They get paid for this? They're hardly saying anything." But then I realized that was the point.

Anonymous said...

Good piece! 100% true. It's cool to have a "straight-man" do the play-by-play, ala JPD. But you got to have a colorful commentator, ala Ray Hudson. Just look at Euro 2008. The former player(Scottish guy?) commentator was just fine with me. Those veiws, takes, and insights are what what I remember most(besides the actual match). Does it have to go as far as a Waldo? Maybe not. But I have to admit, I miss his edge.


Anonymous said...

dellacamerca is brutal

adrian healey and derek rae are the only ones i can stomach

Anonymous said...

Yeah, both guys are top-notch. Tommy Smyth is ok too. Revs fan?


Jon E said...

I like announcers who know how to tell whether they have something useful to say.

I like announcers' getting excited about the game when something exciting is happening, but if players are passing the ball back and forth just short of midfield, I don't need a lot of narration. At that point, if an analyst or color commentator has a useful insight, I'd love to hear it. Otherwise, I'd rather listen to the crowd. Because if it isn't crowd noise, it's either forced excitement ("Nobody can play a five-yard square ball like David Beckham!") or painfully inane chitchat ("Some of the players were talking last night after practice about who likes which brand of Doritos...").

More than once, the FSW amateur-hour crew has sucked most of the pleasure out of games with their off-topic chitchat (half of which seems to be about themselves rather than the players). I mean, if they're so afraid of dead air that they'll fill it with summer camp anecdotes, why not just read some Shakespeare? Better written, more fun, far less moronic.

The Hammer said...

I'm with you. When I was younger I loved to pretend calling the game along with my sister. I was the motormouth, she was the side commentator.

I realized there are two ways of doing it...

Motormouth or the "less is more" approach you mentioned. Both are well complemented with a color commentator.

In either case, telling stories about the jersey design, the players' sleeping habits and what not should be kept to an absolute minimum.

Anonymous said...

Andy Gray gets paid to call the game but all he does is complain about the referee. His bias is overwhelming. But people like him because he has an accent and was on a few video games.

Murfmensch said...

This will soon be solved by technology. We will be able to pick our commentators, some of whom will be using the net.

We aren't united in what we want. Tommy Smyth is the most like a latin commentator. Manic, with flavor. I see more complaints about him here than anyone else, however. I liked him the first time.

I liked Andy Gray and JP Dellacamera. I think that's the best its been. Tony DiCicco during the Women's World Cup brought a lot to the halftime and when he phoned in.

It's not so bad, really. Everyone just has to work in a market in which there is no consensus about style. Posts here have shown this.

As for content, I want to hear more about decisions managers and players are making. That's when their experience can benefit me.

Goals, saves, and tackles deserve hoopla. Perhaps ESPN should just go ahead and shout "goooooool" because many viewers are turning to latin stations just to hear it.

AC mentioned Germany. The national team manager is expected to appear on a show the next day and sit with two announcers and talk over a tall glass of beer. (One of the announcers is Gunther Netzer, a very good goalkeeper in the 70's.) The tone is very analytical and all participants work hard to lay out precisely where they disagree.

Klinsmann and Löw have thrived during these moments and they have converted Germans into lovers of attacking football. The rally in Berlin last night welcoming the team home was very upbeat.

Joseph D'Hippolito said...

What really infuriates me (other than Bozo the Mad Genius, Tim Lie-weekly and the emotionally arrested adolescents on the WNT) is the fact that too many American soccer announcers speak in British English as opposed to American English -- such as calling a game a "match" (which is a standard European term for a game in any sport) or calling the field a "pitch" (a rugby field is also a "pitch;" same as a cricket field).

This is so pompous and unnecessary. We don't call trucks "lorries" in this country; nor do we call elevators "lifts" or gasoline "petrol." We don't spell "tires" with a "y" ("tyres") or "harbor" with a "u."

If people aren't interested in watching soccer, perhaps that's why.

Also, will someone please tell Joe Tutino to tell me what's happening on the field on radio, pass to pass, and where the ball is? Not all of us have cable, you know.

Anonymous said...

The fact that Greg Lalas is the one complaining speaks volumes. He is terrible! Andy Gray is the best thing that ever happened to ESPN coverage. Combined with Adrian Healy they were miles above the norm for ESPN. Tommy Smyth can go away though. His schtick is tired. This whole "English Accent" thing is a smoke screen to cover for the dreadful domestic coverage we have been forced to put up with in the past. Great job ESPN. Sign Gray to a multi year contract now!

papa bear said...

@Joseph D'Hippolito said...

Totally agree with you. That gets a bit annoying. I mean if you look at European basketball they call the schedule the 'fixture list' If they can use the terms that are more natural then we should feel OK about that as well. I mean, we call the sport by the 'wrong' name as it is.
It's almost as annoying as Christopher Sullivan constantly throwing in Spanish-isms. It just sounds incredibly forced.

I do kinda agree with the article a bit on the Brit worship in this country when it comes to soccer. Though I didn't mind the Euro '08 crew.

My biggest beef with many US announces is the lack of enthusiasm and immediacy that AC talked about. They also do a poor job of building up the play.
I think Phil Schoen and Ray Hudson are fantastic because they both do those things well.

If I was in charge, I'd hire a hardcore hockey guy who had an interest. The great old school hockey guys do all the things that great soccer announcers do. They tell you who has the puck (ball) and build up the play. Search Youtube for the Blackhawks Pat Foley. If we could get announcers like that to call soccer, the sport would grow by 20% in one year on TV. I am convinced of that.

papa bear said...

@AC: the German announcers earn their money when they start ripping the players a new one.
Anyone who has a German mother or grandmother knows how positively brutally 'honest' they can be when assessing you. :) It's humbling to say the least. (thanks, Mom :p )

One of the big reasons I tend to watch Bundesliga feeds online when Phil and Ray aren't calling them on Gol.

A.C. said...

Ah, ok, papa - I guess my German wasn't good enough to be aware of the insightful criticism. Silence, however, needs no translation.

YankatOxford said...

Excellent point Andrea; I'll just reiterate what I posted there:

"Mediocre performance from American commentators has nothing to do with their accent and everything to do with their poor concept of how to call a proper football match. Dellacamera, Balboa, Bertos, and Dave O’brien all of these gentleman consistently speak over the run of action with useless stories about the background of players, and pursue tangents that are meaningless to the game at hand. They miss subs, they mispronounce names, they can’t build atmosphere, and often seem unaware of the rules of the game or confused as to what has just transpired in live action.

American analysts such as Harkes, Messing, even Wynalda are not terrible, but they seem unwilling or unable to anticipate the game and provide insight into the tactics or strategies on display.

A broadcast team should be dedicated to commenting on the match specifically, analyzing it, and finding the rhythm of the match. (See Rae,Derek and Gray, Andy)

After listening to decent British or especially Irish analysis, hearing American coverage is like beating your head against a blender… whether its on or off it still hurts.

Analyst Julie Foudy has been embarrassingly awful in the moments she has been featured at half time. At least Rece Davis behaves in a professional manner, and is clearly trying to adapt.

When American commentators and particularly American producers recognize what needs to occur on a regular basis in football commentary, then they will be just as easy to receive as Brits and Irish currently happen to be."

I would just add that I have no problem with English and Continental terms to describe the sport; although I'm in that environment every day. And I love both Spanish and German commentary (I speak German fluently, but my Spanish is non-existent; however the passion of the commentators makes the language barrier superfluous)

john said...

see the below post

and then respond. jhg

Joseph D'Hippolito said...

Bretos is a total ass. All looks, no brains.

A.C. said...

John, I agree completely with your comments about the play-by-play of a game needing improving, but I'm under no illusions about Foudy - as someone in the U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame, she has a certain credibility. Many people who want her gone from a broadcast might not want any female there at all.

Soledad said...

The Euro '08 announcers can't even begin to approach the buffoonery of Pablo Ramirez and a couple of his cohorts at Univision/Telefutura/Galavision.

I wish I'd stuck with the German classes, because silence is golden. Andres Cantor and Jorge Ramos are also golden.

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