Wednesday’s Champions League meeting between Chelsea and Napoli encapsulated everything that’s great about the competition.
A clash of styles and cultures, a seesaw dynamic crafted by the two-legged system and some technically superb goals. Floodlit theatre of the highest order.
At times the football was ragged but it was never less than compelling. This is what we miss, where we need to be.
As one of four Liverpool fans who enjoy watching Didier Drogba (we meet on Wednesdays in the Pilgrim) it was a bumper night for me. The game encapsulated everything bad/good about one of football’s most brilliantly complex characters. Executing a perfect diving header, exhorting the crowd to back his team with an intensity which verged on threatening, indulging in the kind of blatant play-acting guaranteed to rile the po-faced majority desperate to be outraged at someone cheating at a game.
Drogba in excelsis, for perhaps the final time on these shores. Even if he’s spirited off in a solid gold plane to China or Russia in the summer, we in Drogba Club will always have Napoli.
Paused sufficiently to call me a traitor/idiot/twat on Twitter? Right, let’s continue.
It was a genuinely thrilling night of European football, with an unlikely turnaround that nevertheless felt inevitable, and it offers the prospect of Chelsea (but not Drogba) being gratifyingly humbled by Barca or Real at a later stage. So all’s good, yeah?
Well, no. Unfortunately for those of us watching on ITV1 there was a significant bugbear, one which grew more and more irritating as the night wore on – the commentary team of Clive Tyldesley and Andy Townsend.
Essentially the duo set themselves up from minute one to be uncritical Chelsea cheerleaders. At every turn and in every situation the home team were backed to the hilt.
This happens a lot, and it’s odd. By definition, many of Chelsea’s biggest fans will have been elsewhere – at the match, for example, or at least packed in to a pub where the atmosphere drowned out the commentary.
It would be interesting to see the figures, but I’d wager more fans of the other 19 Premier League clubs were tuning in at home.
So Tydlesley and Townsend were essentially playing to a gallery which didn’t exist, or if it did was full of people throwing rotten fruit at them.
Why? Well, there seems to be a longstanding belief at ITV that the whole country gets behind our brave lads against Foreign Types. That when the chips are down, we can all set aside our differences and appreciate how JT and Lamps try REALLY hard to win games when they like the manager and they’ve been picked in their favoured position and people don’t look at them funny.
It’s like when Cameron or Clegg talk about ‘UK plc’, as if British business is one big mass we all support, taking pleasure in the success of cake shop and arms dealer, newsagent and hedge fund alike. It’s a platform of bollocks, on which loads more bollocks is artfully constructed.
There’s something else at play here, though – the development of the commentator as all-round expert, ego inflated to breaking point.
At some point the idea emerged that commentators – not co-commentators, not analysts, not presenters – should have views, opinions, observations and a ‘character’.
Rather than contributing the occasional mention of a player’s name and the odd stat to add colour to the occasion, today’s commentators are hell bent on adding their own perspective to things.
During Middlesbrough v Leeds on Sunday lunchtime the BBC’s Guy Mowbray was at it. At one point Luciano Becchio skied a presentable chance in front of goal. Mowbray greeted the effort with derision, concluding Becchio ‘really should have kept it down’.
Is this not the job of the co-commentator, in this case Martin Keown? He may be a joyless wet wipe of a man – evidence here – but if you’ve employed a former professional footballer, presumably you’ve done so on the basis that he makes the judgements.
Who to blame? Perhaps we could start with radio commentator Peter Jones, whose ‘and Smith must score!’ line in the 1983 FA Cup final set something of a benchmark for the names and facts man gegging in on opinion territory.
Or maybe we could point the finger at Alan Green, whose commentaries represent nothing more refined than an endless account of things he thinks the officials/managers/players/kitmen have got wrong that day. The ego thing is even more egregious on radio, leaving as it does vast swathes of the play entirely undocumented. At least on telly we can turn off the sound and let the pictures do the talking.
It’s a shame to see Tyldesley, a man more than capable of turning a decent phrase whose diligent pre-match research often shines through during commentary, following the herd and abandoning the idea of neutrality even when his beloved United are out of the tournament.
Still, cracking game though.