Thursday, 23 August 2012

1980s commentary moments

A slight change of format this week. No dedicated blog on the one event, as I doff my cap slightly to the Guardian's excellent Joy of Six column, and pick my six favourite commentary moments of the 1980s (although, unlike the Joy of Six, this is my definitive top six). There are a few that I've had to cut from my final list, and these may turn up one day in a volume two blog, but for now please enjoy my pick of the 80s. They are in no particular order, but I simply had to start with this one first....

Brian Moore: It's up for grabs now (1989)

For any Arsenal fan, the daddy, grand daddy and great-grand daddy of all commentary moments. Forget Man City's last gasp Premier League triumph in May, this is the greatest conclusion to a top flight league season - fact. To go to the home of the defending champions, the current FA Cup winners, and a team as strong as Liverpool, and require a victory margin of two goals (or more) was basically impossible. James Lawton, writing in the Daily Express on the morning of the match stated: "I happen to agree with the bookmakers that Liverpool's progression to their tenth league title in 13 years is as sure as the sunrise." Not the greatest endorsement.

Brian Moore's legendary commentary on Michael Thomas' title clinching goal was as perfect as the moment itself. As the whole country held it's breath for what seemed like an age, all of us waiting for Thomas to pull the trigger, Moore shrieked his infamous "It's up for grabs now" line that still brings goosebumps to the body. Arsenal had indeed pulled off mission impossible and Moore earned himself a place in Arsenal folklore. Since that glorious May evening in 1989, Moore's commentary has been used for titles of a DVD, book and podcast (all Arsenal based naturally). As an Arsenal supporter I remain eternally grateful that Moore could find the words to articulate the drama of the occasion. Simply stunning.

Harry Carpenter: He's hurt Tyson/Get in there Frank (1989)

Relieving Iron Mike Tyson of the World heavyweight championship in 1989 was just as improbable as Arsenal's triumph at Anfield later on in the year (I'm starting to sound like Clive Tyldesley, who loves nothing more than to bang on about another May 26 evening in 1999). Frank Bruno was the latest cab off the rank to challenge Tyson, so unfancied that Tyson was a 1/9 favourite with the bookies. The ever popular Bruno had failed in his previous world title attempt against Tim Witherspoon in 1986, and to make matters worse Tyson was a much more frightening prospect entirely.

And so it seemed after just 12 seconds of the first round, as Bruno was forced to take a count. Slowly Bruno recovered, to such an extent that he rocked the champion towards the end of the round, with an impressive left hook. It was at this point that the normally impartial Harry Carpenter slightly lost his bearings, the mask temporarily slipping to reveal the British sports fan within him. Carpenter was undoubtedly one of the finest commentators of his era, so to hear a man with his fine reputation yelling "He's hurt Tyson" and "Get in there Frank" whilst on national television was a life affirming event. For Harry was basically saying and thinking what the rest of us were, and for that alone, this moment always brings a smile to my face.

Barry Davies: Where were the Germans? (1988)

Another superb commentator, another temporary moment of British bias. Like Carpenter, Barry Davies was a reassuring mouth behind the mic, knowledgable, and passionate enough to bring comfort to the viewer. The sport of hockey had gradually been growing in Britain since the 1986 World Cup in Willesden, a year in which England's progress to the semi-finals had remarkably led to Football Focus being cancelled on Grandstand. As Great Britain reached the Olympic final in Seoul 1988, it would be fair to say that hockey fever was sweeping the nation. That the opponents in the final was Germany, only served to add more spice to the occasion.

Great Britain were leading the Olympic final 2-1 when Davies delivered his unforgettable quote. The Germans had just got back into the game and, as we all know, you can never write off the Germans. It wasn't quite squeaky bum time, but there is something about the British psyche that inheritently expects a sporting collapse at the most inconvenient of times, so Davies' "Where were the Germans? But frankly, who cares?" summary, as with Carpenter, can be rationalised (especially if you're British). Britain took a 3-1 lead and the gold was theirs, and Davies' sound bite became one of many defining moments in the career of one of the finest commentators this country has seen.

Richie Benaud: Don't bother looking for that... (1981)

1981: Charles and Diana; Ghost Town by The Specials; riots; Botham's Ashes. As I typed that last sentence, for some reason I could imagine Ron Manager reading it. That aside, it is fair to say that the 1981 Ashes series was a splendid time to be an English cricket supporter, although unfortunately for me it was slightly before my time. However, without Botham, Dilley, Old and Willis, and all that happened at Headingley, 1981 would have been consigned to the scrap heap of many Ashes series that would follow between 1989-2003.

Amongst the sublime carnage of Beefy's 149 not out at Headingley, was the priceless Richie Benaud comment: "Don't bother looking for that, let alone chasing's gone straight into the confectionary stall and out again", as Botham launched Alderman for a straight six. As ever with the incomparable Benaud, he knew that silence was golden. The clip is made that much better by the brief Benaud pause, taking a millisecond to work out where the ball was heading, allowing the viewer to hear the reaction of the crowd just prior to Benaud's memorable line.

As a footnote to this classic moment, I'm guessing that after Beefy's innings he didn't feel the need to send a postcard to the Aussies, berating his captain. That would never happen, would it?

Peter Alliss: Not a million miles away (1985)

28 years, 28 long years. Such was the American domination of the Ryder Cup, that by the time of the 1985 event, Great Britain, Northern Ireland, Ireland, and Europe in their various guises had not won Samuel Ryder's trophy since 1957. The 1983 matches were very close indeed, and by 1985, Europe were highly fancied to break their drought.

To cut a long story short (one which I'm sure I will cover at a later date), Sam Torrance found himself as the man handed with the honour of clinching the Ryder Cup for Europe. As America's Andy North imploded on the 18th at the Belfry, Torrance found himself with the luxury of four putts for the half point Europe required, although of course the Scotsman wouldn't need them. As Torrance rolled the ball towards the hole, Peter Alliss, capturing the scene superbly, pronounced: "Not a million miles away is it?", and as Torrance stretched his arms out in celebration, the crowds cheers signalled the end of 28 years of hurt. And for that alone, Alliss' commentary has to go on my list.  You can enjoy it 1:40 into this clip (but only if you live in the UK I'm afraid).

Jack Karnehm: Good luck mate (1983)

Three words. No, not those ones, or an album by Cheryl Cole (I feel ashamed for knowing that). The three words I'm referring to were delivered by Jack Karnehm, just as Canada's Cliff Thorburn was about to pot the final black of the fourth frame in his second round World Championship match against Terry Griffiths. Not an ordinary black you'll understand. Hopefully the final seven points in Thorburn's break that currently stood at 140.

It was slightly ironic that Karnehm should wish Thorburn good fortune before that final black, as the break only began in the first place due to a huge slice of lady luck. But the first 147 at the Crucible was always going to be special, and Karnehm's message, spoken on behalf of anyone with a sense of the occasion, made Thorburn's maximum even more heart warming. Since 2003 there have been six maximums at the World Championships, the modern machines somehow managing to reduce the magic of the 147. Back in 1983 though, Thorburn's break was unchartered territory, and Karnehm played his part in this historic event.


  1. Some great selections.

    Who would have thought hockey and snooker commentaries would feature so strongly in our most memorable sporting moments from the 1980s? Football didn't dominate back then the way it does now.

  2. @Frank Heaven. You're absolutely right, and we're poorer for it now. Almost all of these were in my formative sporting moments. Although I do support certain clubs and the national team, I think a love of sport in general, rather than particular sports and teams is a much richer experience.

  3. Would love to see some of the late Sid Waddell's best efforts noted here as well, at a time when Darts was as much a staple diet of the British sports fan as hockey or snooker ever were. Grew up in the 1980s, and as a teacher, I can only say I wish the kids nowadays had the range of sports we knew through Grandstand, World of Sport and the like. Somehow, Sky Sports 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, etc don't have the impact of blanket coverage on Saturday afternoon on two of four channels. Were the commentators better then? Maybe. It was a better time to be a sports fan, because there was less, but it somehow offered so much more.