Monday, 15 June 2015

1980s commentary moments: Part 2

Following on from my original blog describing my favourite commentary moments of the 1980s, I've finally got around to writing volume two (it's only taken me nearly three years). Including moments of jeopardy, drama, misses, success, and outright condemnation, these pieces of commentary have lived long in my fading memory. I have still missed a few out; maybe I should start planning volume three for 2018?

Ron Pickering "It's a better one, it's a better one, it's a better one, it's a better one!"

The 1984 Olympic decathlon was going swimmingly for Daley Thompson after six events. Leading his great rival Jurgen Hingsen by 108 points, Thompson was edging closer to successfully defending his Olympic title, until his challenge began to hit the buffers in the discus. Hingsen had thrown a personal best of 50.82m, and after two attempts Thompson was over ten metres behind the German and in danger of dropping into second place, a damaging 68 points in arrears. Thompson was on the brink, and as he spun in the discus circle, the unthinkable thought seeped into our consciousness. But we should have known better than to doubt Daley. 

BBC commentator Ron Pickering was obviously as relieved as the rest of us. Watching the discus fly through the LA air, Pickering's excitement gained momentum until one final explosion of joy as Thompson's throw of 46.56m landed. "It's a better one, it's a better one, it's a better one, it's a better one!", Pickering exclaimed, as the panic was averted. Thompson had delivered when it mattered, maintained his lead (34 points), and turned a potentially damaging situation into a psychological advantage for the rest of the decathlon.

Thompson revealed his thoughts on the matter in a 2012 interview. "The real test comes when things aren’t going so well and the question is, can you make it happen? So for me, that particular moment was the best and the worst moment of my life; it's what I’d been training for, 350 days a year, five or six hours a day, just for one throw".

Back in England most youngsters looked at Thompson in awe, his all round athletic superiority and the many computer games he gave his name to all part of the package that made Daley such a hero. On the other hand, a young Andy Townsend must have listened to Pickering's "It's a better one" classic commentary and thought to himself that he could adapt that one day into his own shorter version. Better? Obviously not.

Ted Lowe: "No"

One word. Just one word. But why use a hundred when one will do? When the voice of snooker uttered a simple "No" after the penultimate shot of the epic 1985 World Snooker Championship final, this one word told us all we needed to know about the sporting incident we had just witnessed. Like the black ball final itself, Ted Lowe's commentary moment hit the spot.

The story of the 1985 final is well known. Defending champion Steve Davis surged into a 8-0 lead before Dennis Taylor fought back magnificently to trail 9-7 after the first day. Despite the comeback, Davis managed to keep Taylor at arms length, and at 17-15 in front the writing appeared to be on the wall for the Irishman. Taylor hung in there, however, levelling the match at 17-17 to set up the squeakiest of squeaky bum times for the pair. With an almost preordained sense of destiny the deciding frame and the whole championship would be settled on the black ball.

"The final frame, the final black," said an understandably excited Lowe after Taylor had sunk the pink, a notable piece of commentary but not my favourite moment from the final frame. This occurred after Davis missed the first clear cut chance for the title, a cut back into a blind pocket at the top of the table, the sort of shot that the three-time champion would make 99 times out of 100. But this was no ordinary situation. When Davis missed to set up Taylor's glorious finale, Lowe managed to sum up the feelings of anyone watching with minimal effort.

"No," proclaimed Lowe, the surprise and amazement in his voice highlighting the enormity of the event that had just transpired. Davis simply didn't miss pots like that, and the nature of Lowe's "No" was the greatest indicator of this. A nation of snooker viewers may well have been rubbing their eyes through tiredness at 12.19am, but Lowe's commentary suggested that he may well have been doing the same in disbelief as Davis fluffed his lines. The perfect way to describe the moment, and an impression I never tire of performing when something genuinely surprising happens in sport, much to the annoyance of anyone who knows me.

Peter Jones: "And Smith must score"

A piece of commentary that inspired the title of a fanzine. The brilliant Peter Jones' description of Gordon Smith's agonising miss in the 120th minute of the 1983 FA Cup final would be used as to Christen a Brighton fanzine launched in the late eighties, a constant reminder of that famous moment on 21 May. An incident that Gordon Smith probably wishes he could forget, but probably thinks about at regular intervals.

As Smith often points out, he had actually scored the opening goal of the final, yet it is not what he is remembered for. With seconds left, Michael Robinson burst through the middle of Manchester United's defence, shrugging off Kevin Moran before cutting inside Gordon McQueen and laying the ball off to Smith for his shot at infamy. "Robinson going forward strong," Jones said, as the attack got under way. "He's inside the Manchester United penalty area. He finds Smith," he went on, before delivering the killer line. "And Smith must score. And he hasn't scored. And Bailey has saved it."

Radio 2 listeners were often spoilt when Jones or Bryon Butler took to the microphone, and this day was no exception. Jones' delivery was certainly in a different league to what most of us experienced on BBC1 at the time, the usually impeccable John Motson hardly excelling. "There's somebody to his right. It's Smith, and Bailey has saved," Motson shrieked. I don't like to be too critical of Motson, who I believe was a fine commentator in the 1980s, but Jones definitely won that particular battle hands down in 1983.

"And Gordon Smith will remember that moment for a very, very long time indeed," was Jones' parting shot, a very accurate assessment of the situation. The fanzine title and numerous re-runs of the clip around May every year must gnaw at Smith's nerves, and as a man who still thinks of Thierry Henry's miss in the Champions League final at least twice a day, I'm guessing Brighton fans of a certain age must replay the miss over and over again in their heads. Sport hurts.

He did score the opening goal in the final, you know....

Al Michaels: "Do you believe in miracles?"

I really need to get around to writing a blog about the "Miracle on Ice" one day. The medal match contested between the ice hockey teams of the USA and the Soviet Union at the 1980 Winter Olympics has inspired films, documentaries, books, and was chosen as the sporting moment of the twentieth century in Sports Illustrated. And it also contained a line of commentary that is unforgettable.

The American team were really not given any hope of defeating the powerful Soviet outfit, their side comprising of amateur and collegiate players hardly expected to compete at the same level as their world class opponents. At a time of political troubles between the two nations - the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan had led President Carter to call for a boycott of the Moscow Olympics - it was assumed that the battle on the Lake Placid ice rink would not be as tense. Cue a miracle.

As the clock ticked down and the Americans led 4-3, it soon became apparent that the result that nobody had even considered was becoming a reality. Al Michaels, commentating on the match with Ken Dryden, began counting down the seconds remaining, before delivering his line from commentary heaven. "11 seconds, you've got 10 seconds, the countdown going on right now! Morrow, up to Silk. Five seconds left in the game. Do you believe in miracles? YES!"

The Americans would eventually go on to claim the gold medal by defeating Finland in their next match, but it is the Miracle on Ice and Michaels' commentary masterpiece that provided the golden moment.  "No words necessary," declared Michaels, as he followed Richie Benaud's silence is golden rule, allowing almost a full minute to progress without adding to the pictures. A lot of commentators could learn from that.

Chris Handy: "You don't wear a green and gold jersey to pull out that sort of Mickey Mouse rugby."

The deciding Test of the Lions tour to Australia was delicately poised when David Campese chose to make his mark on the series. Unfortunately for the hosts, it was not at the right end of the pitch. Such was the enormity of the error that the scene of the crime was labelled Campo's Corner to mark the occasion.

A sliced Rob Andrew drop goal attempt was the trigger behind the infamous events at Sydney in July 1989. Campese gathered the ball behind his try line, but instead of touching down for a 22-yard drop-out, his gambling instincts took over. Throwing a wayward pass to a surprised Greg Martin, Campese and the Australian public could only look on as Martin spilled the ball, allowing Ieuan Evans to score a decisive try (although the decision to award the try is still debated to this day).

What would become apparent was the utter disgust that many Australians felt towards Campese, with co-commentator Chris Handy neatly speaking for the nation in his stinging remarks towards the winger. "You don't wear a green and gold jersey to pull out that sort of Mickey Mouse rugby," Handy declared, as he didn't even try and hide his Campese contempt.

The autopsy was as messy as the try itself, with Campese's brother attacked, and many calling for the winger to be dropped from the team. Campese would bounce back, though, his displays at the 1991 World Cup helping Australia to win the competition in the land of the Pommes. Presumably Handy was a little happier that Campese had ditched the Walt Disney antics by then.

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