The Commentary Box

As we hit mid-February, clearly our attentions now turn to the winter game.

As Perth hits 37 degrees, 774 breaks into broadcasts with bushfire reports, and a meaningless triangular cricket tournament with one completely disenchanted and apathetic team continues, the papers are full of AFL pre-season conjecture.

Also about this time of the year, the various football broadcasters, both TV and radio, start to spruik their commentary teams. In some cases, the gossip about recruiting and the transfer market for kick-by-kick and special comments people seems to rival the player’s trade week.

I recall comments on this site in recent weeks rejoicing about (or recoiling from) Gerard Whateley’s potential move to commercial radio a few years back being avoided through a personal appeal by the ABC CEO and various views on the merits or otherwise of Morphett, D.

For mine, on TV, I will miss the Channel 10 coverage, as I think they balanced the seriousness of games with a sense of humour, both with their pre and post-game shows and the commentary of Quartermain, Blight etc. I do not like the 7 coverage where every game regardless of ladder position is a blockbuster, games are (were) significantly delayed especially on a Sunday, the commentary seemed to become a vehicle for the ego or profile of the commentator and regardless of the half or ¾ time margin, every game was still being talked up as having the potential for a comeback or a cliff hanger to keep us engaged. As for McAvaney, enough with the pointless stats, what is this, cricket??

I also object to the countdown clock used on 7. Why can’t we have the excitement and nervousness that a spectator at the game does, where one of the great features of our game is the unpredictable nature of the final whistle.

(Those with Foxtel can expand on their skills or otherwise, as it sadly doesn’t extend to my spending limits.)

As to radio, in Melbourne, MMM sounds like I am eavesdropping on a blokey conversation between mates at a pub, which is amusing but I don’t know the in-jokes and nicknames, and  feel that the game gets in the way of them having a rollicking good day in the booth, bagging each other. SEN whilst excellent in its pre-game coverage, has a broadcast full of so many product placements for goals, marks, stats, scores and the like that I feel I am being bombarded by a home shopping network. AW is at least much the better for Hunt’s departure and the ABC do radical things like actually tell you what the score is. Maclure seems to revel in permanent grumpiness the way Skull feels he has a responsibility to giggle through the summer game, but Whateley is a pro who conveys the emotion better than most.

Regardless of the coverage of the game and the way the game is conveyed to us, either whilst we can see what is happening or on the radio, one constant and beautiful thing each season is the mangling of the English language we get to hear.

Some of this is clearly caused by the pace of the game; some by commentators on all-sports 24 hour a day radio station having to be (perceived) experts at so many sports; and some of it of course is the prevalence of ex-players with limited education and vocabulary entering into a profession where that is required.

I sympathise completely with players making verbal mistakes in post-game interviews, when they get the same questions each week whilst exhausted from the game just finishing, as their chosen field and talent is the game, not the media. I recall a comment from Eddie McGuire a few years back during a player scandal when many were wondering the logic and decision making of a player in an off-field indiscretion. He said that at Collingwood at that time, they had one player doing his Masters, and one that couldn’t read. His point, which I accept, is that on a list of 42, you will have a massive range of backgrounds and capabilities, tied together only by football talent and jumper colour. You’ll have educated people, settled family men, shy country kids, blokes with poor education who would have joined their mates in jail or the dole if not for a singular talent in football, silly boys and all the rest. I would hate to be judged by what I was like at 22, and can only imagine how badly I would have handled (or not handled) fame and a big pay cheque at that immature age.

David Hookes once told a story of the year he was the runner at Fitzroy, under I think Alan McConnell. He said part of his job was to stay behind after every team meeting and coach’s briefing, and privately and confidentially take one illiterate player through everything the coach had put up on the board. This player he said went on to play premierships after Fitzroy’s demise. It takes all sorts.

I do though love to hear coaches at press conferences (Lyon, R being a clear example) who start every sentence with Yeah Na. Is she the sister of the Chinese player who won the French Open?

Many of us would have seen or heard wonderful examples of commentary muck ups and there are pages and sites devoted to these. In addition, those of us who grew up on Jack Dyer could recite a litany of grammar and pronunciation crimes.

With that in mind, I present to you my favourite 2011 misquotes, muck ups and mangles from radio station SEN, and the club house leader for 2012.

My favourites for 2011 were:

  • A team going into Round 1 last year with an “unexperienced side”
  • Another team that needed to start looking for players with some “good long termgevity”
  • The ever popular and common “for all intensive purposes”
  • That something at one club hadn’t just been improved, it had been “greatend”
  • An account from Sports Illustrated in which the commentator said, not one but twice, that it accused Tiger Woods of taking “Hormon growth humone”

So far in 2012, I have heard that the appointment of Mark Harvey to Michael Voss’s coaching panel is a “great attribution” for the Lions.

I’d love to hear other Almanackers faves and maybe we can institute an award for the best (worst) piece of mangled language, badly used simile or embarrassing outburst during season 2012.

Go Tiges!


About Sean Curtain

"He was born with a gift of laughter, and a sense that the world was mad". First line of 'Scaramouche' by Sabatini, always liked that.


  1. Pikey?

  2. I’ll second the “great attribution” too. Heard that also.

  3. We’ll start a register.

  4. Tony, always asumed it was Martin Pike. Strange to think that still happens in this day and age, but footy gets all sort from all backgrounds.
    Bloke had a pretty good record.


  5. Not on radio or TV but I have some great ones that people have recorded in computer documents at my work.

    My favorite is: customer is uncastrated. (they meant he was in jail!!)

  6. Mathilde de Hauteclocque says

    In 2011, I had the downright unexpected pleasure of listening to the Dreamtime at the G on the National Indigenous Radio Service through (We have to find a stream up here in Syd (!) and I thought I’d try a lucky dip.) What a narrative journey that was. None of the premeditated polish of the full-time and finely tuned commentators of the ABC or the commercial nonsense of Triple M or SEN.

    On the National Indigenous Radio Service (NIRS), the listeners are still referred to as Ladies and Gentlemen. On the NIRS, the game and the ball are referred to as she: ‘She’s all locked away.’ ‘She’s a tough line ball.’ ‘In she comes just outside forward 50.’ The AFL is always banging on about being inclusive to women. Well I’ve finally found some fellas who truly are.

    On the NIRS, a hit is a ‘pow’ rather than a bump. A poor handball is ‘a bit fance for him’. A loose ball goes ‘where angels fear to tread’. A fumble is ‘dropping an absolute soda pop.’

    Caller Andrew Underwood is ‘Undies.’ and the commentary is handed over on air, out loud. ‘Undies you can have a crack.’ None of this seamless transition from one caller to the other. No it’s self-reflexive meta commentary on the NIRS.

    Zaharakis is Zakarakis. Dustin Fletcher is ‘old father time.’

    When the update man brings in the scores from the GABBA at half time, ‘He’s all over it like a fat kid on a chocky biscuit.’ Now you don’t hear that on the ABC. And in the thick of play, special comments Rockin’ Ronnie Burns commends a Bomber on his play: ‘Hurley was right up his ginger and that’s where you need to be’.

    The callers discussed the loss of Lionel Rose and Bob Davis during the main break. And as the warning siren sounded, they concluded: ‘We’ve all got to go sometime or other and this game’s gotta go either way.’ Was there ever a better segue? And when news came in that the Lions had romped it home in Brissy for the first win of the season, one of the fellas confessed: ‘My wife will be howling. She loves the kangaroos. Her three brothers played there, her father played there. But .. tough titties. The Lions have the chocolates.’ And back at the G, they even collectively joined in for the ‘yellow and black’ riff in the Tigers victory song. On air and proud.

    I haven’t sat and listened with such intent for a very long time.

    And let’s not forget the coaches and players. Just some of my favourites from 2011:

    ‘Nine times out of ten he delivers every time.’
    BRETT RATTEN on Chris Judd, Round 1

    ‘We trust these guys to be 24-hours-a-day footballers.’
    Swans co-captain JARRAD McVEIGH on what it means to be a Blood brother.

    ‘Attitudes are a great thing to have 100 per cent of the time, so you’ve got to play the game with an intensity that is above the opposition and we didn’t. It gets down to the intensity that you bring for 120 minutes, and we haven’t played a 120-minute game yet.’
    DEAN BAILEY. Poet, philosopher, (Ex) Melbourne Coach.

    ‘I don’t drink a lot, but when I do I seem to consume too much,’ he said.
    BRENT MALONEY on his ‘indiscretion’.

  7. Gerard Healy came up with a classic mixed metaphor in one game last year. In fairness to Gerard, he didn’t deliberately do so but it’s one my son and I use all the time now. After a particular passage of play, Gerard was unable to determine quickly enough in his mind whether he wanted to use the phrase “he spent all his petrol tickets” or “he counted all his chickens” and came up with…


    (This immediately reminded me of the time a high school mate of mine wasn’t sure if he wanted to say “I wouldn’t have a clue” or “I couldn’t give a shit” and he came up with “I wouldn’t have a shit”.)

  8. It seems that murdering the English is a social movement now. One of my pet annoyances has been the use of the word “amount” where “number” should be used.

    It occured irregularly a decade or so ago, but is now so common that it’s the norm.

    And where would kids of today be without the words, “Like, you know?”

  9. Gigs

    Two similar phares i heard are:

    * A manager once telling me something was so easy that it was a ‘Walk up misere”
    * A colleague telling me why was resigning as he wasn’t enthused about his role any more and felt he was approaching work with a “blase faire attitude”

    I quite proudly said in a presentation not 2 hours ago that something wasn’t rocket surgery!

    I am steadily becoming the dad I never wanted to be, by correcting my kids whenever they say “like” .

    “So was it like that or was it actually that?” “So if it was like dinner, was it really lunch?”

    Groan, dad!

    Mathilde, NRS sounds old school, love it, should be more of it. I love lines like ‘hard as a cat’s head’

    Although I hate listening to broadcasts where I am supposed to know players by their nicknames or whatever clever name the commentator has christened him with. Do I need to buy a special scorecard to tell who the players are?

  10. The best way to enjoy sport on TV is to mute the sound to avoid the inane and meaningless commentary as well as commercial advertising and interactive gimicks. Radio sport’s commentary is similarly inane and meaningless. Most TV and radio sport’s commentators are inarticulate buffoons who can only appreciate sport by reference to meaningless statistics and trivial and celebrity nonsense.

  11. Mathilde de Hauteclocque says

    My all time favourite piece of the mixed up commentary variety – especially titillating for its link to my ‘other’ homeland – came from an ex jockey in the broadcast box on the tele before the Melbourne cup was run. In customary high pitch he said, ‘We’ve got the crème de menthe of Australian racing here today.’

  12. LOL. The “creme de menthe”. Well, I guess he’s correct in a way. The Cox Plate is the Bailey’s.

  13. @Mark Doyle – 87.6521% of the success of my writing career is attributable to meaningless statistics.

  14. pamela sherpa says

    I totally agree with your comments Mark. Silence is golden.

  15. Once something starts to grate, it’s omnipresent and as intensely irritating as a stone in the shoe. I wince, every time, at ‘hopefully’, ‘obviously’ and ‘certainly’ as precursors to every comment, players and coaches alike.

  16. Alovesupreme says

    Mark & Pamela,
    My profound hearing disability is mostly a burden, but the fact that I don’t need the mute button on football (and other sports) telecasts is the one respect in which I’m advantaged. It does mean that I miss the rare instance of the memorable offering by a commentator.

    ‘All goes well’ seems to have passed its peak of popularity, but I suspect that it still gets an occasional run.

  17. I really dislike the reversed sentence. It’s almost as if punters do it so that they sound all footy insidery.

    “He’d make a great coach, the boy from Kyabram.”

    “He’s a lump of a lad, the unit from Geraldton.”

    “He’s an excitement machine, the ranga.”

  18. But wait, there’s more, as they used to scream on the old K Tel ads. A team is no longer a team – it is a group, apparently. It is no longer appropriate to refer to a team or club as Essendon, Carlton or, get thee behind me Satan, the Bombers or the Blues. Rather, it is de rigeur to refer to them as the Essendon Football Club and the Carlton Football Club. Watch ‘On the Couch’ for a couple of weeks and see what I mean. Comparably, it is no longer ‘football’ or,better, ‘footy’ – now, apparently, we were privileged tohave watched ‘a great game of Australian Rules Football’, as if somehow this adds gravitas to the entire exercise.

  19. Did Dennis Pagan start that nonsense? There can be no doubt that spin meisters have got into the clubs’ ears to inform them they need to formalise every utterance about the club. One young Giant yestetday on SEN said “football club” at least 432 times, at a rough count. It was pathetic.

  20. Skip of Skipton says

    The incessant use of the term ‘elite’.

  21. Tony, don’t know who started it but Greg Norman championed it for a decade when in every press conference he referred to golf as ‘the game of golf’. This was particularly the case once he’d lost his (immense) touch, and assumed the role of occasional playing elder statesman. Sadly many golfing journalists, or more to the point sports journalist who were sent to cover the game of golf that week, hung off every word. It made others pewk. Old Tom Ramsey (gone to God in the last 12 months) was one of the few who took The Shark on.

  22. M de H, some of my favourite on-air moments have been on NIRS, which has been going for years. For about 6 years I did a spot on Friday nights and very occasionally I’d do special comments (including an afternoon at Kardinia Park with Glenn James). Its stronghold has been in Brisbane, and in other far-off places, and the idea that commentary is being heard across the land makes my heart sing. I also love the ads – I haven’t heard the call for a while – but there used to be ads for Chinese takeaways in Cunnamulla and mechanics in the Deep North and Govt services ads re various issues. I have always been a huge Gilbert McAdam fan since the days of watching him at the Gabba, and having read his father’s book Boundary Lines (which I can recommend). I think th dominant idea of football as play has been retained, and that has not been a decision made around a table in the interets of marketing. I think Marngrook Footy Show also has it, and both focus on the footy, not the business and politics of footy.

  23. I think the reversed sentence is a go-to fave of comedians as well. I actually don’t mind it in impact doses.

  24. @Mathilde and also @jth
    Yep the NIRS coverage has been going for quite a number of years now. The calls started because Brisbane did NOT have a dedicated calling team or a network.

    So two old calling mates of mine from Bendigo — Barry Denner and Ron Rogers — did some trial tapes for the Lions and hey presto they became the NIRS b’cast team.

    Originally in the 90s the boys called only BrisVegas games. Then the coverage extended to Friday nights, Saturdays and Sundays until it became a full, comprehensive network.

    Barry and Ronnie Rogers still do the vast majority of Friday nite games. Undies Underwood was originally the host caller when games from Adelaide were involved but he’s also involved from the G and Etihad.

    As it says in the name, Nat. INDIGENOUS Broadcasting Service, the policy was always to have as many indigenous special comments men as possible.
    I used to do calls from 1998-2001 with Glenn James and Derek Kickett alongside. Gilbert McAdam, Ronnie Burns and others have joined since the mid-2000s.

    Hope you continue to enjoy the NIRS coverage, Mathilde. We used to reckon on grand final day, no matter who was playing, the NIRS audience would top half a million people.

    Remember, there’s little NIRS stations in outback Oz well beyond the reach of ABC Queensland and ABC Northern Territory which relay the calls !!

  25. Mathilde de Hauteclocque says

    Thanks for this history lesson fellas. Fascinating.
    It’s definitely become my ‘go to’ coverage, esp on Friday nights. And indeed, JTH, the Marngrook Footy Show was my other discovery last year. Broadcast live – yes before 11.55pm in Sydney! – thanks to 7’s digital offshoots. As you say, it’s about footy as play = joy. And there’s genuine love and humility among that mob. The ads may have been ‘nationalised’ somewhat but you still get Goodesy between goals with the ‘Learn. Earn. Legend!’ campaign.

  26. I lived on the Gold Coast in 2002 to 2004, and while heading home after a Cats V Brisbane game at the Gabba, I hit the scan button repeatedly hoping, but not expecting, to find a post game analysis.

    It might as well have been a choir of angels, such was my excitement when I first heard the footy chat on some station unknown to me. Of course, it was NIRS.

    It is so ‘grass roots’ and olde world, almost naive at times, and that makes it so appealing.

  27. Tony/Michael: I’m so glad that someone else has noticed the completely superfluous addition of ‘football club’ to every single utterance as if to give added weight and emphasise the seriousness of the statement. Pagan was a serial offender during interviews. I kept wanting to shout ‘Jeezus, we KNOW it;s the footy club your talking about and not the affairs of the municipality or the Moran family, so just please Dennis, stop!!!’ ,

    Terry Wallace was also a serial offender in addition to being always excessively verbose. Maybe it;s a habit of struggling coaches seeking to fill as much interview time as possible so they can limit the amount of questions being asked.

    Tim Watson is one for this as well, during one of his frequent sonorous proclamations about the strength of the Essendon Football Club on SEN; you think someone has died until you realise that a member of the committee ordered the wrong biscuits.

  28. @Mathilde

    Glad to be of service. You might not get the station in the Harbour City but Barry Denner has gone “upstairs”, so to speak, and now calls on Triple M as well, I understand.

    Altho’ he still hiunkers down behind the mike in the NIRS booth, too.

    It was very odd back in the late 90s when we branched out into all weekend coverage. Sitting in the b’cast boxes at the G alongside 3AW, 774 ABC Melbourne, Triple M and the like. Same at the Phone Dome, now Etihad.

    A lot of the blokes getting a gig on the established stations seemed a little miffed that a bunch of parvenus had invaded their territories. Still, the NIRS is in for the long haul so they just had to suck it up.

    Caro Wilson seemed a little taken aback at the arrival of the newcomers. But an old central Victorian radio and local TV calling mate of mine, 3AW’s Shane Helay (the AW G.M.) eased the situation markedly and after that everything was fine. .

  29. Couple of other ones:

    Scoreboard pressure – what a crock, to win you need to score more than the opposition and the more you score, the more pressure that occurs, so a stupid modern football phrase.

    Running the lines.

    The overuse of the word champion, which will be the subject of another piece

    SEN yesterday, talking about Isreal Falou – “we’ve seen snappets of him”

  30. How about the ever present “for mine” in place of “in my opinion”?

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