To Call or to Comment?

Fox Footy’s exclusive coverage of the Collingwood-Essendon game this last weekend confirmed for me something that has been bugging me all season.

It is now official that in today’s television coverage of our great code, commentary and analysis have taken over from the call of the game.

Think back to the old days when career sports presenters like Mike Williamson or Peter Landy would call every moment of action in the match.  Their special comments colleagues like Bobby ‘triple-brownlow-medalist’ Skilton were retired players who could fill in the gaps with some expert insider views and explanations. Two men in the commentary box was sufficient.

Things did not start well for the Fox Footy team on Sunday afternoon for their ‘Before the Bounce’ introduction to the game. Four ex-players in suits sat in a long row behind a desk that was exposed to the wind, the rain and the MCG public address system. Could they not have done this inside?

Things did not start well for me, the viewer, when I noted Paul Roos as one of those four men. Roos may do well sitting on the couch, but his style does not suit special comments.  His many, many contributions sound like long monotonous whinges. He will often string two or three themes together in one long essay while the unfolding game seems to take second preference.

As the siren sounded to begin the game Dunstall, Brereton and Roos joined Anthony Hudson in the box. David King went down to do his job down at ground level. It was puzzling to see Gerard Healy pop up a couple of times during the evening.  What actually was his role? And did we really need a fifth expert opinion?

Anthony Hudson is an excellent caller but it seems like the roles have been reversed. The caller now fills in the gaps in-between special comments. Paul Roos commands so much respect from his peers that Hudson seems reluctant to interrupt him when something important happens on the field. Dermot and Jason do keep their comments brief and relevant but when all three special comments men have something to say it adds up to one long discussion, which might be fine at quarter time but not appropriate while the game is still in play.

Aussie Rules broadcasting seems to have quietly adopted the American model famously satirised in the baseball scene in the Naked Gun movie. The British model seems to be the traditional two in the box – think soccer, cycling, even cricket.

I wonder if Fox and channel 7 have surveyed their viewers in this respect. This viewer still likes the game to be called in its entirety. Even when my own team is not involved, as a fantasy football enthusiast I still have a vested interest in knowing who is in possession of the ball.  More calling, less commentary please.

John Tait

About John Tait

My day job is running a record and bookstore in Essendon. I am author of Vanda & Young, UNSW Press, 2010. I also collaborate with australian musicians who want to write their memoirs (eg. The Dingoes Lament by John Bois, Melbourne Books, 2012). I love writing about sport but it is so hard to find a forum. I am a lifelong Essendon supporter and squash player.


  1. Agree, John. Also hate the Foxtel war-room rubbish, which goes right until the ball-up. What I want to see is players warming up, toss of the coin, who is substitute, line-ups, etc.., all of which Ch 7 provides. Unfortunately they have the worst of the callers – MacAvaney. Combined with the problems with some of the callers is the recent trend for games on Foxtel to be shown that consist mainly of long shots, where the players look like ants and vision of the contest gets totally lost

  2. Derek Mitchell says

    Surely, a case of too many chefs.

    Today’s TV calls are just one long abuse of the English language, and are often just inane statements of the bleeding’ obvious. I feel like screaming ‘shut up’ whenever an overpaid suit tells me the player ‘goes backwards’ – or ‘hand-passes’, even when it’s ‘sweeping’. I can see that, for myself, stupid! Worse, I actually do scream when I’m informed the player goes ‘laterally, across the field.’ No kidding, batman.

    My old boss at the Beeb used to tell commentators he never used to get complaints that they talked too little. These guys must be paid by the word. Take Dwayne Russell. Please, somebody. Take Dwayne Russell. His verbal diarrhoea is something to be heard once, and then flushed into the toilet of oblivion. Why is every kick or goal ‘massive’? Oh, and when did you ever agree to meet a mate ‘in the shadows of half-time’?

    And don’t get me started on Bruce, who keeps on saying ‘you feel’ and ‘you feel’ that. No Bruce. I don’t feel anything, except earache. The feelings are all yours. It’s as though you realise that it’s not your place to have an opinion, but you’re going to give us it anyway, and cloak it as the thoughts of someone else. Bizarre.

    How do they keep on getting away with it? Here’s how. There’s no control being exercised by producers these days. For example, in my days as a sports broadcaster, I would be hauled into the Head of Sport’s Office, and we’d listen back to my performance at the weekend. It would be analysed, criticised, taken apart and put back together again. It was often cruel, invariably embarrassing, but always instructive. I’d respect his (or her) opinion, for he (or she) had done this countless times with much better broadcasters than me. (Yes, Gerard and the rest of you, it’s better ‘than me’, not ‘than I’) We all listened and we learned. Today, it’s merely enough to have played the game, or, in Andrew Gaze’s case, to have played any game. Today that qualifies you as a broadcaster. No training. No performance review. They’d never have got away with that in their playing days, but today’s producers are no match for yesterday’s coaches. And players.

    These days, how many so-called professionals actually have their performances reviewed? How many take the trouble to listen back to their atrocities? How many of them would even listen to criticism?

    I’m told it won’t be long before we can mute the commentary and just have the crowd effects. O joy of joys.

  3. cowshedend says

    In the words of the “Chimp” “Very much so Lou”.
    I detest listening to Paul Roos,his whinge fest is neither insightful nor informative, and he should never ,ever, ever be allowed to do another Swans game, apparently they are exempt from his whingeathon and it would not surprise me if there was a picture of him having a post coital fag after calling a bloods game.
    Dunstall and Frawley fill the brief of specialist commentators extremely well, they are brief and succinct, they also have the ability to convey what they are seeing beyond what we are seeing on our screens.
    As for Brereton, please! Doesn’t he love to rope the others into a conversation about ‘the good old days’, just so he can remind anyone who forgot about his reference 10 minutes prior, that he was a really good hard player…Yawn!

  4. daniel flesch says

    Gee , i dunno … i think it’s just a matter of preference rather than right or wrong. Sometimes i find McAvaney informative , sometimes he’s a pain in the arse. He occasionally comes up with some interesting stats ,but his bouts of near -hysteria and his repetition of hackneyed phrases . Dennis Commetti can be funny , and he can be unfunny when trying too hard too. Cowshedend above alludes to “Chimp” Bob Skilton who i liked listening to a lot , but i could never stand Lou Richards. Got annoyed by his continual habit of saying “Over the line and out of bounds.” One or the other is enough . He also went on about “tiggy touchwood” free kicks , often disdainfully saying “It’s not a girls’ game.” Well , Lou , you Toorak -residing Collingwood battler – apart from the patronising sexism of that remark it IS a girls’ game now. And they’re good at it and great to watch. As for commentators – we all have ones we like , and ones we don’t. ( Eddie Maguire … ugh !)

  5. David Zampatti says

    It was instructive listening to McAvaney calling the Crows/Port game on the weekend. Without one of his pet teams and any of his pet players involved he gave a pretty straight call of the game – players identified by their surnames, matter-of-fact description of the play.
    All of which demonstrates that he, like many of his colleagues, is a barracker-in-chief , and what he barracks for are the big Melbourne clubs and the players he’s identified (sticking tight to conventional wisdom and herd mentality) as marquee – Buddy, Juddy, Cyril, Swanny etc.
    It’d be funny if it wasn’t so pathetic; there was one Freo game a little while back where he called every Dockers player by their surnames except one, who he constantly called “Jack” with that strange, slightly creepy inflection of his. It was, of all people, Jack Anthony, and the only reason I can think of why he’d use such affectionate familiarity for such an inconsequential player was because he’d once played for Collingwood.
    That’s just one, and not even the worst, example of He’d Be A Superstar If He Played In Melbourne syndrome which infects just about every caller and commentator except Brian Taylor. The next time I hear someone dismiss David Mundy with that lame rationale for their indifference and ignorance, I’m sending Lisbeth Salander around to tie him up and start inserting large, unpleasantly shaped objects up his fundamental orifice.

  6. Ripsnorter says


    I enjoyed your thoughts and feel your pain, definitely less is more in terms of words and people commentating – they should be made to watch more EPL games and just call the game and have a special comments guy on at half time to explain the bleeding obvious to anyone who is not smart enough to be in another room making a cup of tea.

    I too have got frustrated by the he’d be a superstar if he played in Melbourne routine. Generally people who watch football on the television are able to watch games from interstate and their own teams if in Melbourne actually play against the interstate teams. You would think that the people who work for the television stations would already know how television works but apparently they don’t.

    Too many egos – and Brian Taylor – I saw you take a load of marks on your chest and not “extend the dukes” so why do these commentators all talk like they were far superior footballers than the current versions – don’t they know that we saw them play?

  7. Thanks for all your comments. It is easy for such a discussion to decend into a personality contest of who and who I don’t like. I know I started it by identifying Paul Roos as live commentator who drives me mad. But the real issue for me is the trend away from calling the game and over-indulging in comment and analysis. And I wonder what has driven this trend? I’m not convinced that the viewers like it. No-one has come to its defence here. Fox and 7 could save themselves a bundle by trimming high profile staff and simplifying the product. The EPL example is a good one.

  8. Ron James says

    Agree with most comments but love B.T. for his obvious enthusiasm for the game in spite of the colloquialisms.I would like to bet that Bruce is not a viewer of pornography given his orgasmic reaction whenever “Buddy” even thinks of getting into the play.

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