TALES FROM THE RIVERBANK – PERSONAL REFLECTIONS ON PROBLEMS WITH HOCKEY TV COMMENTARY

GB Women epitomise the major progress of our national teams in recent times and look set to have a well earned place on the podium in London

As an team game  , both genders , as a spectacle  of pace , skill , fitness and full on sporting commitment , field hockey has come of age . It  finally is at a point where it is getting the level of media coverage it now fully deserves as the second biggest active participation sport in the country next to football. It getting reported on in national papers and is even beginning to attract serious attention from the broadcasting media at major international events  where  previously only when we  were in with a fighting chance at an Olympics did it get a token mention.  There is no issue in terms of filming it , what with the size and speed of the ball ; that myth has been dispelled by some excellent coverage  both from mainstream and  smaller independent video companies  focusing on the game more recently. The game has no problems in being highly marketable but the major concern is that we have yet to find many, if any ,who have the requisite skills to commentate on games to the standard the game deserves and from what I have seen so far, the BBC are going to undersell the game during the actual Olympics .

I agree completely that the commentary on the invitational international GB v Germany left a lot to be desired . It does not auger well for when the actual Olympics is being screened. It was old  school, somewhat uninspired , monotonous, minimalist , and   lacking in passion.  For me that style, or lack of it ,  is doing the modern game no favours . The myth that the game is impossible to capture on video has already been exploded and has in the last couple of years been really well done by both specialist and mainstream channels and  for me the blue did not give me any sense that the ball was easier to see or follow but that apart, the overall standard of terrestrial mainstream coverage, especially in terms of finding credible and entertaining commentators that reflect the amazing progress the game has made in terms of quality of play and spectacle .

GB & England Squads have shown incredible long term dedication and a professional approach and particularly the women are now a force equipped to challenge any team in the world on equal terms at these Olympics . Paucity of TV commentary is going to undersell that achievement in my view.

It is especially worrying when this Olympics  offers the biggest chance ever to show case  the game and to grasp wider public attentions  given  the huge progress in the standard of both our national teams in the last decade.  The profile of a sport relies heavily on TV coverage and perceptions of it promoted by both the camera work and the quality of commentary. The coverage of the GB men’s game I saw left much to be desired in both departments and despite having such a prestigious name in the commentary box , yes a fan of the game, but not a specialist, the coverage left much to be desired and had an over all feel of being somewhat under par with most other sport.

Veteran broadcaster Barry Davies was lead commentator with  co-commentator  Sean Kerly , the so called “Gary Lineaker of hockey”  but second fiddle but not it appeared to me , contributing much and aa work in progress if i am honest . At hockey internationals , as with other sports, it is quite rightly , common practice of having an expert ex player /athlete pundit at such things usually taking a back seat unless promoted by the more seasoned media professional.  No doubting his  knowledge of the game but not a gifted presenter and gives the appearance of still being under apprenticeship and certainly as yet no  master of the role.

Veteran sports commentator Barry Davies

The record breaking veteran broadcaster  Barry Davies ,”Voice of the boat Race “  pictured here , with forty years our vocal witness at the TV mircrophone ,  is arguably our  most experienced  sports commentator s ,   best known of course as a former  commentator on football . He is principally associated with working for the BBC TV , beginning his work their back in 1969 and associated with Match of the day for was it 35 years.  It is telling that he retired from football  commentary  back in 2004 complaining that he wasn’t getting enough big games but also to being down graded in terms of no longer being offered live games to cover. It would perhaps be unkind to delve into why he wasn’t being offered those games given his vast experience  but we have seen a wealth of very competent new football commentators ,who aren’t old school established names,  but you rarely hear of their commentary attracting any criticism at all. No doubt Barry is a national treasure , like Motty  with a voice that is instantly recognisable , and with  a wealth of experience and knowledge of many sports , much of which he recalls in his memoirs , aptly entitled “Interesting, very Interesting.” It was Davies I believe who did the commentary the last time GB had its major  successes on the international stage , Gold at the 88 Seoul Olympics and the Ladies podium in Barcelona  and perhaps that was an influence in hiring him for the Olympics and for the televised  pre- Olympic  events.   The game has come a very long way since then and especially in the last four years with central programme really kicking in and raising the bar  and for me old school no longer cuts it. I would ask if that was a premiership football game would that style of and quality of  live commentary have been acceptable ? Sadly ,  I think not.

I have no doubt that sitting in Barry Davies’s company  on a train or in a bar would be quite an experience in terms of chatting about sport and the wealth of stories and experiences he has in the archives of his brain and I’d guess he would be fired with enthusiasm and would not need prompting! I am sure, and know from one local experience,  that he is a charming man and an entertaining after dinner speaker, here   where nostalgia rules and perhaps that is now his greatest strength and perhaps more appropriate for reflective journalism than live commentary?

That is what was missing in the commentary I heard, little enthusiasm and little evidence of having done the homework and sharing all those little snippets of information from players bios and other interesting back ground stuff typical of people who are really on top of their game. That does not have the function of intrusive monologue or padding but  add to our enjoyment and understanding of the game and  should be the natural flow of a person enthused and passionate and conveying what they are privileged to be witnessing and making you feel that it is important and a worthwhile way for that person to spend their time and yours. These invitationals are of course not the real thing but a rehearsal  , team  coaches experimenting with different player combinations and game strategies . It also is an opportunity for the BBC to test run its side of things what with the new pitch colour – but of course it  is unlikely that there will be commentary team changes and that  is an area that needs further attention in my view.  As one passionate about the game but also with a professional interest in it, it may well be self defeating to raise such concerns where I always try to be positive and constructive  and this has been a difficult subject to write about and it is hard not to sound as if it is personal because it certainly is not.

Hockey  commentary has to work on two levels and treated as an emerging sport with a marketing job still to be done on it. We have  yearned for many years to have  decent media attention and especially TV coverage to raise the profile of the game to something other than a minor sport and TV and the other media has more recently embraced a variety of international hockey competitions  where previously only Olympic year hockey got widespread coverage. The game and the commentary  is going to be heard and watched most avidly by people who know the game inside out but also a raft of people new to it and thus , for example the commentator can’t presume the audience already understand the terms , rules and the technicalities  or know any of the players as the personalities that they are but there were  long silences  in the commentary which for me gave off all the wrong signals.

True it wasn’t a particularly  exciting game to watch  but the commentary did nothing to lift it. I logged onto the red button late  before the players came onto the pitch  – a blank pitch and very little sound , dull weather and cold blue –suddenly the German’s were attacking and scored while the GB players were still getting on to the pitch and the German’s scored. That was pretty puzzling but nothing much said to question that bizarre incident other than to mention the goal was good and typical of an indoor in off. To be quite frank, and I hate to be disrespectful  , but my enjoyment of the game would not have suffered if there had been no commentary at all on this ocassion.

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