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ARTICLES > SPORT/HUMOUR


THE ART OF THE 'COLEMANBALL'

Tags:   Football,   Fun,   Television

By Colin Fitz   -  August 10, 2014



As the return of league football draws ever closer, COLIN FITZ expects the usual criticism, some good natured some not, of local football match commentators to make a comeback along with it. However, as he discovered, the classic commentator faux pas of all time have been made far from our shores.

Comments made by broadcasters at a big football matches often enter a nation’s folklore and remain famous even when the match itself and its result fades into obscurity.


Most of the English-speaking world is aware of the famous declaration by an ITV journalist towards the end of the 1966 World Cup final, when fans were about to invade the pitch with the score standing at England 4 Germany 2. “…They think it’s all over… It is now!” as the referee blew his whistle.


For me, the eternal words came from Fr Hilary on TVM in the early ’80s… a hoarse screaming: “goal, goal, goal, GOOOAAAL!” when Carmel Busuttil’s light tap against Spain slowly rolled its way goalwards at Ta’ Qali – a match we only lost 3-2. We went on to lose the return match in Seville by that famous, shameful score.


Many years later it was me who said something quite memorable – a gaffe actually – while making a sports report on the radio. I think I may have delighted an afternoon audience by informing them of a match involving that famous Portuguese side Sporting Lesbian.

 

The fact that I instantly realized my gaffe and carried on as if nothing had happened probably explains why no complaints were received. That, or maybe I didn’t have as many listeners as I thought I did.


The business of commentators’ legendary errors was at the fore during the World Cup, when someone set up a Facebook page dedicated to gaffes - or what were seen as inappropriate metaphors used by presenters such as Sandro Micallef - used by local sports presenters in their post-match analyses. Micallef actually ended up sueing the people behind the Facebook page, claiming their actions put his job in danger.


The very fact that the World Cup matches were broadcast on TVM complete with English commentary speaks volumes of the station's faith in its own sports pundits' ability to commentate in a professional way.


At this point I'd simply like to say that in my opinion, while some of the local commentators aren't up to the job, others aren't so bad, and their occasional mistakes are blown out of all proportion. The fact that they have a) not actually been trained for the job and b) the Maltese language can be a bit restrictive when it comes to sporting terms doesn't help them at all.


However, one thing they can perhaps learn from foreign comentators is to inject a bit of humour into their broadcasts - too much stiffness is the order of the day in Maltese sports programmes.


But I digress. I wanted to talk about what I believe to be the classic commentator faux pas moment, bigger even then the Sky Sports presenters who were sacked after making sexist remarks about a female referee four years ago.


I refer to the sacking of former Manchester United manager-turned football-pundit Ron Atkinson in 2003.
 

The big man was already famous for making creative comments that became known as 'Ron-isms' or 'Ronglish' by amused British telly fans (sadly Sandro Micallef's aforementioned creative use of language is not as appreciated by local observers). Atkinson, who thought his microphone was off, complained to his colleagues about the performance of Chelsea’s Marcel Dessailly, calling him a “lazy f****n n****r.” A clear example, if there ever was one, of the evergreen maxim in broadcasting never to consider any conversation near a microphone to be ‘off the record’.


This was one of two types of commentators’ gaffe. One is potentially offensive, usually resulting in suspension. Atkinson’s racist remark has no place even in private conversation and his removal was inevitable.


A Maltese Champions League commentator, actually one of the better football talking heads on TVM, was suspended for the same reason around the same time, after absent-mindedly passing a remark that wouldn’t have had anyone batting an eyelid in the office, but who had to suffer the consequences of thinking he was off the air.


The other type of sports-host error has universally become known as a ‘Colemanball’, named after a famous BBC commentator of the '70s, David Coleman, and the popular English reference to making a mess, a ‘balls up’.


This type of utterly harmless, but usually hilarious, gaffe was made by Atkinson himself quite a few times before his mother of all on-air mistakes.


In the 1990 World Cup, commentator Brian Moore (of 80s TV programme Big League Soccer fame) had pointed out that a Cameroon player had the autographs of all his team-mates on his shirt.


“Nice to know they can all write their own names,” quipped Big Ron, not realizing that a seemingly innocent joke could be misinterpreted.


While that one straddled the boundary between ‘Colemanball’ and controversy, others he has said over the years are pure mixed-metaphor madness.


At a cold, winter match featuring Real Madrid: “Zidane is not very happy; he’s suffering from the wind”.


There was also this clanger uttered when Ron was the football ‘expert’ playing co-host to a main commentator: unfortunately the type of co-host so often present on Maltese television simply to state the obvious or provide the occasional cough.


“Well, Clive, it’s all about the two 'M's – movement and positioning.”


Here at home I can remember few of these ‘Colemanballs’, perhaps because, as Lou Bondi once put it, the limitations of Maltese vocabulary do not provide much opportunity to be creative. Which also explains why some commentaries by Maltese presenters tend to contain a lot of long silences.


Nevertheless, there has been John Busuttil ending a football report from the Corradino Prison instead of the Corradino Stadium, or player Kevin Loughborough being mistaken for the distinctly alcoholic-sounding Kevin Lowenbrau.


And many will recall the excitable commentator, he of the high-pitched voice who said Valletta players were climbing the steps to receive the FA Trophy when everyone could see they were dejectedly heading towards the dressing room tunnel.

 

Said live-TV commentator had not seen Ray Vella of Hamrun Spartans score the draw setting up a replay just before the whistle went.The usually meticulous presenter’s earnest declarations of Valletta’s victory remain a talking point down many a kazin to this day.  



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