After my ride I stopped for a burger at the local pub. They had one of the World Cup games on the big screen. For some reason the place was empty so I could hear the play-by-play of the game. Greece was playing Costa Rica. I was pulling for Greece for no reason other than they looked like old men compared to the Costa Ricans. They just looked like guys you would see smoking outside a club or arguing with one another at an outdoor café. The announcer made some reference to the star player celebrating their last win with a quiet cigarette. I think his name was Socrates.
It occurred to me that one of the reasons Americans tend to make fun of soccer is the announcers. Every four years ESPN imports an English guy (I think he is English) to call the games. They pair him with an American, who functions as a color guy. I did not catch the names and I really don’t care enough to look it up. It sounds like the same guy every four years, but maybe they have a rotation of British announcers. Again, I don’t know and I don’t care.
In America, we expect the play-by-play guy to be level headed and dry. In an exciting moment, he can show emotion, but otherwise he is supposed to be neutral and avoid making a spectacle of himself. The color guy is always a former jock who explains the action after the call. Announcers who make a scene get made fun of and color guys who are weird or goofy become punch lines. Chris Berman is considered the worst play-by-play guy in America, while Dan Dierdorff was the gold standard for uncommonly stupid commentary.
In soccer, this arrangement is exactly backward. The play-by-play guy is a clown. The British guy they drag over to do US broadcasts of soccer is like a parody. The over the top language and ridiculous comments about heroism and courage are topped off with overly dramatic comments during the few exciting points in the game. The color guy sounds like he is on drugs he is so mellow. He does not say anything you need to know. Instead, he works as a straight man to the weird announcer screaming about the heroism of a pass.
The only other place I’ve listened to soccer announcers is in South America and the announcers are famous for being emotional wrecks. But, they report the weather as if the fate of the world rests on their next utterance. That’s just how Latins roll. Brits are supposed to be stoic so there’s a reason for the deranged announcers that I’m not getting. I’m sure Brits are perfectly fine with it, but the chav-ball fans in America do themselves no good insisting on using the this announcer model.
Thinking about it, maybe the melodramatics from the booth are necessary. Eating my burger, there were long periods when nothing was happening in the game. Unlike American sports, soccer suffers a crucial defect. That’s the lack of statistics. In baseball, the dead time is filled with talk of the numbers. Football is a stat driven sport these days so that fills a big part of the broadcast. Maybe that’s why the soccer announcers have to carry on as they do. They have nothing to talk about for long periods.
That’s the other thing that does not work for Americans. Pre-game and post-game sports broadcasts are heavy on stats and heavy on strategy. In football, breaking down film is pretty much all the studio shows do these days. That and interviews with players and coaches. The half time show for the soccer game was three guys talking about how hard the players were trying. No replays. No strategy discussion. Just pointless statements about passion and effort.
The Greeks lost on coin flips.