So a new World Cup brings new hope of fun & frivolity at the hands of trusted helmsmen and their sometimes wayward sidemen. But it's not all plain sailing: Brian Clough provided many a star turn in the studio, Jimmy Hill got annoyed at the wrong things for years on the BBC and Trevor Brooking said 'Well...' a lot. The commentary booth is not a venue for the fearful: you're live and you may get it wrong.
This year has been somewhat eventful, and not for the right reasons.
The main outcry has been over Phil Neville's horrific one-note turn for England v Italy. Not only did he show none of the prowess of his brother, he talked far too much, offering insight on nearly everything whilst continually exuding an air of superiority based on the fact that he, a former player, was uniquely positioned to provide insight that us mere viewers would be unable to perceive without his 'man on the inside' input.
New man for ITV, Joe Speight, stepped up for the little heralded Chile v Australia match & provided an interesting style: part Radio 1 DJ, part factoid machine; it wasn't pleasant. In another world over on the BBC, somebody thought that the real thing (a Radio 1 DJ and factoid machine) was a good option for the red button and Scott Mills & friends chuntered through with little to no insight. You wouldn't have a footballer sing a song, so why the opposite?
The Sam Matterface/Clark Carlisle axis, who I quite like having endured them throughout the season in Tottenham's Europa run, were doing OK until the memorable faux pas from Carlisle who, commenting on the strength of the Ecuador first XI, stated that Jackson Martinez, so lethal for Porto this last year, couldn't get a place in the side. He was half right, Martinez was a substitute for Columbia the night before. I winced for him and Matterface kindly and professionally made no on-air comment.
Mark 'Lawro' Lawrenson solidly trends on twitter throughout each broadcast he features on, bringing his special brand of misanthropy and mild outrage to every game. Thoroughly and entertainingly dismissive of the goal-line technology, there are few things that generate joy in his heart. Usually accompanied by the competent Steve Wilson, the sun to Lawro's rain, he is the last of the old guard of co-commentator. Were his skills employed in America, his 'color commentary' would undoubtedly be grey.
Clive Tyldesley & Andy Townsend, remarkably ITV's go-to team, have alternatively overstated the drama (Tyldesley), mangled the English language (Townsend) and continued to wend their unmerry way throughout their selection of high profile games; there is nothing new here, beyond continued bemusement at Townsend's employment; though God love him, he's an enthusiast; blessed with insight, he ain't.
The piece de resistance however, came in last night's France v Honduras match. Jonathan Pearce has long since left behind the role of crank commentator ( 'Fowler the Growler', anyone?) and over the years has managed to slightly tone down the preachy rhetoric.
However, yesterday was borderline insanity, sadly a more creeping and subtle variant of his prior efforts. Starting as he meant to go on by bellowing at Martin Keown from a very short distance, he made a series of decidedly strange comments including one praising the locals for creating an atmosphere in the city by 'selling peanuts and cold drinks', failed to realise for far too long that a shot had hit the side netting, had no understanding of the goal line technology even as it was spelled out in front of us and generally sounded like a man one mike short of retirement. Keown chipped in by praising players' 'athletism.'
The studio has also had it's moments. For every Henry (who looks better than he sounds), we have a Savage, for every lucid Seedorf there's a stilted Cannavaro. Patrick Vieira continues to look like he's done enough prior to even opening his mouth and ITV have gone far too heavily with non-native English speakers, creating long and slow periods of non-insight. Shearer, as ever, pundits like he played: belligerent and unbending, all power and no finesse.
Alan Hansen will be there soon, and he is on the verge of the permanent golf course. He will roll out the old tropes about shocking defending and spot players who are 'World Class' & make half of the others look like amateurs. His passing is due, but one fears that those tasked with replacing him have, as yet, failed to hit their marks. The old boy's network runs strong in football broadcasting & shows no sign of let-up.
And i've not even mentioned Adrian Chiles.