SniperTube episode 5: Man Utd Special

We’ve all been there, haven’t we? On the wrong end of an absolute tonking. By the time the 5th or 6th one goes in, you’re so far beyond caring that you’re busy chatting to the bloke next to you about politics or kabbadi. What’s that, we’re down to 10 men as well? Ah well.

Yep, we’ve all been there. Some more than others, it has to be said. And when the most domestically successful team in English football gets a jolly shellacking, we have to savour the moment, since it happens so very, very rarely. And then dredge up and bask in a load of other whuppings for good measure.

After three years of treading water in Division 1, Crystal Palace would finally be relegated in 1973. But it wasn’t all doom and gloom at Selhurst Park, where one of their 7 home victories was against one of the less well-remembered Man Utd sides (they finished a lowly 18th that season). And what a victory it was, too:

Apart from the pure joy of listening to Brian Moore saying “Manchester United simply don’t know which day it is”, it’s also great to see moustachioed genius Don Rogers (“…in a way, doing a Pele”), Palace’s rather dark red and light blue striped kit, and rubber “goalie gloves” taken straight from the washing up bowl and onto the pitch.


Man Utd walked the league in the 99-00 season, 18 points ahead of nearest challengers Arsenal come May. Here though, it’s early October and the season is still very much finding its feet. And as soon as you hear Martin Tyler say something about “Phil Neville’s been put there to do a job on Gianfranco Zola”, you know the United defence is going to be in for a long afternoon:

There’s so many things wrong in this video. Jody Morris scoring, then doing that trombone celebration; Chris Sutton scoring, who cost £10million (30YS Videprinter: Ten); and finally the conclusive proof that all ‘keepers who wear jogging bottoms are ultimately doomed to fail.


Post Love it Newcastle under Kevin Keegan were something of a busted flush, but no compilation of teams beating Man Utd 5-0 is complete without Little Kev’s moment of small revenge. Fergie’s men famously overhauled the Geordies 12-point lead to take the title in 1996, but then Shearer was bought for £15million that summer in what was really Keegan’s last throw of the dice. He would leave the job just a few months later, but not before this:

Keegan’s last hurrah showed just how wonderful that Newcastle team could be on occasion. Everyone remembers Philippe Albert’s chip, but David Ginola’s strike for 2-0 was almost as incredible. Keegan resigned in January 1997, saying that he’d taken the club as far as he could; Kenny Dalglish took over and Newcastle finished 2nd behind Man Utd, just as they had the previous year.

30 Yard Sniper’s guide to…The lost art of commentating

There’s no doubt the role of the play-by-play commentator has evolved over the years. As the pace of the game has increased, so has the speed of the vocal delivery. But gone are the days of regularly hearing only two or three commentators. In the old days, you had Brian Moore on ITV, and John Motson or Barry Davies on BBC. There was no need for any more, because there weren’t enough televised games to spread the workload around without the “main-man” getting offended – just look at the politics the Beeb had to deal with in trying to juggle Motson and Davies between the big games.

The advent of digital television and Sky’s ubiquitous coverage has led to a growth in recognisable voices behind the microphone. Brian Moore retired in 1998 (and sadly died 3 years later); Davies followed in 2004, while the last of the traditional “big 3”, Motson, is slowly being phased out, gradually appearing closer and closer to the end of MOTD before one day he’ll finally drop off the end and we’ll never hear from him again. He should have retired around the same time as Davies – his stat-attack style really sounds muddled and forced these days.

All this has left the gantry wide open for a new generation of hungry commentators, all ready with their “It’s been 15 years since Everton last beat Arsenal away from home; the scorer of the winning goal that day was former Manchester United winger Andrei Kanchelskis. One-time Arsenal player Anders Limpar was on the bench for the Toffees, but he didn’t get the nod” style facts. Information like this makes a fairly interesting introduction, but it’s when these nuggets of pre-prepared information start cropping up every 90 seconds that a nation starts reaching for the valium. Many of the new breed commentators spend far too much time relating uniteresting statistics from the current match to uninteresting statistics about previous matches, to the point whether you think you might give a sh*t that 52% of Arsenal’s goals conceded in the last 3 years have come from set-pieces.

I’m not saying the odd stat or fact goes amiss, but there really is such a thing as too much information. These Motson-wannabes should try listening to some tapes of Brian Moore, the greatest of them all in my opinion. He could call a match with reverence and poise, but without sounding pious or self-serving. He could judge the temperament of a match and his discourse would flow perfectly along beside it. There’d be no Tyldesley-esque sarcastic asides; cynicism was left to the discretion of the viewer, and to Barry Davies, of course, but he did it well.

So in the way that many modern indie bands now sound like a tribute band to an Oasis tribute band, many of the current crop of commentators are essentially failed Motson clones: stattos with no real prescence. Notably:

  • Peter Drury. It’s hard to imagine in what other situation you’d end up listening to such a sanctimonious man for 90 minutes, outside of a Jeremy Kyle marathon. In the “useless information overload” stakes, no-one comes close to Drury, who makes a point of contextualising every minute occurrence in the game against some sort of higher historical background. He is also always biased towards one of the teams being covered; usually it will be the English team in Europe (we don’t all want Man Utd to win, muppet), or failing that it’ll be the underdog, or the team with the star player, whatever – he will take sides. And it’s awful. No-one makes me reach for the mute button faster than Peter Drury. Currently ITV’s second choice, usually paired with Jim Beglin. Poor old Jim Beglin.
  • Jon Champion. As I was writing my pre-match intro in the 3rd paragraph, (factually correct by the way), I could hear Champion’s voice saying it aloud in my head. You might think that qualifies me for an intervention, but for me, he’s far too nasal, to the extent of sounding a bit like a human trumpet. WSC’s Cameron Carter once wrote: “Cham­pion’s commentary is the footballing equivalent of the chap next to you on a long train journey vocalising his investigation of the Times crossword.” Also his introduction as lead commentator on the Pro Evolution Soccer computer game series instead of Peter Brackley coincided with the marked decline of the title in the games market. Currently ESPN’s first choice, generally accompanied by Craig “I’m sorrry, but…” Burley.
  • Alistair Mann. His monotonous voice reminds me of the dull headache associated with a Sunday morning hangover. He manages to sap the excitement out of any game situation in the style of a particularly dull English teacher going through War Poems in the last lesson on a Friday afternoon at school. Usually gets the last game on MOTD or one of the featured Championship games on the Football League Show.
  • Clive Tyldesley. You can imagine every wall of his house is covered with posters of the 1999 treble-winning Man Utd squad. I kept forgetting about the time they won the Champions League, but luckily Clive is always on hand to remind me about “that night in Barcelona” and those tearful but happy memories come flooding back, like the way 10 pints of lager and a vindaloo return the morning after. Few commentators achieve the almost visble level of fawning droolery that Tyldesley does when commentating on a Man Utd game. Wikipedia alleges that he is actually an Everton fan. Never trust Wikipedia. 

Barry Davies certianly wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I found his determination to always compare everything to a ridculously high standard quite endearing. His commentary on Dennis Bergkamp’s goal against Argentina at France ’98 epitomised his greatness, veritably screaming “OHHH WHAT A GOAL!” – no smart-arse turn of phrase or attempt to say something profound – he was just blown away at witnessing one of the greatest ever goals and he didn’t care how he sounded.