What follows is material excerpted from a column I used to write for The Age newspaper from 2008-2010, reviewing TV sport coverage, entitled Lost In Transmission.
This post covers the columns published in the first half of 2009.
(I decided this one was already long enough to justify splitting that year’s material into two parts.)
As with the first one – which compiled material from the 2008 columns and can be found lurking in the vicinity – this is a mixture of one-liners, paragraphs, and in some cases, half or whole columns, depending on what I thought would still scan for readers now. For the latter reason as well, there’s been some minor editing from the original copy.
For me, it brought back to mind some events, incidents, coverage and commentary worth remembering, and some probably well worth forgetting, but still worth a laugh.
* New Year’s Day, our time, offered an entertainment spectacle bizarre even by Las Vegas standards – Australia’s acknowledged stunt motorbike ace Robbie Maddison trying to land his bike atop a 29 metre-high replica of the Arc de Triomphe outside the Paris Las Vegas casino, and then free-fall off it 15 metres, hopefully to a ramp, rather than the cold, hard ground below.
Maddison’s fiancée, Amy Sanders, was asked what last-minute advice she’d given Robbie, and responded, “Remember the little things.” This seemed excellent advice given that his little things might well have been shooting past his earhole in a matter of minutes.
As everyone knows by now, the jump/nosedive combination was a complete, fatality-free success, with the only casualty being one of Maddison’s hands, which wound up scrambled like an egg.
Subsequently, Maddison was asked about his future plans. Responded the great man, philosophically, “Who knows what the future holds? I’m just going to keep looking toward the future.”
Once again, the greatest enigma in extreme motorsport keeps us all guessing, including himself.
* The Brisbane International semi-final between Radek Stepanek and Richard Gasquet found John Alexander and Todd Woodbridge in the Channel Seven commentary position, a circumstance which may have led some viewers to assume the horizontal position.
Stepanek’s demonstration of many of soccer’s least appealing goal celebrations – only stopping short of the dreaded, and inexplicable, thumb-sucking manoeuvre – provoked a reaction that could well be termed fiery by John Alexander standards, and at least life-like by normal standards.
Noted Woodbridge sagely, “Stepanek’s trying to draw his opponent into these psychological things.”
To be fair, Gasquet looked like he was about to have a major “psychological thing”, if not downright blow a Gasquet; and for a few moments, it seemed possible that he might hurl down his racquet, jump the net, and improve the entertainment value of tennis in a way that the latest slapstick changes to the doubles scoring system could never hope to approach.
Stepanek, for his part, launched into an even more elaborate and frenzied series of victory celebrations after many winning points, which had the cumulative effect of suggesting Marcel Marceau attempting to perform in monsoonal conditions while suffering from an extreme nerve disorder.
Summarised JA, with perhaps a more devastatingly caustic impact than actually intended:
“Radek, desperately trying to develop some personality.”
* Recently a UK journalist, while debating the vexed, ongoing question of what exactly constitutes legitimate sport, expressed the considered view that sport is anything marketed, promoted, and – perhaps most importantly – consumed, as sport. This is admittedly something of a mind-blower when you think about exactly what is carried on pay-TV sport channels these days – not excluding poker and the carrying of boulders by extremely stocky men with flat-top haircuts.
* Regarding the Twenty20 game, they can leave out the “rock’n’roll cricket” references as well. Avowed cricket fan Mick Jagger notwithstanding, rock’n’roll and cricket have about as much in common as cabinet meetings and wild sex. Probably even less.
* Ah, the sights and sounds of the Australian Open, as brought to us by the Seven network.
Perennial host Matthew White greets us out of an ad break:
“Coming up, Amelie Mauresmo, on the women’s side of the draw.”
Where else? Roger Federer almost invariably plays on the men’s side, before they feel the need to explain that to us as well.
To prepare us mentally for the clash of the titans between Amelie and Victoria Azarenko to follow, we were treated to the spectacle of Victoria in the Garnier Fructis hut, being fluffed, primped and generally Fructisized. Boy, that Channel Seven – all class with a major sporting event, and, with apologies to Foghorn Leghorn, still about as subtle as a hand-grenade in a barrel of oatmeal.
When it came to the sounds of the Open, you couldn’t go past Ms Azarenko, unfortunately. That bizarre shrieking bleat she emits with each stroke stands unchallenged as sporting noise pollution, although it might have considerable appeal to those engaged in post production sound-dubbing for the more disreputable end of the pornographic movie business.
* John Alexander was back spinning the old rope like nobody’s business, bizarrely coming out in the middle of the match with: “Victoria has made the most LINEAR progress.” He declaimed the line beautifully too, like James Mason reading a weather report.
Unfortunately, the meaning of this utterance seemingly constituted a mystery capable of reducing Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to tears of envy – a mystery not conspicuously dissipated by JA then burbling a long, unexplained list of tournaments and years, accompanied by Ms Azarenko’s achievements in them, which seemed oriented strongly towards second, third and fourth round finishes, in a variety of orders, for whatever that proved.
JA seemed on safer, if duller and more annoying, ground with his not uncharacteristic comment:
“The beauty from Belarus.”
Hmm, maybe we’re better off just hearing the shrieking.
* During the Australian Open women’s final, in response to Sandy Roberts’ stunning, if not comprehensively sleep-inducing, revelation that Serena Williams had won 52 points to Dinara Safina’s 23, Alicia Molik responded, thoughtfully, “Unforgiving. Greedy.” In tennis’s burgeoning field of portentous, and more or less meaningless, verbal Morse code, even John Alexander would have struggled to top that.
Alicia continued: “I think Dinara has the crowd on her side. They want to see a contest.”
You know, given that attendees had paid serious rent and utilities bill type money to be at the women’s final, one imagines they WERE hoping it would go slightly longer than a “Sex and the City” double-shot on pay TV. It seems highly unlikely that there was a preponderance of crowd members hoping to get Williams v Safina out of the road in a hurry so they could watch the Bryan brothers in the doubles instead.
Transported by the moment, Alicia rhapsodised that she felt privileged to have played in the same era as the Williams sisters, adding:
“They’ve taken tennis to a different level – almost a different sphere.”
No idea what this means, but if you’re ever playing a geometry-based variant on scissors-rock-paper, apparently you should bear in mind that “spheres” always beat “levels”.
Incidentally, exactly where Sandy was heading with his bold new “52 points to 23” approach to tennis scoring remains something of a vexing mystery. For instance, one doubts that either the WTA or tennis fans are utterly clamouring for a new “Best of 103 points” system to decide matches.
* An epic encounter at Subiaco, then, to kick off the fun-size, show-bag-oriented, pre-season alternative to football. Of course anyone watching would know that this could in no way be a reference to the Eagles-Collingwood match itself, which, in the event, was what the Bunnings catalogue would describe as a whitewash.
Between Messrs McAvaney and Cometti’s Bruce’n’Den vaudeville extravaganza, and Nathan Buckley and Leigh Matthews amiably nattering away about tactics, there wasn’t a lot of room left on the audio track for further contributions.
As a result, viewers may have been entirely unaware that Tim Watson was skulking around in the area of the boundary line, a very picture of professorial erudition with his distinguished greying thatch and highly knowledgeable-looking half-glasses, but somewhat starved of opportunities for actual participation.
That is, until the ever-dutiful Bruce suddenly remembered him deep into the first quarter, and sent up the verbal flare, “Tim?” Unfortunately, no answer was forthcoming, other than a brief but poignant nationally televised moment of silence.
Undeterred, Bruce used another lifeline,
“Tim, have you got something for us?”
This time the silence was both profound and sustained.
At that awkward moment, possibly only a Dennis Cometti could have thought to helpfully offer:
“Do you want me to try, Bruce? Tim and I get along pretty well.”
* Much like our solar system’s Sun and most 1970s band reunions, Brisbane v St Kilda was hard to watch. Despite Robert Walls’ assurances about the size and standard of the playing surface, the style of football on offer tended to resemble 36 disoriented people trying to play “Twister” in a very small lounge-room with a bumpy floor.
It strangely recalled the occasion when WWE commentator Jerry Lawler, once tried to bolster an unusually horrible and seemingly endless pro wrestling match by exclaiming, “This could go all night!” only to undo all his good work when, following the briefest of pauses, he added the words, “Much to my chagrin.”
* Fox Sports News channel mostly seems to feature the same sport news package rolling around every twenty minutes or so absent-mindedly, like someone forgot to change the tape over. For some reason they feel the need to favour various sections of the day’s output with supposedly colourful titles, along the lines of “Breakfast Balls” “Morning Migraine”, “Lunchtime Lassitude”, and “Afternoon Arsenic”, all the way through to “Sleepy-Time Stampede”. (Actual titles may differ slightly.)
The channel is mostly peopled with young, fiercely laconic chaps in suits, with a propensity for staccato names in the format, “One syllable, Two syllables”. If your name was Block Itchy, Cram Crotchley, Fluke Dinghy, or Stale Cracker, you’d presumably be ahead of the pack in lodging a job application there.
* Those of us who are older and comparatively “lifestyle-challenged” may never live to see Australia’s commercial TV giants win their heroic battle to struggle blinking into the light of late 20th Century showbiz panache, whenever this may finally occur.
* In Seven’s screening of the Robert Dickson documentary “The Essence of the Game”, there was the country football coach who lambasted his charges between gritted teeth:
“One word. One word only. You’re selfish footballers.”
Yes, well, sometimes the message is more important than the mathematics.
* Confusion of a more humorous nature reigned when SEN Radio’s Dermott Brereton, enthusing about a physical confrontation late in the second quarter, commented:
“The last time someone got tackled like that in the centre square, the sport was called Roman-Greco!”
Billy Brownless backed up, “The Lions aren’t even playing tonight.”
I don’t think Australian Rules football was ever called “Roman-Greco”. There IS a sport called Greco-Roman, which is a form of amateur wrestling in which grips and other techniques below the waist are barred. Lions are barred too. Of course, this all may change before next year’s pre-season competition.
* The Channel Ten commentary was also proud to share with us that at the Swans v Hawthorn game, there were “Over 32,000 here tonight”. What a coincidence. That’s the exact amount that the Swans’ normal haunt at the SCG comfortably holds – over 32,000. Admittedly, this failed to explain exactly why the match was being conducted at ANZ Stadium, which holds more than twice that. Why? Who knows? Maybe the light was better over there.
* A major highlight occurred during the now weekly “Why the umpires need to be UN-MIKED again” incident, as the Swans’ Martin Mattner attempted to get a quick kick away from the goal-square after a Hawthorn behind, only to be foiled by officialdom.
“You grabbed the footy before (the goal umpire) signalled it,” piped umpire Vozzo. “You can’t do that. Go and grab another footy.”
If nothing else, this was an excellent encapsulation of every piece of pointless bureaucracy in the history of humankind.
Mattner’s response to a completely irrational situation was a peach. Without argument, he trotted back to the little sports bag full of footballs behind the goal line, dropped the offending item back in the bag, and then picked up the exact same ball, and kicked out again – a fact not lost on commentators Luke Darcy and Anthony Hudson who immediately erupted in unseemly hilarity, and sounded like they weren’t too far away from standing on their seats and flicking a Bic lighter.
* A diversion was provided by Radio 774’s Drew Morphett, who, in a distracted moment, ascribed 20, ten and then eight possessions to the Eagles’ Dean Cox – a man so busy, he’d apparently become three people. Drew also informed us in a somewhat ecstatic tone that “Goddard is everywhere!” which, appropriately enough for an Easter game involving the Saints, seemed only a few letters away from a religious epiphany.
As half-time approached, Stan Alves threatened a number of times to inform us of the exact reason for St Kilda’s dominance, but never quite managed it, at least in so many words. At one point he explained excitedly: “They’ve got their situations, they’ve got the way it is.” This seemed less an encapsulation of a team plan and rather more a garbled misquote of an old song lyric by Bruce Hornsby & the Range.
* Heavyweight boxer Chris Arreola, a victor on last weekend’s Paul Williams-Winky Wright undercard, found time to reflect during his post-fight interview:
“I want to thank Ernie for making my shorts on short notice.”
Indeed. Presumably Ernie needs more time when making full-length pants.
* Full credit to Channel Ten’s Luke Darcy for the minor slip of the tongue which resulted in this sparkling new aphorism on Saturday night:
“It goes without staying.”
This is almost invariably true, except of exercise bikes.
* The Rex Hunt ripper of the day involved a seemingly accidental mispronunciation of a player’s name, the subject being Port’s Hamish Hartlett.
Perhaps Rex is unduly fond of the much-quoted, if quite possibly apocryphal, story in which 1930s Hollywood bombshell Jean Harlow met British socialite Margot Asquith and mispronounced her first name, leading to Asquith’s famous rejoinder:
“No dear, the ‘t’ is silent, as in ‘Harlow’.”
At any rate, Rex’s renditions of Hartlett’s surname repeatedly omitted a ‘t’, and the most important one at that, with similarly unfortunate results. Eventually, Dennis Cometti, apparently torn between confusion and amusement, asked whether Rex whether he knew something about Hamish that the rest of us didn’t.
* It was no less a personage than our esteemed Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, who, during his affable, account executive-flavoured appearance during Channel Ten’s half-time programming on ANZAC Day, remarked of Collingwood’s defeat of his nominally beloved Lions, “It got my goat up.” There may be people within the animal husbandry or veterinary fields whose peculiar duties may well include the stated task, but, at last report, neither Collingwood nor the Prime Minister of Australia were among them.
The traditional expression, indicating irritation rather than quadruped arousal, is, simply, “got my goat”. Another common variation is “got (right) up my goat” which is both erroneous and bad news for the goat.
* The triumphant footy wordsmith for the second week running was Ten’s Luke Darcy. During the post-match program, Darcy opined that with its victory over North, Richmond had “broken an out of runs”. This may puzzle some, but the linking of Richmond’s 2009 form with gastric distress will make perfect sense to Tigers fans.
* For perhaps the first time in over a century of VFL/AFL football media analysis, a player’s location was described, by SEN’s Dermott Brereton, as “the true half-forward flank”. This deceptively unassuming term seemingly opens a Trojan Box of possibilities, if not a Pandora’s Horse as well.
Previously we’d all thought there were only two half-forward flanks per team, each located somewhere along the old trade route between Centre-Wing Island and the Forward Pocket Peninsula. Now, with this discovery of the “true half forward flank”, who knows? Maybe one of the old half-forward flanks was lying. Perhaps both were wrongly mapped and the true flank location will not be determined until the famous explorer Brereton picks up the holiday snaps of his latest historic voyage from the chemist’s.
* During the Fox Sports coverage of the North-Port Adelaide game on Saturday night, it was suggested that the not noticeably cramped for elbow-room crowd of 14,000-odd at the Docklands was a little disappointing compared to the 22,000 which had attended the same teams’ previous match at the MCG.
Hmm. One could presumably debate long and hard into the night – should one have an over-abundance of leisure time and a busted DVD player – over whether a 14,000 crowd in a 50,000+ capacity stadium is more or less “disappointing”, or dispiriting, than a 22,000 crowd at a venue with a nominal capacity of 100,000.
Given the two clubs involved, it might not be outrageous to suggest that the universal panacea for disappointment, regardless of the venue involved, would be a reasonable lowering of expectations.
However, a remedy may be at hand, according to Jason Dunstall, who remarked of Port’s Daniel Motlop: “One of those players who is worth the price of admission.”
One of football’s most intriguingly persistent pieces of science-fiction is the notion that certain individuals are “box office draws” who significantly increases the size of crowds single-handedly due to their presence in a match.
What we mostly learn from this is that some commentators apparently haven’t strayed anywhere near the general public section of a football stadium since a time when the term “mobile phone” exclusively meant one hurled across the room in disgust after your football team had lost.
That a significant proportion of the crowd attending any AFL match is clad in the colours of one of the two competing teams is probably the giveaway here. They go to see their club play, and hopefully, to see them win. That’s pretty much the whole story.
But when the net of supposedly “marquee players” is spread wide enough to include a Daniel Motlop, or equivalent, the whole proposition starts to seem vaguely ridiculous.
Daniel Motlop played 21 home-and-away matches last year. “Showdowns” notwithstanding, Port Adelaide was crowd-resistant at home and the usual box office poison on the road. You probably wouldn’t blame Daniel Motlop for this. He’d hardly want the credit anyway.
* Honestly, the kind of language you hear in football commentary these days, it really is beyond the pale. Just the other night, during the Swans-Eagles game on Ten, Tim Lane saw fit to refer to Tennyson. Seriously, Tennyson. To make matters even worse, it was the poet Tennyson and not the street in Elwood.
Slightly modifying a couple of lines from Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s renowned football epic, “Ulysses”, Tim remarked of the match in progress:
“…tho’ they are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which they are, they are…”
If nothing else, it certainly made a bracing change from “Bit of an ordinary old kick”, or “The defence needs to be more accountable”. I’m going to take a “flier” at this, based on context, and assume that what Tim, in conjunction with his new tag-team partner Tennyson, meant was that while the Swans and Eagles might not be the premiership-winning powers that they were in relatively recent times, they can still play a bit of footy.
Lord knows what the viewing audience made of it, exactly. Maybe Ten should announce a competition. It was also something of a literary long-shot in the booth, given that mere weeks ago, a Ten commentary team temporarily stumped itself over which of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde was, and I quote, “the naughty one”.
Anyway, after a moment of general poetry-inspired silence, Robert Walls’ inquiry,
“And which team did Tennyson play for?” was probably inevitable.
* Recently, and with punishing consistency, Australian Rules footballers have been relieved of the burden of kicking over a distance. Instead, we hear of them making, or covering, or getting, “the journey” or “the trip”. We’ll know the relevant words have truly become interchangeable when we ever hear someone remark to their spouse, “Sorry, honey, won’t be home tomorrow – the boss has sent me on an interstate business distance.” Or the expression “long journey phone-call” becomes part of the common vernacular.
* The fundamental aim of any exercise within any medium is communication. Some jargon can be useful in achieving this aim. The kind of jargon we’re being showered with in football commentary is about as useful as a periscope on a cheeseburger.
* An interesting background piece aired before Round 2 of the USPGA’s The Memorial Tournament, on Fox Sports. For fellow golf-heathens, the event is held on a course designed by Jack Nicklaus, and each year it honours one or more past golfing notables with an induction ceremony.
The Golf Channel’s Rich Lerner noted that in the first year of the tournament, Nicklaus chose to honour Bobby Jones. Lerner insisted that this was not only due to Jones’s golfing achievements and personal qualities, but also because he was a family man, and that this had inspired Nicklaus to start a family of his own, adding that, “He now has over 20 grandchildren.”
On the surface of things, this seems like an astounding contention, for a number of reasons. For example, one may hear of sportsmen inspiring others in the community to many achievements, but on the whole, procreation usually isn’t one of them.
Admittedly, TV footy viewers here can regularly observe players mouthing crude expressions which are, very roughly speaking, the equivalent of “Go forth and multiply”, but the common assumption is that such imprecations aren’t meant to be taken literally. And if they were, and footballers (and umpires) acted accordingly, we’d have a population roughly the size of Indonesia’s by finals time in 2011.
It’s also somewhat difficult to believe that it hadn’t occurred to Jack Nicklaus to start a family until he got the idea from Bobby Jones. You don’t have to be a historian to harbour the strong suspicion that the idea of families, not to mention at least a vague general inkling of how they get started, was a matter of common currency prior to Bobby Jones. Not only was it in all the papers, but in some of the books and movies as well. One gathers the whole business really took off after the invention of either jazz music or Marlene Dietrich.
* A sportswriter recently accused the US Golf Association of “obstinance”. No clue here either. Perhaps, if anything, this is the quality of remaining stubborn about refraining from sex.
At a time when English routinely takes a street-corner pummelling in both the media and the greater community – and often on matters far more rudimentary than “obstinance” – you might figure Latin would fare no better if someone were fanciful or foolhardy enough to take a poke at it. And, apparently, you’d be just about right.
“It all goes well for the rest of the season,” beamed the classically-inclined optimist, Michael Christian, on the previous week’s edition of Ten’s “The Fifth Quarter”. Yes, the great chestnut of footy-speak returns.
For whatever it’s worth – which would apparently stop well short of the value of a two-hour MetCard in current market terms – the expression is “augurs well”.
“Augurs” is a Latin-derived word referring to omens and prognostication, apparently subjects with which Michael Christian must have a nodding familiarity, if he can tell us with any authority in June: “It all goes well for the rest of the season.” Well, it’s hardly the first time a Christian came out on the wrong side of the deal taking on the Romans.
On a not-dissimilar note, there’s a TV promo that’s been running around, uncorrected, for months. It seeks to promote the upcoming Ashes series, by way of a series of purported individual player match-ups. “Punter verse Strauss!” proclaims an excited Damien Fleming, inadvertently suggesting a previously unheralded poetry battle between the English and Australian cricket captains.
“Verse” is now depressingly common, and worse is afoot. It seems a mere matter of time before we endure network football promos which follow the example of my eight-year-old niece – and others perhaps old enough to know better – in announcing:
“Tune in tonight to watch Carlton versing Collingwood!”
Without doubt, it all goes ill for the language, when things go from bad to verse.
* Another ongoing mystery of footy coverage is the apparently bottomless wellspring of inspiration and entertainment some people seem to find in footballer nicknames. James Brayshaw on Triple-M seemed to be on world-record pace for referring to a Collingwood footballer as “Cheesy O’Bree” in the first quarter alone, well before your columnist became suddenly and immensely lactose-intolerant, and abruptly changed course to the less punishingly matey waters of Radio 774 for a breather.
To be fair, Brayshaw did vary this brutal regimen on at least one occasion to “Cheesecake O’Bree”, although any relief provided by this measure was not immediately detectable.
Similar, if not slightly more fanciful, Brayshaw references to other players abounded, including “The Golden Sack”, “Harry O”, “Super Pav” and “No Undie Mundy”. One might imagine, no matter how dubiously, that in certain households not a single thigh remains unslapped as a result of all this nickname-inspired drollery. However, just imagine whiling away a lengthy evening in one of those households.