It’s been ten years since Australian rules football was broadcast on Channel Ten.
The 2011 season was the network’s last of a ten-year run that began in 2002 and means that – at the start of the next season – football will have been off Ten’s airwaves for as long as it was there in the first place.
Lady League’s piece the other day on the NRL’s quality of callers got me thinking about the callers we have in the AFL today.
I have reached the conclusion that nobody did it better than Ten and, quite frankly, Seven’s current stable is a long, long way off.
Let me start by reminding you just how good it could be. Check out this video montage of some of Ten’s best commentary moments.
The familiarity of the old faces and voices takes me straight back. Anthony Hudson, Tim Lane, Stephen Quartermain and Michael Christian were a veritable quartet of commentators who called the game with passion and accuracy and, most importantly, never put themselves above the game.
The gulf in quality between the commentary of Ten’s leaders and Seven’s main man, Brian Taylor, is night and day.
How many classic bits of commentary did you pick up from the video above? Every call in there is perfect for the moment and has become an indelible part of that moment.
It’s not just Leo Barry’s mark, it’s “LEO BARRY YOU STAR!” It’s not just David Zaharakis’ match-winner on ANZAC Day, it’s “Zaharakis… ZAHARAKIS HAS KICKED A GOAL!”
It wasn’t perfect. Robert Walls certainly had an uncanny knack for confidently making erroneous predictions, but he wasn’t made a character. The team just got on with their jobs.
As for ‘BT’? All of his most famous moments of commentary are just memes.
“That was out of bounds! (x158)”, “Butler Butler Butler (x158)”, “Big Boy McEvoy can’t run him down!”, “ALlllllooooyyd”. The list goes on.
When was the last time anything said by Taylor, James Brayshaw, Hamish McLachlan, Luke Darcy or Basil Zempilas became iconic alongside a great footy moment, instead of just becoming an amusing soundbite on its own?
It’s not just the gulf in commentary quality, but the excessively frequent reminders of which club they all go for too.
Hudson is a passionate Geelong fan, yet he was able to call Nick Davis’ famous goal in the 2005 semi-final with the same passion as when his Cats finally got up in 2007. You’d never have known which team he barracked for unless you looked it up.
Neither he nor Ten made a big deal about it either. Not then and not in the years since.
Contrast that to Seven today, whose callers desperately try to insert themselves into the story at every opportunity. I remember a Gold Coast vs Carlton game on Seven one Saturday night a few years ago, where the pre-game “analysis” almost entirely comprised the panel ribbing Matthew Richardson about a Tigers loss earlier that day.
Luke Darcy is a Bulldogs fan. We get it. That doesn’t mean we need to constantly be reminded of how ‘special’ it was for him to commentate on the Western Bulldogs’ famous preliminary final win over Greater Western Sydney.
Same goes for Richo during Richmond’s drought-breaker in 2017.
Don’t get me wrong; there are special stories in those moments that deserve retelling – it’s just that the commentary box is not the place to tell them. As one of the comments on Lady League’s piece said about the NRL commentators; “Callers should remember that people are tuning in to watch to the game, not to listen to them.”
Make the game the focus and make your commentary add to the game. Don’t use the game as a vehicle to host your own talk show.
Finally, there’s the outrageous Vic-centrism. When Ten lost the rights in the middle of 2011, they quite rightly pointed out the amount of work they’d done broadcasting the game into New South Wales and Queensland.
I’d always been aware of the game’s Victorian heritage, but Ten’s commentary always treated interstate clubs fairly and made the competition feel truly national.
In fairness, Seven continues to broadcast all matches featuring interstate teams (mostly) live into their respective markets, but the commentary harks right back to the VFL days.
There’s the continued obsession the boardrooms and executives of Melbourne’s ‘big four’ clubs. Nobody outside the Victorian capital gives the slightest toss and I doubt there are that many inside the bubble who do.
There’s the way they’ve completely disregarded interstate clubs in recent grand finals. You could’ve been forgiven for thinking the 2016 grand final was a Bulldogs intra-club game the way the week of coverage leading up focused solely on them.
In 2018, instead of cutting to the victorious coaching box on the final siren – as is customary – we instead looked at a devastated Nathan Buckley in the Collingwood box. Because the Magpies losing the premiership was the real story, right?
Then, in 2019, they literally cut away from the GWS song as they were running onto the field so we could look at Richmond warming up in their rooms instead. Unreal.
Perhaps it’s just me. Maybe I should try listening to radio commentary instead or maybe I should just worry about it less. Maybe the nostalgia factor is making me see Ten’s coverage in a better light.
But it’s hard to ignore something you don’t like when you know how good it can be. How good it once was.
Ten have some more cash to play with since some Americans bought them up so, hopefully, we might one day see them return to the free-to-air football world.
Until then, it’s more BT-isms and talk-show style coverage for us.