Sometimes guff is more than just about the gaffes and faux pas. Sometimes it’s a state of mind.
Barry Davies is proof positive that it’s not just great players who eventually lose their touch. Before he bowed out, Davies had become the sanctimonious old headmaster of BBC commentary, but it’s easy to forget that in his pomp he had raised more goose-pimples than anyone else in the gantry.
Davies – far more than those lightweights Lydon, Mercury and Bowie – provided Britain’s soundtrack to the Seventies. With an “Oh, I say” and a “Goodness me” here, a “LORIMER!” there, Bazza usually struck the right chord. It was a Franny Lee screamer for Derby against Man City that inspired one of his greatest hits – a free-wheeling, squealing, voice cracking, climactic prog-commentary affair, that serves as a sharp contrast to his tired “Shearer, one-nil” dirges of recent years:
“This could be interesting… VERY INTERESTING! Look at his face! Just look at his face!”
His rivalry with Motty for the big gigs was matched only by the Clemence – Shilton stand-off of Ron Greenwood’s England. While Motty had the sheepskin, the stats and the common touch, Davies always liked to preach. Even in the glory days, the potential for pontification was there. But at least back then he chose his causes well. Just such an occasion was an offside Jeff Astle goal that cost Leeds the championship and brought Don Revie roaring onto the pitch with, bizarrely, a blanket over his arm:
“Leeds will go mad! And they have every right to go mad!”
Davies was still getting it right most of the time in the Eighties, realising in \’86, for example, that it was an expression of low-key wonder rather than boyish excitement that was needed when Diego scored the greatest ever goal.
“Maradona… oooh wonderful skill, he has Burrachaga to his left and Valdano to his left, he doesn’t need them, he doesn’t need any of them…Ohhh you have to say that’s magnificent.”
Much like Castro’s little buddy himself, it was largely downhill thereafter for Davies. His flirtations with lawn tennis, ice-dancing and the Boat Race had always been suspect. And gradually, Bazza’s commentaries became two-parts pompous hectoring of cheats and miscreants, one-part look-at-me posturing over every foreign pronunciation (Ole Gunnar Sol-shire-a) and three-parts gentleman-at-leisure disinterest in the trivial ball game he has to endure.
His new partnership with Mark Lawrenson required Davies only to punctuate Lawro’s useless gags by moaning incessantly about the standard of play (“Awful, just awful”), the negativity (“The Italians have only themselves to blame, because they will not learn”), and usually the standard of officiating (“I just cannot believe the French referee. Extraordinary.”)
Guff for Davies then, became more a lifestyle choice than a verbal affliction. In many ways, it is now just the occasional gaffe that makes Davies tolerable at all.
For instance, his increased ambivalence to events on the pitch has seen him seek solace in outlandish puns:
“During the Senegal game, I wonder if the French coach thought the spelling of his name had changed. They certainly had le mare.”
“Nicky Butt, he’s another aptly named player. He joins things, brings one sentence to an end and starts another.”
Yet, for a man clearly taken with his own intellect, his grasp of fundamental physics leaves something to be desired:
“Was the ball entirely over the line? It didn’t cross the line when it landed, unless it was over the line when it hit the bar.”
Trifles such as the scoreline are of minimal importance:
“It’s Brazil 2 Scotland 1, so Scotland are back where they were at the start of the match.”
Mind you, when he’s in the mood, Davies can do Carry-on Commentating with the best of them:
“McCarthy gave Ian Harte a special cuddle after he pulled him off.”
Nor is he slow to acknowledge impressive achievement in that department
“They’ve maintained their unbeaten record between the legs.”
A good referee needs eyes in the back of his head. A good commentator’s eyes might just be in the back of his head:
“The crowd thinks that Todd handled the ball – they must have seen something that nobody else did.”
Unsurprisingly for a tennis-and-boating man, Barry might not be au fait with the workings of rudimentary football equipment:
“It slid away from his left boot which was poised with the trigger cocked.”
But, in his scholarly way, Barry has diligently committed even the game’s more complex laws to memory:
“The substitutes are all on the bench, and that’s where they’ll start the match.”
We suggested guff was a state of mind, and Barry’s cranky outlook has occasionally produced a cutting line in double-edged guff.
“Poland nil, England nil, though England are now looking the better value for their nil.”
And the magnificent…
“Jim Leighton is looking a sharp as a tank.”
From seventies style icon to football’s answer to Simon Cowell. How the mighty have fallen.