THERE are two types of football commentator. There are the ones all football fans can quite happily namecheck without the slightest fear of being called a nerd: Motson, Coleman, Davies, Moore, Tyler, Tyldesley.
And then there are all the others: who are normally identified by the ‘non-nerds’ (ie. not me) as ‘the bloke who did the Everton game’; or, in the case of Jacqui Oatley, ‘that female commentator off Match Of The Day’.
Ian Gwyn Hughes, I guess, falls into the ‘others’ category. Even though he has been commentating on Match of the Day for over 10 years, there are a lot of football fans who probably won’t recognise the name. For the benefit of any non-nerds reading this, he is the Welsh bloke who did the West Ham-Birmingham game.
Gwyn Hughes doesn’t see the Premier League in the same way that Sky see it. For him, it’s not all about whooshing trailers, peppered with commentators screaming ‘GERRAAAAAARRRRRRD!’ or ‘DROGBAAAAAAAA!’ at the top of their voice, interspersed with Andy Gray chuckling ‘unbelievable’ with a break after the first syllable as if it were a separate word.
No. Gwyn Hughes is one of the commentators at the lower end of the Match of the Day pecking order, and as such, is no more likely to see a Chelsea match than he is the Loch Ness Monster swimming into Cardiff Bay. His job is to travel the length and breadth of England watching, generally, the very worst that the Premier League has to offer.
Every so often, he strikes lucky: Gwyn Hughes commentated on Portsmouth’s 7-4 victory over Reading in September with the air of a man genuinely astonished by what was unfolding in front of him. Generally, though, he gets to watch utter dross week after week.
As a result, Gwyn Hughes has covered the final game on Match of the Day more often than any other commentator this season. He’s done it five times now; more often, even, than Tony Gubba.
Last night’s final match: West Ham 1 Birmingham 1
Commentator: Ian Gwyn Hughes
Presumably dragged along by Sir Trevor Brooking (who sat next to him in the stand), Fabio Capello spent his Saturday afternoon watching the worst Premier League match of the day on an afternoon of terrible top-flight matches.
Freddie Ljungberg gave West Ham the lead; James McFadden equalised from the penalty spot after his shirt had been tugged by Lucas Neill. That was it, really, until referee Mark Clattenburg sent off Lee Bowyer late on for a foul on Damien Johnson that was barely worth a free kick.
“The crowd are leaving early,” said Gwyn Hughes over a shot of supporters draining through the exits. “They could have left at half-time, because nothing has happened in the second half.”
Coming from a man who has seen as much terrible top-flight football as Gwyn Hughes has this season, that was cutting.
And so to the post-match interviews. There’s a tendency among certain managers – let’s call them David Moyes and Mark Hughes, for the sake of argument – to turn around any question that suggests their team may have benefited from a dubious refereeing decision by referring to at least one other during the game that didn’t go their way: regardless of whether it should have done or not.
For example, a typical exchange might go like this:
Interviewer: Do you think you were a little lucky to get that penalty given that your player fell over when no one was near him?
Manager: Well, I think we were unfortunate not to get two penalties in the first half when our centre forward was clearly poleaxed by a passing butterfly. Something’s got to be done to stop insects flying into stadiums during matches. It’s putting players’ safety at risk.
Birmingham manager Alex McLeish, who needs all the luck he can get at the moment as his team fight relegation, hasn’t quite got the hang of this technique yet. And so he ended up unnecessarily inventing a rule change when quizzed about Neill’s shirt pull on McFadden.
“It was a definite penalty, especially given the new rule on jersey pulling,” said McLeish.
I’m sorry, Alex? What new rule? I thought jersey pulling had always been a foul? Or were the rules different when you were up in Scotland? Relax: it was a penalty, OK?
Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to tell a football manager that he’s talking nonsense. I wouldn’t have done so in that situation; neither did Gwyn Hughes, who will probably have to do at least another three Birmingham games before the end of the season. Assuming, that is, he isn’t posted to cover Derby every week between now and May. Still, it’ll soon be summer.
1. Derby: 8 (Gubba difference: +1)
2=. Wigan: 6 (GD: +1)
2=. Fulham: 6 (GD: +1)
4. Birmingham: 6 (GD: 0)
5. Reading: 5 (GD: +1)
6. Bolton: 4 (GD: +1)
7. West Ham: 4 (GD: 0)
8. Gubba: 3
9=. Aston Villa: 3 (GD: 0)
9=. Chelsea: 3 (GD: 0)
11. Portsmouth: 2 (GD: +1)
12=. Sunderland: 2 (GD: 0)
12=. Millwall: 2 (GD: 0)
12=. Walsall: 2 (GD: 0)
15=. Everton: 1
15=. Middlesbrough: 1
15=. Newcastle: 1
15=. Bury: 1
15=. Workington: 1
15=. Huddersfield: 1
15=. Grimsby: 1
(NB. Where teams are level, positions are decided by Gubba Difference; the number of times a team is on Match of the Day last with Tony Gubba commentating.)