The poetry of football commentary
Most football fans growing up in the 90s or early 2000s are familiar with Chowdhury Jafarullah Sharafat. Largely adored and sometimes (unfairly) ridiculed, this is a man whose voice is recognisable across generations. To ears conditioned into expecting monotony, Jafarullah Sharafat's intonations may seem excessive. But that intonation becomes the trigger for excitement when something interesting finally happens in an otherwise uneventful game of football. Phrases like Meghmukto akash, kordomakto maath need to be registered before they are appreciated, but they do require a certain mastery of words.
Getting people to appreciate Jafarullah Sharafat will always be an uphill battle, however, mainly because of the stage on which he gets to portray his considerable talents. The low quality BTV broadcast of a low quality Bangladeshi league, or even a match featuring the national team, is difficult ground for a commentator to flourish in. Instead of heroic acts of athleticism that can bring the name of long forgotten divinity to the lips of the godless, when the quality of the game is bad, players may display indescribable acts of lunacy, airheaded decision-making and a general lack of talent. Even when someone does bring a performance worthy of poetic brilliance in the commentary box, a lackluster broadcaster may cut the feed at the wrong moment or show the wrong player at the wrong time. So, we look to the west, where centuries of colonial exploitation followed by decades of eye watering investment has led to a sports entertainment industry that's enviable in all respects. But even there, the art of commentary distinguishes itself. Where watching a game with the volume down may seem standard practice for many, for those in the know, it's sacrilege. For beneath the shroud of a low volume setting, hides the thundering voice of Martin Tyler, or the sonic boom of Peter Drury. Who dares turn them down to a whisper!
When Kostas Manolas, a Greek defender playing for the Italian club AS Roma scored a 82nd minute goal in the UEFA Champions League to put his team through, Peter Drury leapt out from everyone's TV set and into their spiritual existence to announce, "Roma have risen from their ruins! Manolas, the Greek God in Rome! The unthinkable unfolds before our eyes! This was not meant to happen. This could not happen. This IS happening. It's a Greek from Mount Olympus who has come to the seven hills of Rome and pulled off a miracle!"
What's amazing about this is not just how wonderful the weaving of these words were by Peter Drury, but the fact that as stupid as it seems, this wasn't far off from how fans were feeling at that moment. Sports is overwhelming in its emotional range, in what it makes fans go through as a game rolls along, when it gets flipped on its head or even in the despair it evokes when the eventuality of a loss dawns on them.
Peter Drury once again epitomised his prowess behind the microphone during the FIFA World Cup final between Argentina and France. Lionel Messi's last dance with the most coveted object in football ended in a way that every football romantic wanted it to, and when Messi kissed the trophy, Peter Drury donned on the conjoined hat of a fan and a poet when he said, "...as he falls in love with the object in the world that he most desires, it is hard to escape the supposition that he has rendered himself today the greatest of all time."
The complex and surging nature of the emotions felt by fans were captured to the minutest detail by the way this moment was called, and as fans, this is a gift that is hard to ignore.
While verbosity often does the job in expressing these emotions, the opposite is also true sometimes. Roll back the years to the final match day of the 2011-12 Premier League season. Manchester City are playing Queens Park Rangers, and they need to win the match to secure their first ever Premier League title. Their rivals Manchester United have already won their game, so anything less than a win means glory slipping from their grasp at the last moment for Manchester City. It was the 93rd minute of the match when Sergio Aguero got clear, albeit at an awkward angle, and fired a powerful shot past the goalkeeper. The ball went in, the goal was scored, and Manchester City won the league. To describe that moment, Martin Tyler, a veteran of football commentary, simply chose to scream the name of the player who doused so many fans in the warmth of glory and the coldness of despair with one kick of the ball. "AGUEROOOOOOOO!" he went, and the moment etched itself into the memories of millions across the globe.
Commentary, beyond simply describing the proceedings of a sport, has transcended into a place where it sprinkles the power of words over the raw emotional journey of live sports. To say that some of us watch sports for the commentary may be a bit of a stretch, but it wouldn't be a complete lie.
Azmin Azran is editor in charge of SHOUT magazine.