Knowing that the final was to be telecast on Sky Sports I was expecting it to get worse.
And I was right. On Inglis’s first-half try we had a: “There’s a BIG question mark on that. A BIG question mark on that!” It was palpitating with loathing, dread, and wishful thinking.
Now these chaps sounded exactly like the ones calling the Wigan match. Perhaps they were the same commentators but with the accent it’s hard to tell. It was also difficult to tell how many were commentating. There was definitely Sky’s main league commentator Eddie Hemmings known for his biased commentary on Super League. There were also ex players Phil Clarke and, I think, Mike ‘Stevo’ Stephenson who apparently at times has to have the “sense knocked into him” by his fellow commentators.
What is it with this spectator commentary? What makes them carry on with such unashamed barracking?
Throughout, England was referred to as “we” with plenty of: “Australia was VERY, VERY lucky to get away with that”. And a “Did Slater knock on there?”, with a “Was Thurston hanging on then?” thrown in. During England’s early strong showing there was much childlike rejoicing and patriotic fervour: ” Look out Australia I’m coming. Sheer celebrations from England!”.
But of course this annoying bias is a symptom of their awe (not as bad though as the embarrassing awe middle aged Australian men have for Tiger Woods: “He signed my cap, I think I’m going to cry!”) for the Australians.
So when they established a lead, lost it and then regained it the nervous excitement was tempered with an awful dread of what Australia’s backs could do to them: “They’ve got the POWER , they’ve got the SPEED!” As soon as Slater scored in the 56th minute: “It’s not over yet we’re just two points down”. Of course it wasn’t over yet. Unless deep down you believed you weren’t good enough.
Over the next 24 minutes it became obvious that was exactly what they believed.
Praising St George to high heaven one minute and spouting self abuse the next, the unintentionally comic duo entertained Australian audiences (and the Australian commentary team of Peter Sterling and Phil Gould sitting dutifully silent in the Channel 9 studio) :-
Anon 1: “From a an English point of view it’s disappointing but from a neutral point of view it’s a joy to watch Australia execute their plays”
Anon 2: “No, I’m sorry. I’m sick of it. I’m sick of seeing it. Year after year, time after time. I really am!”
To their credit they are not anti Australian; just pro and anti English at the same time. You almost feel sorry for them and for a moment wish they would win until you realise what nauseating patriotic celebrations that would bring on.
There looking at us after the live coverage ended were the smirking faces of Sterling and Gould: the men who, with Ray Warren , should have been calling this match. Perhaps in the future Sky Sports can give us the visuals and we’ll supply our own professional (ie passionate, insightful and ultimately objective) commentary.
Referring to the English team, one of the callers lamented: “We’ve still got a long way to go. Sadly we thought we had made up”.
He could easily have been talking about the commentators.