Well, having diminished my political expectations compared to last year’s naive optimism, it was no surprise but still more than a little depressing to learn that the UK AV Referendum resulted in a strong ‘No’ vote against changing our unrepresentative ‘First Past The Post’ system. The margin was significant enough to mean that this opportunity may well not come again for many years. IMHO, this was doomed to failure from the start. AV is hardly a truly proportional voting system anyway. It was a half-arsed proposal, and this result benefits only David Cameron and the Conservative Party.
But enough of that morose talk… I watched something earlier this week that cheered my soul, bringing back vivid memories of my childhood, and of watching truly iconic moments of sport. Many of these moments, particularly in athletics and football, were voiced by the incomparable David Coleman.
David Coleman was the commentator who created modern sports commentary. He covered football at every level, including ‘that save’ by Gordon Banks in the Mexico World Cup in 1970. He covered athletics at every level, pretty much every sport at the Rome Olympics in 1960 up to Sydney in 2000. He interviewed Prime Ministers and Royalty about their love of sport, he interviewed The Beatles. He was the sole presenter of the BBC’s coverage of the Munich Olympics massacre, with just one camera and almost nothing else to support him. He pretty much invented ‘Final Score’, hosting Grandstand for more than 10 years, and the videprinter over which he presided was the bringer of joy or despair at the end of a Saturday afternoon.
His knowledge of sport seemed encyclopaedic, as he could cite form statistics, goalscorers, table positions, personal bests seemingly at will from memory. He had a genuine passion for sport. He made it immediate, exciting, and he was the forerunner for everyone who followed him. Steve Cram, a world champion athlete and eventual colleague in the BBC commentary box, has said that if David Coleman thought you ran well, that was better than your coach saying you ran well…
He was evidently quite demanding to work with, and not shy of offering his own opinions, as is evident in this tremendous clip from the 1962 World Cup match between Chile & Italy that Coleman dubbed ‘The Battle of Santiago’.
My clearest and most evocative memories were of his commentaries of the ‘Golden Age’ of British middle-distance running, in the late 1970s and early 1980s. For one amazing summer in 1981 it seemed as though every time they set foot on a track, world records were broken. Coe set 5 world bests that year, while he and Ovett exchanged the World Mile Record three times in 10 days.
One of my favourite sports photos of all time – the final of the 1500m at the 1980 Moscow Olympics. Coe had lost the 800m to Ovett days before when he had been expected to win, but got his revenge here over a distance at which Ovett had seemed unbeatable.
This montage of clips features vintage Coleman…
While acknowledged as an inspiration to generations of athletes, viewers and commentators, David Coleman is also a legend for other reasons. His gaffes (perhaps cruelly) became known by Private Eye magazine as Colemanballs. He is at least partly the inspiration for this wonderful comic character of Alan Partridge, whose first incarnation was as a hapless and hopeless sports reporter (quite unlike Coleman’s excellent journalistic pedigree)…
David Coleman retired 10 years ago, but his commentary – passionate, informed, involved and immediate – stands the test of time.