I’m not one to leap to the defense of ESPN on too many occasions, but Jack Bell’s excoriation of the network, occasioned by its use of British announcers during its Euro ’08 telecasts, seems a little off-base too me, if I may use a baseball metaphor. This position strikes me as a logical outgrowth of Bell’s larger objections to Anglophilia in the American game—the veneration of British coaches, teams and playing styles at the expense of other (specifically, Latin) influences. I actually agree with Bell about most of that: I don’t think the tendency to turn Soccer America into the sixth Home Nation really does the game here many favors; among other things, it exacerbates the divide between Latino and Anglophone football/futbol cultures, which really holds the sport back. Half of American football goes “down the pub” to see English Premier League games and enrolls its progeny in pricey suburban-ish youth soccer programs, while the other half maintains rabid interest in the Mexican league and plays its football in ethnic leagues. Our national team contenders go off to race around the bottom half of the Premiership, which turns out to be excellent preparation for getting bossed off the pitch by the Czechs and Ghanaians. A house divided against itself, etc.
But in this particular instance, I think Bell argues from general principles rather than the specifics of the case. First of all, Andy Gray and Adrian Healey did a very good job. I thought, anyway.
Second, are those dudes better than the JP Dellacameras and John Harkeses of the world? Um, yeah. No disrespect to the latter, who I’m inclined to give their due and a “Most Improved” citation, but the level of tactical analysis was markedly higher during this tournament. Maybe it’s a subconscious thing: British announcers operate on the assumption that they’re talking to knowledgeable (or, y’know, close) fans, where American announcers feel a nagging obligation to explain things to the “average sports fan.” The American soccer fan, Anglophone or not, knows when he or she is being condescended to, which is why previous major tournaments have seen English-speakers turning to Univision in droves.
Third, Bell seems to think ESPN’s decision represents an attempt to appeal to expatriates rather than home-grown fans. This ignores the fact that a sizable portion of serious Anglophone soccer fans in this country, native born or not (and does that really matter) are English Premier League fans, and thus are accustomed to the dulcet tones of the Mother Country.
I do hope ESPN mixes up its World Cup teams. Why not retain Andy Gray and team him with Harkes? Stick Dellacamera with Healey to see what happens? Make Tommy Smyth and Julie Foudy work as a man-on-the-street reporting team in Soweto? It would be fun.