Saturday, September 25, 2010

Dark(e) days ahead

So the new voice of American soccer is ... English?
BRISTOL, Conn. -- British announcer Ian Darke, who called games for the network during the World Cup, is joining ESPN as its lead soccer voice in the United States.
"Ian's experience, authenticity [emphasis mine -- ed] and passion for the sport, which were evident throughout the World Cup, will resonate with our viewers, who have come to expect top-quality soccer commentary from ESPN," said Jed Drake, senior vice president and executive producer for event production.
Darke's assignments will include Premier League matches, U.S. national team games, the 2011 Women's World Cup, the 2013 Confederations Cup and the 2014 World Cup.
"Authenticity," eh? I wonder what it is about the new guy that makes him more authentic than his predecessors.

Please don't take this as a slight against Ian Darke. I'm sure he's a good broadcaster who will do a fine job regardless of his assignment. Also, I'm not one given to jingoism and I don't really subscribe to American exceptionalism, so this isn't some Yank sporting red, white and blue blinders and frothing at the mouth about foreigners taking our jobs.

That said, this move by ESPN disappoints me. Darke is fine for Premiership coverage, but were there no American announcers good enough to call United States matches? The last thing soccer in the US needs is another reason for the general population to dismiss it as a "foreign" sport. You're telling me there's not one person in this country of 300 million-plus who can bring "experience, authenticity and passion for the sport?"

You want a name? Kenn Tomasch. There's a guy who's a good broadcaster, has been involved with American soccer since the NASL days, is very knowledgeable about the game and can be funny without getting all Bretos-y. I highly doubt J.P. Dellacamera, a good soldier of many years, has fallen off the face of the Earth, either. Honestly, I'd rather go back to the days of Jack Edwards and Ty Keough than this. There were cringe-worthy moments to be sure, but you knew the game meant something to them and their camp came from the heart.

My objection stems from a refusal to cede ground in the fight against Europoseury. Darke's selection is another expression of the inferiority complex in American soccer, the predilection to genuflect and worship at the altar of All Things English. This is a trait the US and its supporters must shed if the sport is to reach its potential and start developing a distinctive, American style. You don't see broadcasters in Mexico or other Latin American countries flying in announcers from Spain, do you? England gave the world rugby, too, but you don't see Aussies and Kiwis being passed over in their country in favor of European announcers.

Maybe what irks me more than the deification of Englishness is the inherent assumption that an American can't possibly know as much about soccer as someone from the British Isles, as though one's place of birth has any influence on knowledge or interest in a sport. I've witnessed youth soccer parents loudly proclaim as much, apparently assuming anyone who possesses a United Kingdom passport or speaks with rounded vowels automatically has a leg up on their American counterparts, what with the beautiful game being part of their birthright and all. This is bunk of the highest order. I've worked with, and am related to, British citizens who have little interest in or knowledge of soccer. I'm willing to bet there are people from New Zealand who don't like rugby and people from India who don't dig cricket, too.

When sticking up for the "worldwide leader" and its broadcasting choices, ESPN Radio personality (and I use that word advisedly) Colin Cowherd often claims the network shows what people want to see -- apparently a steady rotation of Yankees, Red Sox, LeBron, Kobe, Favre, Cowboys and Patriots. If we assume that logic is true, does that mean ESPN thinks having the urbane, sophisticated voice of an Englishman gracing its broadcasts is what the masses who have so far eschewed soccer are demanding? Is this supposed to be a sop to the Anglophiles and Europoseurs who deem MLS and American soccer beneath them?

ESPN is a private company, of course, and the needs of its advertisers and viewers obviously come before any purported responsibility to help soccer grow in the US. Acquiring Darke doesn't help set American soccer apart from the pack, though. The US is a big, bold country, and the last thing it needs is to be a sucka MC trying to chump another country's style.


  1. 'Preciate the love. But there are guys better than me. I haven't worked in the league for three years and, to be honest, am worrying less and less about soccer these days. But it's always nice to be well thought of.

  2. I'm a Yank soccer fan that prefers listening to an English voice. One of the best parts of the golf season is when Peter Allis comes in and calls a few holes of The Open for us in the States.

    Darke is considered one of the best play by play guys that speaks the English language. Why wouldn't the WWL want one of the best guys in the world calling games on their network? I'm also a Detroit Tiger fan that loved Ernie Harwell's call of baseball. Did people from Detroit not take to Ernie's commentary of the game because he was from Georgia and gasp wasn't from Michigan and spoke with a southern drawl that is foreign to people in Michigan? Of course not because Ernie was the best man for the job.

    ESPN is doing the right thing by using UK commentators because it gives the sport a different twist and sets it apart from the rest of the sports in our sporting landscape. I watch a ton of sports and the use of English commentators in soccer differentiates itself from the rest of the sports I watch. If people are so simple minded that they turn off our national team because a person with a British accent is calling games do we really want that kind of person following the sport anyway?

  3. There may be better, Kenn, but I've not supped with them in the midst of a Kansas City thunderstorm. A man's gotta have his standards.

    Chris: What is it about the English voice that makes it so appealing to you? Is there something specific, or is it the sheer novelty? It seems to boil down to a matter of personal taste. As for your question, I would turn it on its head -- what kind of fans need to have an English announcer in the booth before they'll tune in? I would rather have one less hurdle to the casual American fan (who we know exist -- they turn up every four years) than offer up another concession to the Anglophiles who continually move their goalposts and delay their embrace of MLS and American soccer.