As many of you are already aware, a 74th minute goal from Bayern Munich’s Arjen Robben knocked Manchester United out of the Champions League this past Wednesday, an event narrated with by dulcet tones of ITV’s Peter Drury. Of Drury’s work that evening, Four Four Two’s Paul Simpson scolded, “you are a commentator, not forecaster, or Biblical prophet. So declaring that United are through to the semi-finals, as you did in the first half, was sheer folly, inviting the curse of the commentator to fall.” When Saturday Comes’ James Calder offers further critique, concluding, “it is expecting too much for (Britain’s broadcasters) to ask their commentators to adopt a more nuanced, less jingoistic approach.”
Believing their role to be cheerleaders and prophets rather than mere painters of a picture, Drury and his ilk are oblivious to the extent to which armchair allegiances and preferences have shifted since the Big Four initiated their domination of the Premier League and, until this week at least, the Champions League.
European nights once provided an opportunity for fans of less successful clubs to get behind the nation™s representatives on the œcontinent. The successes of Nottingham Forest and Aston Villa in the European Cup were cheered by most supporters across the country, give or take the odd pocket of resistance in the Midlands, while Liverpool™s frequent triumphs were a source of if not of national pride, then of satisfaction. Drury™s predecessors in the commentary box largely reflected that mood, rightly assuming that the vast majority of those watching would want the English team to win.
The advent of the Premier League and the subsequent concentration of success within a select group of clubs has changed all that, however. As much as ITV and other broadcasters would like us to believe differently, Manchester United in the Champions League can no longer be packaged as œEngland versus Europe.
Resentment at the enduring superiority of the ruling quartet and their domination of the media has caused fans of other clubs to get behind the likes of Bayern and Inter, myself included. Eleven years ago I let out a cheer as United completed their comeback on œthat night in Barcelona. Yet when Arjen Robben™s superb volley struck the back of the net on Wednesday I clapped. I suspect I was not alone.