Monday 25 September 2017

Alliss wonderland is one to cherish

Eamonn Sweeney

Liking Peter Alliss is something of a guilty pleasure these days. It's easy to take exception to the right-wing rants, the name-dropping and the tendency to roam far away from any discernible point. Yet when last weekend I read somebody in one of the Murdoch papers describing Alliss as the worst sports commentator in the world they seemed to betray a complete lack of taste.

Because the 79-year-old's commentary is one of those things in life which, logically, shouldn't work, but works wonderfully in practice. He does digress, yet this style of his seems somehow perfectly attuned to the rhythm of a round of golf. Even major tournament golf contains lulls as well as highs, to an extent which means it can't be commentated on in the same hysterical way that a football match is.

And Alliss's relaxed tones and ability to keep the game in perspective are a relief when the prevailing trend is to constantly insist that you're looking at something very exciting, even when you can see that's not true. He has remained resistant to hype and has an instinctive understanding that the best commentators are those who are conversational, rather than those who imitate a barker outside a strip show.

He is knowledgeable about the game, as befits a man who played in eight Ryder Cups and finished in the British Open top ten five times. And he has an understanding of its sometimes cruel vicissitudes, as you'd expect from someone who four-putted on the last hole in the 1953 Ryder Cup to deny Great Britain and Ireland victory (Alliss lost his match by 1 hole, the US won by six and a half to five and a half).

He also, to his credit, refrained from joining in the moral witch hunt against Tiger Woods, commenting merely that Tiger had been silly but that there were plenty of other golfers who'd behaved in the same way.

Television stations don't hire the likes of Peter Alliss anymore. The other great individuals of commentary: Murray Walker, Micheál ó Muircheartaigh, Bill McLaren, would also be too distinctive in character for today's telly executives. When Alliss goes, he will no doubt be replaced by some assembly line Blandmeister. But while he's still here, let's enjoy him.

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