Cliché-ridden rubbish

For insomniacs, rugby fans and those of us known as morning people, listening to ITV’s World Cup Rugby commentator Phil Vickery is a buttock-clenching lesson in Talknormalism. Obviously uncomfortable in his new job, he flips between the banal (“he uses his feet to run”), strained silence (“If the art of commentary is silence, Vickery is its Rembrandt” – The Daily Telegraph), and waffly overtalking (in Vickery’s commentary you don’t play rugby, you “get a game of rugby under your belt”).

Online rugby fans are not content (“truly, truly awful”, “needs to be cattle-prodded”, “master of platitudes”, “cliché-ridden rubbish”, “the worst commentator in the history of sport”, and that’s just the kinder ones). Searching Twitter for the word “Vickery” during an England rugby game is more entertaining than watching the team play.

It can’t be easy to be a commentator but, on the other hand, it’s his job. We might expect a certain level of expertise. This is a surprisingly common problem in British televised sport, where often the guy in the second seat seems to be doing it for a bet. In the last football World Cup Chris Coleman also gave the impression that he was just filling in until the real commentator’s taxi showed up, stringing together every football cliche from “he’s got good touch for a big man” to “you often you see a team concede soon after scoring a goal”, delivered when we’d just seen a team concede soon after scoring a goal.

Expertise in doing something does not guarantee expertise in explaining it to others, but that expertise can be trained, developed, measured and rewarded. This doesn’t just apply to sport.

Last week I spoke at a conference of the Chartered Management Institute to encourage more slavish obedience to my borderline fanaticism. A member of the audience asked how managers should solve the Vickery-Coleman communication problems in their companies. I suggested they start by formally assessing how well those managers speak and write, with compulsory training for the ones who don’t do it well, and rewards for the ones who do. Anecdotally I find that, when I work to help companies with a waffle problem, junior staff are often just copying a Vickery-Coleman boss. We catch waffle from each other like we catch a nasty cold.

Waffle infection could explain the moment towards the end of this weekend’s game when Nick Mullins, Vickery’s co-commentator, informed us that England full back Ben Foden “always has his eyes open, and is always ready to pin back his ears.” I think I remember that torture scene from one of the Saw films:

Maybe Mullins caught a nasty case of platitudes from Vickery. Although, thinking about it, he has always been rubbish too.

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10 Responses to “Cliché-ridden rubbish”


  1. 1 Clive Couldwell September 19, 2011 at 9:59 am

    The problem is – they’re sportsmen, not journalists/professionals.

  2. 2 Tim Phillips September 19, 2011 at 10:07 am

    Not buying it Clive! If they’re paid to communicate, they are professionals.

  3. 3 Stuart Johnson September 23, 2011 at 3:39 pm

    OK Tim, here’s a challenge – what’s wrong with your “Talk Normal” mugs

    • 4 Tim Phillips September 24, 2011 at 1:55 pm

      Not enough people proudly display them on their office desks. Yet.

      No, I give up! What is it?

      • 5 Stuart Johnson September 24, 2011 at 2:23 pm

        Well I just looked for the mug to remind myself, but your sister has apparently thrown it out as it was chipped or cracked!

        Is was something about it not “doing what it said on the tin” I would have to see one now to tell you, have you got any graphics of the design?

  4. 6 Tim Phillips September 24, 2011 at 4:52 pm

    I bet the editor of the FT doesn’t have to deal with mug-related criticism on his blogs, that’s all I’m saying.

  5. 7 Stuart Johnson September 24, 2011 at 7:36 pm

    and I’ll wager that the editor of the FT doesn’t knock out promotional mugs….

    any road next time I can see a mug, I’ll point out the error.

    I am reminded in terms of linguistics of an occasion watching Leyton Orient vs Burnley, I was with Nigel and his good friend Pete Salmon of BBC fame (Pete is a Burnley fan and we were in the away end).

    There was a quiet spell in the game and the crowd, and a voice from the opposite stand bawled out “Fork awff you naaarthan Caants”

    In unison the Burnley fans chanted back “If you can’t talk proper, shut yer gob, if you can’t talk proper…..”

  6. 8 Hamish Kuzminski January 23, 2012 at 1:23 pm

    Oi – Phillips – what’s happened to this blog? In other news – xkcd is jumping on your bandwagon: http://xkcd.com/1007/

    • 9 Tim Phillips January 24, 2012 at 12:37 pm

      It’s convalescing while I get my masters finished. It will return, just not yet. I need to fully appreciate instrumental variables in regression analysis, the Barro model of tax smoothing and the implications of the lack of a coherent theory of intertemporal justice on climate change policy before I can even think of making silly jokes about words again.

      I might stick up a note to that effect. Well reminded, thank you.

      • 10 Stuart Johnson January 25, 2012 at 9:22 am

        Blimey Tim, you need to get out more!

        “Making the bad noises stop” was the issue I had with the mug – Bad words surely?


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