Thursday, March 8, 2007

The Majesty of Ray Hudson

Now that we have completed this round of the Champions League, we can settle once again into league football. There are two big matches this weekend, including the very, very big Real Madrid v. Barcelona game. (Care to guess who I’m picking in that one? No need to guess if you’ve been reading the column regularly.)

Anyway, I encourage all of you to watch the game as it will be a chance to watch two skilled teams compete in one of the most passionate and competitive derbies in the world. It will also provide the opportunity, just as we are provided two or three times every weekend, for us to listen to the surreal commentary of GOLTV’s lead color commentator, Ray Hudson.

Ray Hudson has been a figure in professional football for quite some time. He has played professional football in England and in the U.S. (for the old U.S. Soccer league) and has managed teams in the MLS, including D.C. United. Lately has been a color commentator, and as of now he can be found on GOL as part of the primary commentary team, usually paired with Lindsey Dean (who is actually pretty good).

I don’t even know where to start with Ray; he is an experience unto himself. At first his manner of commentating on a game is so strange, so startling, that you want to watch the match with the sound off. Soon, however, just like that crazy uncle you have, you start to like the old guy and soon after that can’t imagine life without him. As with many truly terrible sports announcers, eventually you get used to Ray and want him around. Although it can take a while.

Some of Ray Hudson’s, er, shall we say weaker traits as a commentator are most obvious when you first hear him call a game. Most obviously, he seems to me to be most interested only when a “big” team (like Barcelona or Real Madrid) or a “big” player (like Ronaldinho or Torres) is participating in the game he’s calling. Sometimes it seems, in fact, as if Ray has only a passing knowledge of the less famous teams and players in the games he’s calling. And frankly, he doesn’t seem to care.

Fair enough, perhaps. Ray seems to know his audience and seems to understand that most Americans tune into a Real Madrid game to see David Beckham, not Sergio Ramos. Still, the viewer needs to constantly remind himself that there are two teams playing in most of the games GOLTV televises, even if the announcers prefer to discuss only one.

Beyond the big names, Ray has his favorites, and readers should be prepared to listen to the constant praises of certain players, including Robinho and Lionel Messi. This is fine as well (The NFL broadcaster in the US have been pandering to the stars for decades) but there is little balance on GOLTV when one of the favorites plays poorly.

Although Ray Hudson isn’t afraid to provide negative commentary; it is, in fact, his ability to swing from the greatest compliments to the sharpest criticism (often times of the same player, and sometimes within a few seconds) that is among Ray’s most delightful personality quirks. Above all it is the ridiculously overstated compliments that make me smile. When someone on the field does something moderately impressive, like a nice stepover or a sharp pass, Ray starts screaming “magic!” at the top of his lungs, as if the player just repeated Diego Maradona’s famous slalom through the English defense at the ’86 World Cup.

But at the end of the day, what makes Ray Hudson so good (MAGIC! in fact) are the throwaway quotes he gives you during the game, the quotes that make up for all of the other nonsense. The internet site Wikipedia has a great entry on Ray Hudson, which can be found here: The site does a great job of collection the best of Ray Hudson’s game commentary, but I just wanted to share a few of the highlights here. Among the best:

"We had just strung like 17 passes together, beautiful silky soccer, and I turn around and see a guy yawning in the crowd. I wanted to jump over the fence and head-butt him."

"Congratulations, Seamus Malin -- you ugly man. Oh, come on, you didn't think he got (in the Soccer Hall of Fame) on his looks, did you?"

"Bruce Arena has to pick these boys up by their jockstraps and put lobsters in their jockstraps because they went down like flies against the Czech Republic, how humiliating to have that happen to a team that was coming out to the world scene seeking respect. What a joke!"

"Look at the angle. Look at the distance. That is absolutely exquisite. Dynamite finish. It's extraordinario! It's magnifico! When you see it again from this angle, it will take your breath away. It's postage-stamp delivery by a player that is as good going the other way defensively than he is going forward. You cannot give a higher compliment to an absolutely wonderful player who is at the absolute apex of his game! Look at that for confidence! That's world class! That's Zidane, beyond belief! That's an absolute exquisite footballer -- MVP, no question. Magnifico! Extraordinario! That should be in high definition! That wasn't just literature, that was Shakespearean beauty. Ah,God, I'm sorry, I love that guy. If I could love a man, I'd love Dwayne DeRosario!"

"Genius, genius, genius. Absolutely superb strike. And look, not a smile! What makes this guy smile? I mean, come on, Román, give us a look, give us a smile, baby. I mean, is there anything more exquisite in life than watching this man play football? Look at this! Perfection. [...] That is an orgasmic goal, Phil. We said he treats them like penalties -- that's what he does. Enjoy him while you can, enjoy him at the World Cup next year when he's wearing that beautiful blue and white shirt for Argentina. The man is magic."

"He needs to be on his tippy-toes, like a midget at a urinal."

"He's funner than a barrel of monkeys!"

"As electrifying as a hair dryer thrown into a hot tub, my friend. Absolutely breathtaking! It puts the Haitian Voodoo rattle on this one. When he finishes -- oh! Like Betamax, they do not make them like him anymore! What more can you say? An extraordinary goal by an extraordinary player! That will send these people into their dreams tonight thinking of heavenly things. Absolutely bamboozles his defender with this virtuoso goal ... Look at this, gets all of his angles right, sets it up for himself. Cygan is just a spectator, looks down at him and says, 'That's not human.' And it is not. It is superhuman." - November 2006, Barcelona versus Villareal, after Ronaldinho scored a spectacular overhead kick.

“Without penetration, it’s just masturbation, and right now, we’re playing with ourselves.”

"I'll give you two words, Sven...Goran...Eriksson." (Realizes his mistake and counts 1-2-3 with his fingers while rehearsing the name silently to himself while Lindsey Dean says, "Three words.")

I hope you enjoy the game this weekend, and also enjoy the sublime announcing of Ray Hudson.

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